Book Reviews – June 2019

The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays
By Dana Gioia. Reviewed by Ken Colombini. (skip to review)

Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal
By Fr. Donald E. Senior. Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD. (skip to review)

Longing to See Your Face: Preaching in a Secular Age
By Thomas J. Scirghi. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Five Proofs of the Existence of God
By Edward Feser. Reviewed by Fr. John Cush. (skip to review)

Priests — What Lies Ahead? A Dialogue of Carlos Granados with Luis F. Ladaria, George Pell, Livio Melina, Charles J. Chaput
By Carlos Granados. Reviewed by Fr. John Cush. (skip to review)


The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays
– Dana Gioia

Gioia, Dana. The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays. Belmont, NC: Wiseblood Books, 2019. 213 pages.
Reviewed by Ken Colombini.

For those cynical about today’s world, there must be a certain relief to know that a person like Dana Gioia was able to fly under the radar and enjoy two positions of cultural influence, serving as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and as California’s state poet laureate from 2015 to 2018, appointed to the former by a Republican, to the latter by a Democrat. This new collection of essays and interviews demonstrates his clarity of thought and style.

Gioia’s 27-page keystone essay in the collection, “The Catholic Writer Today,” was originally published in the journal First Things in 2013, discussing how Catholic writers needed to “renovate and reoccupy their own tradition.” Its appearance was a major contribution to a lengthy ongoing conversation about the topic, with other heavyweights weighing in before and after, such as Paul Elie and Gregory Wolfe. The questions are good ones to ask: What happened to the Catholic influence on American literature we saw in the mid-twentieth century, and how can it be recovered? Do we need to be worried about the lack of faith in today’s fiction?

To be sure, Catholicism had a far greater influence on American life in the middle of the last century, with Archbishop Fulton Sheen ruling the airwaves and top actors like Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, and Karl Malden playing likeable priests in the theater. Strong writers for English-reading audiences included Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, and others. Since then, Gioia asserts, a “schism” has erupted between Catholicism and the arts.

In addition to the namesake essay, the book’s first section offers reflections on six poets: John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dunstan Thompson, William Everson, and Elizabeth Jennings. Part two covers two interviews with the author, printed in the journals Image and Christianity & Literature. The final part of the book has a handful of essays on broader topics, such as meditations on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians and, finally, Aquinas’s Tantum Ergo.

This last essay (also published in First Things in 2017) completes the work perfectly. Gioia recounts his time in parochial school in Los Angeles, where a weekly Benediction service included the chant. He chanted the hymn for years without knowing what the majestic words meant. There was a mysterious power in them that took a lifetime to unravel, and the reader can sense the joy. We who were so blessed, with that particular poem or not, recognize the feeling. “As an adult, I can’t accurately judge whether that experience was spiritual or aesthetic,” Gioia writes. “I suspect that those two categories of perception are more interdependent that most people believe, especially in a child.”

If anything, this connection between the spiritual and the aesthetic sense is important for the Catholic artist, whatever medium he or she works in. Taking in the piercing words of the Tantum Ergo, put to a memorable melody, at a church service that speaks to so many senses, can certainly raise a soul to heights unseen. Reading Gioia in this marvelous collection, we easily see what’s been lacking in the arts for some time, and what this world needs: artists who can draw the strong connection between the good, the true, and the beautiful. For far too long, the aesthetic has been divorced from the spiritual, and as the culture goes, so goes the world.

Ken Colombini is a Catholic writer in St. Louis, MO. He also has written for First Things and other publications.

 

Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal – Donald E. Senior, CP

Senior, CP, Donald E. Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2018. Foreword by Ronald D. Witherup, PSS.
Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD.

