Book Reviews – November 2020

Ceremonies Explained for Servers: A Manual for Altar Servers, Acolytes, Sacristans, and Masters of Ceremonies. By Peter J. Elliott. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

The Disabled Church: Human Difference and the Art of Communal Worship. By Rebecca F. Spurrier. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

The Conservative Sensibility. By George Will. Reviewed by Richard Antall. (skip to review)

Peter: Keys to Following Jesus. By Tim Gray. Reviewed by Marcus Benedict Peter. (skip to review)

Going Deeper: A Reasoned Exploration of God and Truth. By Leo Severino. Reviewed by Marie Nuar. (skip to review)

The Crisis of Bad Preaching. By Joshua J. Whitfield. Reviewed by Rev. Sean J. Donnelly, DMin. (skip to review)

God Will Provide: How God’s Bounty Opened to Saints and 9 Ways It Can Open for You, Too. By Patricia Treece. Reviewed by Jon Ericson (skip to review)

Ceremonies Explained for Servers – Peter J. Elliott

Elliott, Peter J. Ceremonies Explained for Servers: A Manual for Altar Servers, Acolytes, Sacristans, and Masters of Ceremonies. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2019. 314 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Altar servers, the Second Vatican Council teaches, “exercise a genuine liturgical function.” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy continues: “They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people. Consequently, they must all be deeply imbued with the spirit of liturgy, each in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a correct and orderly manner” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 29). Bishop Peter J. Elliott’s comprehensive training guide and reference manual excellently fulfills the Second Vatican Council’s mandate to properly form those who assist in the rituals of public worship. This solid handbook helps to expand the knowledge base and skill set of altar servers so that they can carry out their role competently, reverently, and meaningfully.

The work explains altar servers’ involvement from the sacrament of baptism to the funeral liturgy. It even discusses the Liturgy of the Hours, the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and other paraliturgical devotions such as the Stations of the Cross. The author offers a step-by-step explanation of the Holy Week liturgies, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. A chapter is dedicated to serving the bishop, which includes information about the Pontifical Mass, the Rite of Confirmation, the Rites of Ordination, religious profession, the Chrism Mass, and the institution of lectors and acolytes. The author explains liturgical norms that elude even some who are long ordained. For example, the author enumerates the proper number of incensations with the thurible. The celebrant is incensed with three double swings, a group of concelebrants with three double swings, a deacon with two double swings, the servers with three single swings, and the assembly with three double swings (77). As can be seen, the author treats both broad themes and pertinent minutiae.

Although there is no stand-alone glossary, a detailed index helpfully steers curious minds to the relevant paragraph number within the body of the text where the item or function is described. The author consistently uses proper terminology throughout the text, which will help dispel some inaccurate uses that have cropped up in certain quarters. For example, in some places within the United States there has been a misuse of the term “Eucharistic Minister (EM)” in place of “Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC).” According to sacramental theology and canon law, the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist are priests (i.e., bishops or presbyters) only. There are, properly speaking, no extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Lay individuals who have been duly commissioned to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion are properly called “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC).” The manual also describes the proper seating placement of servers, which is not immediately adjacent to the celebrant as is sometimes erroneously assumed. “Servers sit in convenient places in the sanctuary,” Bishop Elliott explains, “but it is not correct for them to sit facing the people, because this is a position of presiding” (29).

Liturgical celebrations proceed smoothly and effortlessly when a great deal of forethought and team effort has gone into their preparation behind the scenes. Bishop Elliott’s fine handbook will be of great value to altar servers, instituted acolytes, sacristans, masters of ceremonies, and seminarians throughout the anglophone world. It will help them learn not only the choreography of these sacred rites — sparing them embarrassing gaffes — but it will also imbue them with a deeper appreciation for the mysteries of our faith and a greater understanding of how “work at the altar is prayer in action” (1).

