Book Reviews – July 2022

The Restless Flame, Daniel Lord, S.J.: Thinking Big in a Parochial World! By Stephen A. Werner. Reviewed by Steven R. McEvoy. (skip to review)

The Scandal of the Scandals. By Manfred Lütz. Reviewed by Robert Rooney. (skip to review)

Angel Mountain. By Christine Sunderland. Reviewed by Francis Etheredge. (skip to review)

In the Eye of the Storm. By Sigrid Grabner. Reviewed by Lawrence Montz. (skip to review)

Achieving Chastity in an Unchaste World. By Fr. Thomas Morrow. Reviewed by John Naughton. (skip to review)

The Prayerful Kiss: A Collection of Prose and Poetry. By Francis Etheredge. Reviewed by Christine Sunderland. (skip to review)

The Quality of Mercy. By Anna Burke. Reviewed by Dan Sherven. (skip to review)

The Restless Flame, Daniel Lord, S.J – Stephen A. Werner

Werner, Stephen A. The Restless Flame, Daniel Lord, S.J.: Thinking Big in a Parochial World! St. Louis, MO: Press, Press, Pull, 2021. 360 pages.

Reviewed by Steven R. McEvoy.

I first encountered the works of Daniel Lord, SJ several years ago. I was amazed when I discovered how much he had written. Previously, about 45 of his booklets were available in Kindle format, and many were available on the the Australian Catholic Truth Society Archive. Unfortunately the Kindle editions cannot be found any longer and the ACTS site is undergoing a rebuild. I was approached about reviewing this volume because I had reviewed Played by Ear. A priest I follow on social media, Fr. Edward Looney, once stated that “Daniel Lord wrote over a million words in his lifetime.” And I had not really heard of him. Shortly after that I started picking up his eBooks and my children had a couple reprints of his children’s books gifted to them. I later wrote a piece called “Three Great Catholic Writers That You Might Never Have Heard Of! Curtayne – Lord – Powers,” and this volume just reinforces that sentiment.

This book is written in part as a companion to the website DanielLordSJ.com. Each chapter ends with links to that site for further information. But the book is much more than that. It is the story of an incredible life. A life lived large, a life lived in service — and a life that completely surprised me. This volume is biography; it is also a sort of Curriculum Vitae. It is also a chronological bibliography or the plays, major articles, books, and booklets that Lord penned. Lord wrote over 30 books and over 200 pamphlets. He wrote plays, pageants, dramas, columns, and more. He was a lecturer, public speaker, the National Director of the Sodality movement. He created the Summer School of Catholic Action, which was a week-long conference for sisters, priests, brothers, students, and lay people. Many of his ideas were years if not decades ahead of his times. And yet central to his life was being a priest and serving God and the church.

Reading this, it feels like Lord had the strength and stamina of several ordinary men. He accomplished more in his lifetime than many. The end of the description of this volume states: “Very likely, Daniel Lord, in his thirty-year career, had more impact on the lives of ordinary Catholics than any other religious figure. His life story and countless writings provide a unique window into the American Catholic world of the 1920s into the 1950s.”

I would absolutely agree. This book is a fascinating read about an amazing man. It is very detailed. Toward the end of the book, Werner muses:

“The writings of Daniel Lord have been mostly forgotten. Lord did not write for the ages nor did he write for academics. He wrote for ordinary people in the moment. He had much influence on many people. Many millions of people read his pamphlets. However, pamphlets were cheap to buy and easy to pitch.

“Most libraries, even Catholic libraries, did not buy them and certainly did not save them. As for The Queen’s Work magazine, only a few Catholic libraries kept them and bound them and later archived them. Both his magazine and pamphlets became hard to find. Also his writings were not taken seriously by most Catholic scholars. As for Lord’s many shows and pageants, he believed the actual play was what was important. Although some scripts were published, many were not and only exist as manuscripts.

“The vast majority of what Lord wrote is not being read today. On the other hand, how many American Catholics today are reading classics such as Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, and the novels and stories of Flannery O’Connor?”