Fr. Donald E. Senior’s book Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal is a rather interesting text. Arising from the desire of Fr. Ronald D. Witherup, PSS, the Superior General of the Society of San Sulpice, the society of apostolic life to which Fr. Raymond Brown belonged (it should be noted that Fr. Witherup is also a scriptural scholar), it is a text as much about Scripture scholarship before and after the Second Vatican Council as it is a biography of Fr. Brown himself. It is an intellectual biography that gives great insight into a figure who is, at the same time, canonized and demonized in some circles. Regardless of what one thinks of Brown, one cannot deny the fact that, at least among Anglophones of a certain generation, he was the most read, most respected, and certainly most famous exegete of the last half of the twentieth century.

Fr. Witherup writes in his foreword the following, something that I think, in many ways, summarizes the entire book:

What struck me once more in reading Senior’s analysis of Brown’s life and scholarly career is how often Brown’s scholarship led him to take well-reasoned, carefully explained, and moderate positions, which ultimately led him to middle-of-the-road stances that some interpreted as avoiding controversial conclusions. Brown was not interested in grandstanding to impress or shock his readers. His unwavering commitment to scholarship, in fact, forced him not to push his deductions beyond what the evidence would allow. Thus, in the context of a divided Catholic Church that emerged after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), he criticized both “left” and “right” for exaggerated positions that Brown thought the evidence of honest biblical interpretation could not bear. (xi)

Senior’s introduction to this text is pretty much the standard line of thought concerning the state of biblical scholarship prior to the Second Vatican Council. And, as such, it is a good yet rather one-sided viewpoint of what one would expect a contemporary Catholic American Scripture scholar trained in the historical-critical method to possess. (I.e., Senior’s brief treatment of Alfred Loisy [xvii–xviii] is certainly reductionistic. Fr. Senior describes the author [Loisy], who stated the following, as offering “bold resistance”: “Christ has even less importance in my religion than he does in that of the liberal Protestants: for I attach little importance to the revelation of God the Father for which they honor Jesus. If I am anything in religion, it is more pantheist-positivist-humanitarian than Christian” [Mémoires II, 397]. Loisy was a true and real Modernist and this fact is rather quickly dismissed.)

Fr. Senior is able, even in his introduction, to demonstrate why, among many other reasons, Fr. Brown was able to avoid major controversy in his life:

But [Brown] was also shrewd in taking steps to insulate himself from some of these attacks — cultivating the support of bishops and other church officials, fashioning behind-the-scenes responses for others to disseminate. One of the greatest frustrations for some of his opponents was that, despite their unrelenting public accusations, Brown maintained the support of so many key bishops and was implicitly endorsed by the highest level of church authority in Rome. As we have seen with other pioneers in scriptural studies, church loyalty and personal integrity mattered. (xxxiv)

Chapter one offers an interesting historical overview of the early life of Fr. Brown, most especially when his own priestly formation is discussed and historical documentation is presented from his Sulpician superiors (11–12). The reality of the tension that some priests in seminary work between being a professor/scholar and a formator of men for the priesthood is demonstrated in a fascinating evaluation of Fr. Brown by his provincial superior: “It is difficult for me to see him listening to a student’s personal problems, or to imagine him having a sympathetic understanding of his difficulties” (12). This is further elaborated on a faculty evaluation of Fr. Brown: “Academically, of course, he is doing an outstanding job. In his relationships with the students it is evident that they accept his scholarship but he relates poorly to them because of his conservative tendencies. He too finds it difficult to accept the present program of seminary work” (29). Yet, at the same time, as a seminary formator, I find Fr. Senior’s account of Fr. Brown’s reaction to seminary formation in the 1960s very interesting, particularly with the change among the Sulpician Fathers in emphasis on pastoral formation, rather than academic formation (29).

Fr. Brown’s long-standing work at Union Theological Seminary is covered in great detail and demonstrates the good effect that a priest’s presence in an ecumenical environment can have, even for vocations. Fr. Brown writes: “a bright but unattached Catholic student at Union who wants to be a priest and is academically orientated to the Sulpicians” (33) might be influenced by such a professor.