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

The Disabled Church – Rebecca F. Spurrier

Spurrier, Rebecca F. The Disabled Church: Human Difference and the Art of Communal Worship. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019. 249 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

In this ethnographic study of a non-Catholic Christian parish in the metropolis of Atlanta, the author paints a detailed portrait of a community of faith chiefly comprised of congregants with various physical disabilities, mental health issues, and economic hardships. The book, which is the fruit of “loitering with intent” for three years as a participant-observer, challenges “the cult of normalcy” and “the ideology of ability” (16) by exploring how parochial life in general and liturgical life in particular “is and might be transformed by the presence of disability” (xiii).

The first chapter “describes how those who gather understand their access to this church and community” (25). The author maps different hubs of interaction at the parish that prepare and extend the liturgy proper. There are no clear insiders or outsiders. Boundaries are fluid. “The communal ‘We’ of Sacred Family’s congregation is diffuse, dispersed across a set of interactions and relationships” (37). Such multiplicity, however, does not place plurality in opposition to unity (58). The second chapter examines “the arts of interdependence through which congregants weave one another into community, with a particular focus on three arts forms: arts of gesture and touch, arts of silence and imagination, and arts of jokes and laughter” (25). Chapter three explores varying senses of time. The author observes: “Employed members have a different aesthetic of time that corresponds to the scarcity of time and to a more able-minded efficiency” (118). The author then reflects on “Christian liturgical time,” which “bespeaks and enacts the impossible possibility of the future becoming present” (126).

The fourth chapter explores “the art of naming” by “considering how this church as a ‘communion of struggle’ uses multiple ways of naming what it means to be human, Christian, and mentally ill, and how the church searches for adequate names to account for the differences and desires of community members” (26). The author reflects on “how to respond to individual textures of loss and suffering that congregants experience without regarding another congregant as a pitiable thing, as one whose life I am fortunate not to have” (134). The fifth chapter explores “the limitations the church faces in sending congregants to do the work it gives them to do — to love and to serve — within a segregated and increasingly gentrifying city” (26). Among the chief contributions of this parish are stretching the imagination of the possibilities for human flourishing and providing a sense of belonging and connection. The author poignantly writes, “Those who are marked for social death refuse those marks in the fragile beauty and consent to life that persist” (191). In the conclusion, the author applies more explicitly the lens of theological aesthetics. “The beautiful,” the author explains, “accompanies a consent to an alignment of the desires of the human person with the desire of God for that person” (199).

The place of religion in everyday lives and the lived experience of individuals within parishes has been neglected by many scholars, who saw religiosity and religious institutions as vestiges of the premodern past that would soon evaporate. Persons with disabilities, similarly, have been seen by many as aberrational and, therefore, have been unjustly marginalized. Rebecca F. Spurrier’s scholarly study of this doubly disadvantaged population is unique. The author, who serves as Assistant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, has taken congregants with disabilities out of the shadowy sidelines and into the limelight. The work raises important questions about the social fabric of our communities and the engagement required to weave or knead people together. This work will be of special interest to church leaders, liturgists, and disability scholars.

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

The Conservative Sensibility – George Will

Will, George. The Conservative Sensibility. New York: Hachette Books, 2019. 640 pages.

Reviewed by Richard Antall.

In the bad old days of the last century, when people read newspapers and columns of commentary instead of Tweets, George Will’s elegant mini-essays were syndicated in more than 200 newspapers, including The Washington Post and Newsweek. When such distinctions were noticed and important, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. His columns were appreciated for the breadth of his historical reference. David Stockman, President Reagan’s Budget Director for a time, was a “Robespierre” and he would comment on Ted Kennedy with allusions to Talleyrand and other historical figures. Gary Trudeau, the cartoonist, said Will kept graduate students locked in his basements looking for recondite historical examples.

In 1983, he published a book, Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does. In its preface he said that “to anyone sufficiently familiar with the minds of the Oxford Movement, circa 1842, all my conclusions are predictable.” That’s the Oxford Movement whose greatest light was St. John Henry Newman. A few pages later in the book, he says his aim in writing it was “Augustinian,” as in St. Augustine, whose City of God Will pretended to emulate in his own modest way.