As someone who has spent the last several years trying to track down books and booklets by Alice CurtayneLord, and other volumes from The Catholic Truth Society, I can attest that finding booklets from 20 to 30 years ago is difficult, let alone 75–100 years ago. I think it is a great loss and can only hope that at least a digital archive of Lord’s works can be compiled over the coming years. We are informed in this book that Lord stated:

“I have never written with any hope that my writings would live. On the contrary, I am content that they die with the vast body of topical writings which profoundly affect the moment and the hour. I do not expect to be rediscovered in a hundred years by commentators who will discuss me learnedly and embalm me in footnotes. Who cares? I wrote for the Dicks and Sues I knew and loved. I wrote in the hope that someone who ran as he read might, because of my writing, run with a little more security and read with a sense that I had confirmed what he had hoped for and known without quite being able to put it into words.”

I know I have benefited from much of what I have read by Lord and will continue to try and track down more of his works, especially his booklets. Werner states after the above quote: “Hopefully this book with its fair share of footnotes has not embalmed Daniel Lord but rather brought to light this fascinating man and his work. Much of what he wrote is still relevant to the great-grandchildren of Dick and Sue.”

And I am certain anyone who gives this book a read will become fascinated with the man and the works of Daniel A. Lord. This is an excellent biography, and worth the read. I give it top marks.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan!

Steven R. McEvoy, by night a dyslexic bibliophile with a focus on Catholic works both fiction and non-fiction, reads on average over 100 books a year, and by day works in IT as an infrastructure specialist. He can be found online at www.bookreviewsandmore.ca/.

The Scandal of the Scandals – Manfred Lütz

Lütz, Manfred. The Scandal of the Scandals. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2020, 267 pages.

Reviewed by Robert Rooney.

Ever since the Reformation, the Catholic Church has been attacked for what are alleged to be grave moral failings throughout its history. Thus, the Crusades, launched in the late eleventh century at the urging of Pope Urban II, are portrayed as violent holy wars, motivated by a zeal to force Muslims to convert or else face slaughter and destruction. Yet as historians have shown in studies over the last few decades, this image of the Crusades rests mostly on ignorance and prejudice. Those findings were summed up a few years ago by Rodney Stark, an American sociologist and self-described agnostic, in his book Bearing False Witness, a feisty defense of the Church in controversies over the Crusades, as well as the Inquisition, the persecution of witches, the treatment of slaves, and attitudes toward scientific progress.

In the present work, The Scandal of the Scandals, Dr. Manfred Lütz, a German psychiatrist and theologian as well as a Catholic, tackles some of the same subjects. Dr. Lütz approaches his task from a different starting point with an extended look at the early history of the Church, its relationship to the state, and questions surrounding the use of force in society.

With its recognition by the emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, the Church moved from being a proscribed religion to an entity which would soon have to wield influence and power in the public sphere. The collapse of the Western empire centered in Rome left Church authorities like Pope Leo in the fifth century and Pope Gregory in the sixth century to govern not only in ecclesiastical matters but in political matters as well. Dealings with barbarian tribes led to questions about mass conversions (conversion of whole groups following upon conversion of their leaders) as well as questions about the treatment of the unbaptized — not only pagans, but also Jews and, shortly later, Muslims.

As Lütz makes clear, there never was a program of forced conversion. From the time of Augustine to the outbreak of the Reformation, no ecclesiastic or theologian suggested that anyone could be coerced into accepting the faith. Entrance into the Church had to be voluntary. Battles against external foes, Muslims for the most part, were primarily defensive. The Crusades were undertaken to protect Christian pilgrims en route to the Holy Land. And it is worth noting that resistance to Muslim aggression had to continue for many centuries. Christian forces were fighting to save Vienna in the late seventeenth century.

The most vexing question that involved the use of force did not concern external enemies. It was the problem of profound opposition within Christian society. This opposition was more than mere disagreement on some question of discipline; it constituted a whole different system of belief and practice. It took its most extreme form in the Cathar movement, which flourished in parts of western Europe in the thirteenth century, in particular in the south of France. The Cathars were dualists who held that the material world was an inherently evil creation. It was, in Lütz’s words, a “grim life-hating sect.” A crusade was launched against the Cathar stronghold, resulting in widespread bloodshed. Ultimately, though, it was the witness of the mendicant orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, that overcame the heretics. The friars did this by preaching the Gospel and engaging in public disputations, coupled with their wholehearted embrace of poverty and simplicity.