It is apparent that the author views those who would criticize Fr. Brown as “ultraconservative Catholics” (51), and this lack of nuance lessens the impact of the book in many ways. Was Fr. Brown infallible on every issue? I don’t believe that this is what Fr. Senior holds, but one might interpret it in this manner.

As one who was trained in Rome theologically (and one who is very grateful for my own theological formation in Rome), it is interesting to see Fr. Brown’s dismissal of the entire Roman Pontifical University system: “relatively few teachers of Bible got doctorates partly because of the myth, and it was largely a myth, that the doctorate in sacred scripture from Rome was the hardest-to-get degree in the world. It wasn’t so, but compared to some of the other Roman degrees, it was respectable” (14). There is a tremendous bias exhibited by Fr. Brown against the Roman universities (19) and a clear preference for study in Protestant/secular universities: “I dropped into a few of the courses while I was in Rome and the Biblical Institute is pretty horrible,” although Fr. Brown seemed to enjoy his studies at Ecole Biblique in the Holy Land.

Early on in Fr. Senior’s book, there is a section which humanizes Fr. Brown by describing his appropriate relationships with his male and female friends, students, and colleagues, both Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and laity (38–43).

Of particular note is Fr. Senior’s fourth chapter, “Engaging Critical Issues in the Church,” which details Brown’s work on the role of bishop and priest, the papacy, women’s ordination, virginal conception, the bodily Resurrection of Our Lord. Chapters five and six explain some of Fr. Brown’s major works, The Anchor Biblical Reference Library Commentary on the Gospel of John (1966, 1970), The Birth of the Messiah (1977), and The Death of the Messiah (1993). Chapter eight, “Opposition and Conflict,” offers a study of those who would offer critique to Fr. Brown. This is a rather well-written section of the book and one that those who knew (or who know of) the central players (Msgr. George Kelly, etc.) might find particularly interesting.

In the edition that I was given to review, there is perhaps an error, stating that Fr. Brown wrote a letter to his religious superior while he was studying in Jerusalem in 1948 (16). Should that read 1958? Again, chronology seems to be an issue with the text. Fr. Senior posits that The Jerome Biblical Commentary was published in 1965 when, in fact, it was published in 1968. These are picayune details, which, if corrected, might made a good book even better.

This is a book which truly describes tension, both in Fr. Brown, in the Church, and in the use of the historical-critical method. Fr. Senior writes:

This dual focus on scholarly integrity and fidelity to Catholic tradition reflected, in fact, the deepest commitment of Brown’s life as a Catholic priest and as a Sulpician — his devotion to rigorous scholarship and his tenacious loyalty to the Catholic Church. His explanations of his own method of biblical interpretation, whose formulation he tinkered with throughout his professional career, also reflect this dual and interrelated loyalty. (63)

Overall, I think this is a fascinating text and one that I recommend. Fr. Brown, as I mentioned, regardless of what one may think of the historical-critical method or of his scholarship, is a major player in twentieth-century theology, and Fr. Senior offers an excellent, if not always nuanced, appraisal of the contribution of this famous exegete.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as the academic dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. He earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History.

 

Longing to See Your Face: Preaching in a Secular Age – Thomas J. Scirghi

Scirghi, Thomas J. Longing to See Your Face: Preaching in a Secular Age. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2017. 123 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

At the heart of the art of preaching is mediation rather than public speaking. “The preacher,” Jesuit Father Thomas Scirghi reflects, “serves as the mediator between the Lord and the people” (3). In other words, the preacher is an intermediary who facilitates an encounter between the listeners and the living Lord. After exploring the primordial purpose of preaching, the author offers invaluable insights on maximizing the efficacy of the message.