Thirty-six years after publishing a book that talked about the spiritual influence of government, saying that it does “legislate” morality — by which Will meant “the enactment of laws and implementation of policies that proscribe, mandate, regulate or subsidize behavior that will, over time, have the predictable effect of nurturing, bolstering or altering habits, dispositions and values on a broad scale” — he has written a new book, The Conservative Sensibility.

What a difference a few years can make! Will attempts to synthesize and summarize conservatism in the American context. Part history, part political science, part diatribe against progressivism, The Conservative Sensibility is a very serious work, over 600 pages long and filled with the kind of elegant illustrations Will has become famous for. Conservatism’s highest concern is for freedom, he argues, and for that reason always defends respect for human nature and natural rights against progressives, who say that human nature is completely malleable and human rights not inherent but the product of historical circumstances.

But the book is also something else: an excursion into what is called Natural Theology, except that he concludes Natural means no Theology. There is no proof for God in nature, and, of course, especially no proof for a good God. It’s argumentative overkill to insist on both these ideas, but Will shows a surprising lack of sophistication in his thinking. The grandson of a Lutheran minister, he declares that “I, like my father am an amiable, low-voltage atheist.”

Will begins his atheistic trope when he talks about the Founding Fathers. They, like Will, were not mostly Unitarians and Deists, as history has said, he argues, but really atheists. Jefferson, who talked about the Creator endowing men with natural dignity, was actually only a victim of “almost a verbal tic among eighteenth century writers, lacking theological meaning.” The tic was very strong because, in Jefferson’s second inaugural speech, the reelected president stated “the need for the favor of that Being in whose hands we are.”

Then Will proceeds to insist that “at no point does one need to feel bound to postulate that natural law, in the sense described here, requires a transcendent lawgiver.” Later in the book, the author mocks the idea of the Almighty, because “the unplanned complexity of the whirl . . . has driven out Zeus.” People have faith to “assuage an ache” in their existence. The weak believe and thus the “conservative” pundit joins hands with Karl Marx about the opiate of the people.

Venturing into theodicy, the branch of theology that reconciles the God’s justice with the world’s injustice, Will remarks that the Creator could have “left out” natural disasters and illnesses, “had He been feeling a bit more friendly.” His grandfather could have told him about Original Sin and the disasters concomitant on it that cause, as St. Paul says, “all creation to groan and to be in agony” (Rom 8:22.). With Wikipedia-style breadth and depth, Will points to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, then to the Copernican solar system, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the complexity of the neurology of the brain (which makes him decide there is no soul), Darwin’s theory of evolution, Shakespeare’s poetry of Hamlet’s despair, and the ever-expanding universe to explain why God was “written out of the human story.”

Add to this the “impatience” of modernity to “appeals to an authority beyond reason.” He is personally insulted that Russell Kirk and Whittaker Chambers, figures in the pantheon of conservative thought in America, dared to say that unbelievers were not to be trusted as conservatives, even though his idol, John Locke, basically said the same thing. He is particularly angry at Chambers, who said that a man without mysticism was a monster. Conservatives better face up to unbelief because it is growing, he says. His “amiable” atheism has some sharp edges.

It has as well lapses of mature thought and even vocabulary. The former “Augustinian” thinker does not know that the Immaculate Conception is not the Virginal Conception. He reduces Luther’s thought to ending a sacramental and priestly monopoly on grace (has he heard about the faith and works controversy?). His reverence for the Founders and his cherished idea of the necessity of a “public spirit of self-denial” are examples of faith, too, but he does not recognize that. Does he think the Constitution will save him? Will they read from the Federalist papers at his funeral?

His atheism reminds me of an addict who told me recently that all of creation was only the accidental dance of atoms with no transcendent meaning. I asked the man if he really loved his son. “Of course I do,” he replied. “That is meaningless,” I said, “nothing more than an accident of atoms bumping into each other in the chaos of the world.” No, it wasn’t meaningless. It was something that existed between them, it was real, he insisted. “And spiritual,” I said, “but you don’t believe in the spiritual.” He was confused by the example.

I was once a great admirer of Mr. Will’s writing. Several times in the reading of this magnum opus I could still see the charm of his style. But more times, I found myself saying, “Say it isn’t so, George,” like the kid who was shocked by the White Sox baseball scandal in 1919 (Will, of course, is a fanatic of baseball). How can you be so smart and yet so dumb? The Conservative Sensibility ruins its often convincing political theory by premising it on a Darwinist doomsday philosophy (all life will disappear because the universe is running out of carbon) and the denial of God. A scripture kept echoing in my mind as I read the book, “The Lord confounds the wisdom of the wise.” (1 Cor.1:19).

Remember Mr. Will in your prayers, as I did this evening.

Msgr. Richard Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author, most recently, of the novel The Wedding from Lambing Press.

Peter – Tim Gray

Tim Gray. Peter: Keys to Following Jesus. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016. 204 pages.

Book Review by Marcus Benedict Peter

Dr. Tim Gray’s book on the figure of Peter is a timely work. In an era where reason and truth are depreciated, and even despised, this theologically sound and historically excellent work reestablishes how Christ, the God-man institutes His Church upon a fallen man, granting him the promise of infallible objective truth despite his own sinfulness. As Gray describes him, Peter is a “bridge for our understanding the relationship between Christ and his Church” (19)

Written on the tails of an ingenious lecture series by Augustine Institute on Peter, entitled “Lectio: Peter,” this exploration on the life of Peter as found in Sacred Scripture and historical Tradition is a précis into a few key, if one would pardon the pun, areas of growth for Christian living. The fundamental drive of the book seems to be encapsulated in the succinct foreword, “to impart a theology of discipleship and evangelization based on seven interactions between Jesus and Peter. Each interaction comes after a failure on the part of Peter to understand or act properly.” Dr. Gray proceeds to utilize one chapter apiece to discuss these pivotal Peter-Christ interactions in Scripture, and concludes with three chapters discussing the post-Resurrection life of Peter, i.e. on Pentecost, Peter’s arrival in Rome, and Peter’s martyrdom.

Dr. Gray’s investigation into the time period, Jewish culture, locations, and context is commendable. The writing style is almost experiential, making the visualization of the narrative somewhat effortless. The book seems to drive itself with the underlying premise of asking, “Who is this man Peter and why is he so pivotal to Church History?” To answer this question, Dr. Gray plumbs the depths of the language and literal meaning of the text into its spiritual senses, almost as if his end goal were to humanize and personalize the man Peter to the reader. The book is more than an intellectual narrative, although it doesn’t fail to deliver as an informational narrative. Dr. Gray seeks, in the pages of his text, to draw out the moral sense for the everyday Christian. For Gray, Peter’s life is as fallen then as it is exhortative now.

Using the biblical representation of Peter as a model throughout the chapters, Dr. Gray also walks the reader through the practicum of what trusting in the Lord and discipleship entails, even to the end of martyrdom. From there, he also explores the reality of not being a true disciple and the inevitable rejection of the Lord that that engenders, as well as the humility to seek and receive forgiveness and to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ unto others. “Reflecting on Peter, the sinful and unworthy man, gives us great hope because we, too, are sinful and unworthy. But God doesn’t call the worthy. He calls and, if we answer, makes us worthy — and tells us not to be afraid.”