The first part of this work explores the “why” of preaching. “The purpose of preaching is to name grace, that is, to locate Christ’s presence here and now” (16). Becoming attuned to God’s presence offers comfort and issues a challenge to respond. Preaching, in short, “helps the faithful to interpret their lives . . . enabling the disciples of today to understand their lives in relation to Jesus Christ” (41). In achieving this end, words matter. Words should not be easily dismissed or disparaged as mere rhetoric. Diction has great power to teach, inspire, and motivate. Intertwined with lucid language is the contemporary socio-cultural context. In this regard, “the preacher must be ‘bilingual,’ that is, the preacher must be able to speak both in the language of the tradition and the language of the culture” (32). Effective preaching requires the preacher to exegete the congregation in addition to exegeting the pertinent passages of Sacred Scripture.

The second part of this work examines the “how” of preaching, that is, it “takes up the practical matter of preparing to preach” (4). Father Scirghi observes that, oftentimes, complaints about the quality of preaching are attributable to a preacher’s lack of diligence rather than a lack of brilliance or eloquence. He recommends a ratio of one cumulative hour of preparation for every minute in the pulpit. Given that “the word of God must speak to the preacher before the preacher can speak the word of God,” (57) Scirghi recommends beginning with lectio divina or the imagination-engaging Ignatian “contemplation of place.” Scirghi poignantly writes: “When the preacher takes time to craft the homily with prayerfulness, research, and style, the people may glimpse the care of the Lord for them. The people of God are not so much looking for a brilliant theologian or a seasoned thespian. Rather, they are listening for a holy person, one who knows the Christian story and can tell it with clarity and conviction” (73). Simply put, preaching tests the authenticity and depth of the preacher’s faith.

The third part focuses upon funerals and weddings, which present a unique challenge because they oftentimes draw large crowds consisting of both the devout and deserters. Father Scirghi reminds preachers of the oft-forgotten truth that “the funeral is not so much about the person’s life itself, but more about how God has been manifested through this person’s life” (105). Similarly, a nuptial liturgy is, in the first place, a celebration of “what God is doing through this man and woman” (113). Preaching is to be structured in such a way as to lead to the Lord.

This book would have benefitted from an inclusion of Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium. Chapter three of Evangelii gaudium contains a relevant discussion of preaching and its preparation. In paragraph 135, the Holy Father reflects: “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people . . . The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” In paragraph 137, Pope Francis further reflects: “The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.” In paragraph 145, the Holy Father writes: “Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.” Reference to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments’ 2014 Homiletic Directory would also have been beneficial.

This book is principally intended for clerics — bishops, presbyters, and deacons — and seminarians preparing for ordained ministry. Lay ecclesial ministers who preach, for example, at a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP) or retreats would likewise benefit from these reflections born of study and experience. This work also equips parishioners to become engaged listeners and to “offer constructive feedback to their preachers” (5). Both veterans and novices will discover helpful criteria by which to appraise and improve their preaching. Excellence in preaching is “caught rather than taught” (4). The clarity, cogency, and conviction of Father Scirghi’s work provides an emulation-worthy model of what it means to be an effective and hope-filled messenger of salvation.

Christopher Siuzdak is a canonist in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Portland.

 

Five Proofs of the Existence of God – Edward Feser

Feser, Edward. Five Proofs of the Existence of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017.
Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush.

When I was studying philosophy as a college-level seminarian in the early 1990s, it was a very interesting time period, to say the least. For instance, I did not have to take a class in the history of medieval philosophy, and yet a course in existentialism was mandated. In metaphysics class, we never actually read anything by Aquinas, only Copleston’s book on him alongside of Bernard Lonergan’s interpretation of him. In our natural theology class, entitled “Problem of God,” the main text was John Haught’s What is God?: How to Think About the Divine (Paulist Press, 1986). As fine as my philosophical training was in contemporary thought, there were tremendous lacunae in my philosophical education, namely the reading of primary texts and in my exposure to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thankfully, the vast majority of philosophy programs in U.S. seminaries are using primary texts and are working from an Aristotelean-Thomistic point of view. With its footprint firmly planted in Thomism, Dr. Edward Feser’s text, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, will prove to be a helpful addition to natural theology classes in seminaries and undergraduate classes in the English-speaking world.