Dr. Gray begins his work by drawing from the seven Peter-Christ interactions that take place in the Gospels. These are:

  1. Peter’s call to discipleship after having fished all night and caught nothing
  2. Christ healing Peter’s mother-in-law and subsequent basing of His ministry in Capernaum
  3. Peter’s failure of faith in walking on water to Christ
  4. Christ renaming Simon as Peter and all that that title entails
  5. Christ conferring the keys to the Kingdom upon Peter
  6. Peter’s continual growth in a role of leadership among the Apostles and the Transfiguration
  7. Peter’s denial of Christ during His Passion

The chapters of the book build off each other. In each Peter-Christ encounter, Dr. Gray explicates how the Apostle both rises to the challenge and falls in his weakness. How he responds to grace in one instant and rejects his Lord in another. As a meditation, what the work allows the reader to do is to introspect the numerous ways in which all of us are, effectively, Peter. What Dr. Gray highlights about the persona of Peter is that his fervor and zeal as an Apostle is manifest in his unyielding tenacity. He never gives up. Even when he has been broken down by his own betrayal of his Lord, Dr. Gray emphasizes that Peter is always fully aware that it is only Jesus, his Lord, who can be his Savior. It is in this vein that the reader is brought to the very last chapter, which considers how Peter, now strengthened by the Holy Spirit, is brought to the end of his earthly ministry, and is called to share in the Passion of His Lord with his own via crucis. The content of this chapter is drawn principally from Tradition that has been handed down in the Church. Reading it, we see the narrative of the final few acts of Peter. He departs from Rome, sent away by his fellow Christians who were aware that his life was in jeopardy, the motivation for this being that the Church still needed him. In this setting, we witness in the text the all-too-famous “Domine, quo vadis?” exchange between Christ and Peter. In this exchange, Peter is exhorted to return to Rome, that he may give his life for His Lord.

The book ends with a far-reaching exhortation for all Christians. The fact is, according to Gray, “we cannot turn inward. We must go out into the streets and proclaim the truth” (199), even if it means that we will receive crucifixion for it. Ultimately, this is a book that compels martyrdom of the reader, in small and great ways, in and through Peter as a model. As a popular work for both bible studies and personal meditation, this is a recommended one.

Going Deeper – Leo Severino

Severino, Leo. Going Deeper: A Reasoned Exploration of God and Truth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. 155 pages.

Reviewed by Marie Nuar

Going Deeper: A Reasoned Exploration of God and Truth, by Leo Severino, is an introduction to thinking about life’s great questions. If one has not done so before, then this book will take you deeper, scratching the surface of what those deep questions might be and providing a logical framework within which to work. If one has already been delving into such topics, then this book is probably not for you.

While the title has God in it, Severino does not mention God in the first part of the book. He seeks to “prove” God’s existence using logic. God’s existence can never be proven if we are using the term as a scientist uses it. The “proof” is showing that faith does not contradict reason, but for someone who does not have or is not open to faith, no amount of arguments will sway them. The first eight chapters examine how we can know that there is a first cause and what we can know about it from deductive reasoning.

Starting in chapter one, Severino begins with arguing for the existence of an objective truth, which many today deny. After showing the reasonableness of objective truth he begins with a leaf falling to show the logical consistency of believing in a first cause (just like Aquinas does, although without mentioning Aquinas). In subsequent chapters he reasons through understanding this first cause to be one, uncaused, really powerful, created everything from nothing, immaterial and indivisible, subject to neither space nor time and omnipresent. The rest of the book is spent using inductive reasoning to show the reasonableness of God’s omniscience and love, the meaningfulness of the universe, morality, and answering the common objections of evil and pain.

I do have a few problems with the book. I find the book rhetorically annoying with repetition that makes it appear as if he is talking down to the reader. The book is presented as leading “from common experiences of reality to ultimate reality.” However, his reasoning slides over certain objections, offering at times some rather unconvincing logic. The way it is presented can at times come across as arrogant and dismissive of anyone who might disagree with his conclusions. Certain distinctions are glossed over or never made. When discussing if the first cause can be in time before the universe, he fails to distinguish between the points of view. From the view of the first cause, then no, but from the view of the universe, then yes. There is a lack of consistency in his use of terms. For instance, in chapter 12 he uses the philosophic concept of property to refer to that which essentially inheres in, but then uses accident not in the philosophical sense of a non-essential property, but in the common usage of random chance.

The chapters are short and easy to read, even if a bit tedious at times. Conveniently, they end with a short recap of the points that he argued in the chapter. If one has not used reason to explore the truths proposed by Catholicism and one wants to start, then this book is for you. If you are hoping to give it to your atheist friend who has been pondering these questions or to your friend who “reasoned” their way out of Catholicism, this is probably not the best choice.

The Crisis of Bad Preaching – Joshua J. Whitfield

Whitfield, Joshua J. The Crisis of Bad Preaching. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 164 pages.

Reviewed by Rev. Sean J. Donnelly, DMin.

The subtitle of this book is “Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher.” As such, I believe that Fr. Whitfield has written one of the best books on homiletics that I have ever read. Every seminary would benefit from his contribution to what has become, unfortunately, an area that is in dire need of development: preaching.

Many approaches to homiletics focus in on techniques, preparation, length. In other words, they tend to focus on “mechanics.” There is nothing wrong with mechanics, but one cannot limit himself to seeing the homily merely as the product of proximate preparation. The author’s genius is to situate the homily in a much greater context, namely, the renewal of the heart of the preacher. For instance, the author begins by stating: “Today the preacher must become a public intellectual, embracing unashamedly the intellectual responsibility that goes along with modern ministry. The homilist must also consciously belong to a communion of preachers, learning and speaking within the broad company of all who’ve preached the Gospel. And the preacher must be unquestionably a person of the Church, obedient to the voice of Christ in the Church, rather than to one’s own voice” (p. 3).

To become an intellectual, preachers must be readers. Reading must be done well and be inclusive of material beyond religion and literature. This is because an intellectual is a “person who has devoted his or her life to thinking in more general terms about the affairs of the world and the broader context of things” (p. 12). The preacher must be a student of the Bible, and ever faithful to the teachings of the Church. One of the roots of the crisis of preaching, today, is in no small measure a “crisis of ecclesial consciousness” (p.31). The preacher is not to preach his Christ and his Catholicism, but, rather, our Christ and our Catholicism (p.34).

The book’s second half deals with redeeming the way of preaching. But, even here, there is more to it than employing certain techniques. Techniques have a certain importance, but there is more. To begin with, the preacher must be a man of prayer. “Without prayer, it’s not just that we’ll end up preaching poorly, but that we’ll end up preaching nothing” (p. 54). The author suggests communally praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the use of Lectio Divina, and contemplation. Later in the book, Fr. Whitfield speaks of preaching as a “Pentecostal” event. A preacher should have a devotion to the Holy Spirit, and call on Him regularly. “After theology and rhetoric, what is left for the preacher is to call down the fire of God” (p. 131).

Having developed the intellectual and ecclesial context for preaching, the author addresses the issue of homily preparation. “[A] bad habit belonging to all types of clergy from prelates to pastors to parochial vicars . . . is the lack of preparation” (p. 75). In order to prepare well, the homilist has to be attentive to the sacred texts, to the liturgy and liturgical time, to the world, to people, and to oneself and his vocation. I particularly appreciate Fr. Whitfield’s inclusion of what it means to pay attention to the world and to people: “As Benedict XVI taught, good preaching is addressed to those both inside and outside the Church; it is alert to half-open, half-developed hearts of some, or many, in the pews, and not just the ardent faithful” (pp. 88f; the primary source is Pope Benedict’s Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life.).

When it comes time to prepare the homily, the author is forthright about the need to write. It is not that the preacher necessarily has to use a written text while in the pulpit. However, “good ‘unwritten’ homilies — those given without reading from a text — are normally born of writing . . . Often, this is precisely the problem with homilies. When they’re not thought out very well, not written out, the result is drivel” (p. 99).

And to the perennial question about the length of homilies, Fr. Whitfield comments: “Preachers must feel free to say what they feel called by God to say, economically and creatively. If that takes five minutes, wonderful. If it takes twenty minutes, that’s fine too. The only criterion is that whatever the length, the homily ought to be worth the listeners’ time” (p. 100).

Fr. Sean J. Donnelly was ordained in 1982 for the diocese of Cleveland. He has worked as a parish priest ever since. He has three graduate degrees in theology and one in Church management.