Dr. Feser, at the very start of the work, admits his admiration and adherence to the Doctor Comunis’s thought, but cautions about only examining Thomas on the subject of natural theology: “Since Aquinas is, in my estimation, the greatest of natural theologians, that approach has advantages. But it has limitations too. For one thing, it requires that the discussion be largely exegetical, a matter of explaining what Aquinas meant to say, or at most the direction in which his arguments could be taken (and have been taken by later Thomists), given what is actually to be found in his texts” (10). For an interested reader who has only a basic appreciation of Saint Thomas on the topic of natural theology, Dr. Feser’s book will not be overwhelming, but a great aide in coming to appreciate the perennial wisdom of Saint Thomas.

Indeed, Dr. Feser does not overwhelm his reader with obscurities, but, like a fine classroom teacher, illustrates, through the use of the ideas of some key philosophers, the basic proofs of God’s very existence. Dr. Feser concisely writes:

Indeed, I think that the proofs I defend here capture what is essential to the arguments of these thinkers. But I am not presenting an interpretation of any text to be found in the writing of any of these thinkers, and I am not claiming that any of these thinkers said or would agree with everything I have to say. I defend an Aristotelian proof of God’s existence, but not Aristotle’s own proof, exactly; an Augustinian proof, but not an exegesis of anything Augustine himself actually wrote; and so forth. (11)

For the specialist looking for novel insights into specific texts of Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz (the thinkers that the author covers in this text), they will be sorely disappointed. However, if such a specialist was looking for novel insights in how to communicate traditional natural theology to a contemporary audience, with popular culture references from films like The Matrix and The Incredible Hulk to normal daily examples, like enjoying a fine cup of coffee, they will be quite edified.

Dr. Feser’s structure is clear in this text. After a fine introduction, he proceeds to examine the proof of Aristotle (chapter one); Neo-Platonic proof (chapter two); Augustinian proof (chapter three); Thomistic proof (chapter four); and Rationalist proof (chapter five); before proceeding to what I think might be his best chapters, “The Nature of God and of His Relationship to the World” (chapter six) and “Common Objections to Natural Theology” (chapter seven). In his first five chapters, Dr. Feser offers a very clear and helpful formal summary to the argument laid forth from the philosopher (or school of thought) for the existence of God (for example, see 35–37; 80–82; 109–110; 128–31; 161–63). For those readers who want to delve deeper into questions of the existence of God, Dr. Feser offers a very helpful “Further Reading” section in which the primary texts for each of the proofs discussed, Aquinas’s five ways, other cosmological arguments, and the divine attributes are given. The book can really serve as a springboard for those who have their appetite whetted by the topic.

Dr. Feser’s book, as I mentioned, is not for those who want new information on natural theology, but is designed for students and readers who are beginning their studies. However, I cannot stress enough how good it is in its explanations and illustrations and those who teach philosophy will surely find it to be a tremendous resource. I highly recommend this book to teachers and students and I know that in Five Proofs of the Existence of God I have found a text that I trust for seminarians beginning their study of natural theology.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as the academic dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. He earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History.

 

Priests — What Lies Ahead? A Dialogue of Carlos Granados with Luis F. Ladaria, George Pell, Livio Melina, Charles J. Chaput

Granados, Carlos. Priests — What Lies Ahead? A Dialogue of Carlos Granados with Luis F. Ladaria, George Pell, Livio Melina, Charles J. Chaput. Trans. Richard Goodyear. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush.

Father Carlos Granados, a professor at Madrid’s San Damaso Ecclesiastical University, has become quite adept at interviewing prelates. He had interviewed His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller, in the Cardinal Müller Report (Ignatius, 2017) as well as The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Gerhard Cardinal Müller (Ignatius, 2014). Father Granados offers clear, insightful questions which permit his respondents to engage the reader. In the preface to this book, Granados’s frequent dialogue partner Cardinal Müller states: “The literary genre of a conversation or interview is always an occasion for lively and dynamic elaboration: it enables us to give voice to concerns and questions that might be out of place in a magisterial exposition” (7). In the case of Priests — What Lies Ahead?, Father Granados continues his good work and offers a book from which all Catholics, but especially priests, can benefit.