God Will Provide – Patricia Treece

Treece, Patricia. God Will Provide: How God’s Bounty Opened to Saints and 9 Ways It Can Open for You, Too. Paraclete Press, 2011. 200 pages.

Reviewed by Jon Ericson

There is much to like and much to admire in Patricia Treece’s account of how God acts providentially in the world, how he functions as a loving, generous, caring father to his children. The author’s own faith shines on every page and is the foundation for her claim that God Will Provide.

The book’s preface does what every good preface should do: it creates both interest and anticipation as it narrates simply and clearly the story of the holy and simple priest and porter Father Solanus Casey, O.F.M.-Cap., a contemporary loaves and fishes account of God’s providence working in the world. The message in this beautifully written narrative is actually a synecdoche for the whole book and led this reader to anticipate with pleasure the narrative to follow.

The short Introduction provides the reader an initial look at sentences which may require several readings to discern their meaning. For example, rather than simply stating that what Solanus longed for others to grasp is that God’s providence is readily available to them, the sentence is broken into many parts, unnecessary clauses and phrases, verbal cul-de-sacs. The sentence reads: What Solanus longed for others to grasp is the subject of this book: that if you are willing to open yourselves to it — this kind of answer to prayer — demonstrated by saints of our time like Venerable Solanus Casey — is available to everyone, including you.

The point here is not to simply focus on a single sentence that could have been written more clearly, but to observe that when an otherwise clear statement is broken up with multiple clauses and phrases, it muddles the thought. “. . . if you are willing to open yourself to it. . .” To what does it refer? The concluding paragraph of the Introduction twice refers to “these principles.” What principles? For certain, the author knows, and it may be that many readers are able to infer what is meant. It is, nevertheless, good to let the rest of us know what is being talked about.

Although the author’s lack of explication may leave some readers to sense that an inside audience is being addressed, there are further examples of the superb narration found in the Prologue. A particularly poignant one is the story of Charles de Foucauld, an example that adds richness to an already strong chapter with clear and compelling content. While this Retool Your Mind chapter is strong in substance, innovative and interesting, it also provides clear examples of the uneven style that permeates the book. The language usage throughout ranges from the kind of eloquence the Greeks described as the Grand Style to the common language one hears on the street. For example, we have such superbly crafted statements as “Angela demonstrates a mind that lives divine providence down to its core.” Or the brilliant metaphor “. . . a huge umbrella between you and the rain of God’s endless mercies.” There are more, many more.

Chapter Eight begins with what I must assume is a misstatement, as I cannot believe the author regards faith in God’s providence as a skill. Nevertheless, the statement is made: “Whatever faith in God’s Providence you’ve grown you can strengthen by practice — the way you practice any other skill” (my emphasis). Faith, of course, is a God-given gift, not a humanly-honed skill.

When Fr. Biju Michael commented on the “copious examples” employed by Ms. Treece, it is quite certain that his intention was to be complimentary in the sense of having an abundance of a good thing. “Copious” also carries the meaning of being beyond abundant to excessive. In my opinion, the author’s thesis would be better served if developed by a narrative with a unifying theme to give coherence and direction to the discourse, rather than a copious enumeration of essentially the same story. Each may be interesting, even fascinating, but all together, one after another, after another, after another, the interest wanes.

A less enumerative account of the miracles might be further warranted in the light of the insightful proverb: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” To end where we began, there is much to like and admire in Patricia Treece’s gathering of instances of God’s providence, along with her thoughtful suggestions on how one might become more open to receiving God’s gifts. This book will undoubtedly be an inspiration to many, a valuable resource for the Church.

Jon Ericson, Dean Emeritus, College of Liberal Arts, Cal Polytechnic University, has taught Rhetoric and Public Address at Stanford University, Central Washington, and Cal Poly and has authored The Debater’s Guide and The Rhetoric of the Pulpit.

Book Reviews About Book Reviews

Expert and interested readers can review our Books Received page to see what is available and for instructions on how to review for HPR.