The author chooses four different clerics, three prelates and a priest, to demonstrate four images of the priesthood. These images are Teacher (Luis Cardinal Ladaria), Father (George Cardinal Pell), Physician (Mons. Livio Melina), and Pastor (Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFMCap). Each of these men exhibit in their lives the image of the priest that Granados assigns, but it becomes very clear that each of the clerics profiled exemplifies all four aspects of the priesthood.

In the first interview, then-Archbishop, now-Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who is currently the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, serves to illustrate “The Priest as Teacher of a Doctrine of Life.” Ladaria, a Jesuit who spent many years teaching theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, offers a word of gratitude to the Jesuit priests who formed him. In one powerful section, Ladaria is asked how, as a priest who has spent his vocation primarily in education, he has lived out his spiritual fatherhood. The cardinal sagely responds: “I have sometimes been asked whether classroom teaching has not prompted in me a certain nostalgia for the pastoral life, as though I must have been missing pastoral work. I have always said that I have not missed devoting myself more specifically to pastoral work, because I honestly believed that the students before me in the classroom were my parishioners” (19). Any priest who has spent his ministry in the classroom would be in total agreement with the cardinal’s statement. Father Granados’s line of questioning brings out what a solid theologian Cardinal Ladaria really is. Ladaria’s theological specialties are Trinity and theological anthropology, and this emerges tremendously in his view on priesthood. Cardinal Ladaria states: “The priest is an expert in humanity because he is an expert in Jesus, and his mission is to consummate all that is human, purify it, and lead it to the divine. It is truly a great mission, which is accomplished through preaching and the sacraments” (26). When asked what a priest who is afraid to preach the fullness of the Catholic faith to his congregation should do, the Prefect of the CDF offers a brave encouragement to priests to have parrhesia (“prophetic courage”). When asked what authors most influenced him, Ladaria mentions not only Irenaeus, Augustine, Hilary, and Aquinas, but also de Lubac, Congar, Balthasar, and Ratzinger, as well as great novelists like Dostoyevsky. This interview is truly is a delightful read!

The second interview is with His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, until quite recently the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, who, for Granados, exemplifies the “Priest as Father who Propagates through the Sacraments.” His Eminence gives a remarkably personal interview and the reader can truly perceive the place that Holy Mass has in his life. Cardinal Pell states: “While the first duty of the priest is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, every priest is defined by the capacity to celebrate the sacraments. Especially the celebration of the Eucharist” (51). Father Granados’s conversation with Cardinal Pell takes us through his own growth in an appreciation of priestly celibacy and spiritual paternity. The cardinal beautifully states: “I also think my own concept of paternity as a priest has developed slowly and over the years. I saw myself at the beginning as a brother with my brother priests, and only gradually did I think of myself more as a father. But certainly, right from the beginning, I regarded my priesthood, myself, as an alter Christus, as somebody called to personify what Christ is. Our fatherhood comes from the fatherhood of the one true God, and only if we remain one with Christ can we be true fathers” (59). Most priests I know would certainly agree with his statement from their priestly experience. Throughout his interview, we can see the depth of Cardinal Pell’s intelligence and his knowledge of history, culture, and theology truly informs his theology of priesthood and his ecclesiology. (Interestingly, both Ladaria and Pell, men of similar ages, list de Lubac and Congar as among their favorite theologians, so ressourcement fans rejoice!) I did find the cardinal’s take on Rahner (whose spiritual writings he appreciates) rather amusing: “I found his theological writings interesting, but they did not help me personally very much” (55).

The third interview is with Monsignor Livio Melina, professor at and former president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. Father Granados pairs Monsignor Melina with the image of the “Priest as Physician and Healer of Wounds.” Monsignor Melina offers a thoughtful and personal view of the priesthood. He states: “I could say, in von Balthasar’s words, that God’s presence in my life as a priest has been constant in accordance with the Lord’s method — that is, of latency and guidance, or, as Balthasar says, Latenz and Begleitung. This means that the Lord conceals himself out of respect for my freedom (‘latency’), but at the same time he acts as my guide so as not to let me stray too far off course” (93). Like Their Eminences Pell and Ladaria, Monsignor Melina demonstrates that the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, must be at the center of the life of the priest. And, like the two clerics interviewed by Granados before him, Melina lists de Lubac as a theological influence! In what I believe to be among the best questions Father Granados poses in the entire book, following Newman’s famous “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” he asks Melina: “Would you drink a toast to the pope, or would you drink it to conscience?” (129). Melina’s response is worthy of quotation for future generations (130).

The fourth and final interview is with the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, whom Granados pairs with the image of the “Priest as Guide of the Church and in Society.” The archbishop takes us through his own vocation story and through what he believes should be the proper role of the priest in the parish. (Chaput wisely states: “‘Clericalism’ is not just a bad habit of priests. Plenty of laypeople are equally guilty of it, because they are happy to make their priests responsible for everything. If priests are responsible for everything, then they are also blamable for everything when circumstances go wrong” [166–67].) In a section I really appreciated, the archbishop offers some observations on the formation of priests in our contemporary society that is very pertinent: first, because family life is so unstable, many of the candidates for priesthood share in that instability, and second, a priest without basic leadership skills is destined for trouble. Chaput states: “If a priest gives up his responsibility to lead, he always has enormous problems with the faithful — always” (169).

Father Granados’s interviews with Ladaria, Pell, Melina, and Chaput are highly recommended for all Catholics, but, in particular, for the priest who is looking for insight into his own identity and mission. Similar to the images of priesthood offered by the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska, and yet even more concrete, the quartet of teacher, father, physician, and pastor truly speak to the priest in the world today. Granados offers priests a gift into the lived experience of the mystery in which they share. I hope that many of my brother priests accept Granados’s gift in this book and grow from it.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as the academic dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. He earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History.

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Comments

  1. Re: Fr. Raymond E. Brown
    In the summer of 1966 at the University of San Francisco, Fr. Raymond Brown conducted a one-week series of evening lectures with a good half-time break. I was one of the few lay persons in attendance; probably 95% of the 300 attendees were priests or religious sisters.
    One evening the subject was the humanly expressible knowledge of Jesus regarding his divinity. Though Fr. Brown did not take a position, it seemed to me that he was leaning to the proposition that Jesus did not have humanly expressible knowledge of his divinity until after his resurrection. Father Brown would accept written questions, so during the break I wrote this question. “If Jesus did not have humanly expressible knowledge of his divinity until after the resurrection, how do you explain the words of the institution of the Eucharist?”

    Father Brown read the question out loud to the class and then replied: “I have never thought about that.” I admired his frankness but it raised other questions. What it taught me is the difference between 1) a theological scholar who has to know what every other scholar has said about the subject and 2) a Catholic theologian who gives us an insight into divine revelation. It still amazes me that Fr. Brown could read and say the words of Institution at daily Mass and not connect those words to the human consciousness of the Author.

    • Daniel A. Nicholls Daniel A. Nicholls says:

      An important distinction to remember, especially today, when “credentialed” teachers have such a wide pulpit in social media.

      This brings to mind seeing a Catholic author of some achievement, but of the literarily acceptable sort (politically), affirm with what seemed like reluctance mixed with certitude that the Eucharist and “all that” was real, allowing that he used to discount the whole thing, following the trend of age (coming up through the 1970s). This was near the end of Benedict’s papacy, and it did seem like clear teaching and the Eucharist specifically were the motivators.

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