The role of the Dominicans in this and other matters is especially controversial because they became responsible for the Inquisition, probably one of the most reviled institutions in the eyes of many critics. Yet their work in investigating and evaluating charges of heresy was to prove instrumental in the protection rather than the destruction of many lives. This was especially evident in the way inquisitors approached accusations of witchcraft. In general, inquisitors were skeptical of the wild charges brought against women (and men) for alleged contacts with demons. Where they did find evidence of some suspect activity, the inquisitors were more likely to admonish than to punish. As a result of their systematic and orderly investigations, far fewer executions for witchcraft occurred in Catholic areas of Europe than in Protestant areas. The witchcraft craze died out fairly quickly in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where inquisitors did much of their work.

In addition to the inquisitors, there were a number of Church authorities who had the wisdom and courage to oppose the abusive practices of their day. Rich and powerful elements in the Christian world, especially during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were engaged in the exploitation of African captives and Indigenous tribes in the New World. Mistreatment of these people brought condemnation from Pope Urban VIII in the early seventeenth century; in a similar vein, the Roman Inquisition denounced the Atlantic slave trade. It was the fundamental Christian belief that all men are created in the image and likeness of God that underlay these statements. Lütz references the observation of Rodney Stark that Christians alone perceived the inherent sinfulness of chattel slavery and worked for its abolition.

Courage to speak out against injustice is admirable, but the courage to act — where it is possible — is even better. In the case of Pope Pius XII, one can see the drama of a man who chose actions over words. Following his death in 1958, Pius came under severe criticism for his failure to make a public statement during World War II against the persecution of the Jews in Europe. He had been urged by the bishops of the Netherlands and the bishop of Berlin to speak out in protest of the Nazi program of extermination. Having feared even more widespread persecutions of both Jews and non-Jews, Pius had taken a different course, one that in all probability saved many more lives than an open protest would have. In the situation that faced him, Pius chose effective actions (hiding and aiding thousands of refugees in Rome and tens of thousands elsewhere) over dramatic gestures.

However, the propaganda campaign that was launched against Pius with the staging of Rolf Hochuth’s play “The Deputy” has continued to this day with broadsides from John Cornwell (Hitler’s Pope) and Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners) among others. But the record is clear. The praise for Pius that came after the Second World War and lasted up to the time of his death was well deserved.

Lütz does not neglect other controversial issues in Church history: Native American missions on the North American continent, the Church and the Enlightenment, feminism, and human sexuality. In each instance he rescues many figures and events from the caricature and distortion to which they are often subject.

None of this is to deny that there were crusaders who slaughtered innocents, inquisitors who hounded victims, churchmen who condoned slavery, or clergy who failed to protect the persecuted. But all these controversies require careful investigation and balanced judgment. This is what Lütz provides.

The Scandal of the Scandals is well argued and well referenced. It deserves a wide readership.

Angel Mountain – Christine Sunderland

Sunderland, Christine. Angel Mountain. Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2020. 267 pages.

Reviewed by Francis Etheredge.

In many ways, although this is only the second novel I have read of this author, it reads as a climax of many threads that, one imagines, have been gathering momentum through Christine Sunderland’s seventy years of life which, with the twists and turns of an exciting write, she has turned into a spiritual thriller, racing through the tensions of our times and, at the same time, pausing in front of the mystery of God and prayer: that striking contrast between upheaval and turmoil and the still point of being still: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

We enter a world rightly worried about the need to remember war, its abuses, the escalation of conflict, the unholy influence of drugs and money, terrorism and its dehumanizing isolation and destructiveness, the experience of refugees, and the many ways that we come to the solid foundations of our lives and of the societies in which we live in discerning the ethical use of reason, science, the great and majestic sweep of culture, civilization, and religion. This contemporary scene is embraced, as it were, within the structure of time echoing God’s work of creation and, as the novel develops, so the almost contradictory song of praise rises from one of Sunderland’s most dramatic characters.

We enter this world, then, through a variety of voices who range from the almost deranged terrorist to the prophetic voice of a modern day John the Baptist and a whole range of characters in between, either thinking through their relationship to the Christian Faith or deeply immersed in or connected to it; and, in the course of what unfolds, there is the almost anonymous “hook-up” contrasted with the deeply personal engagement and marriage of two of the central characters. In the midst of a volatile situation, whether externally with forest fires and the unpredictable killings of bystanders or the erupting “internal dialogues” within her characters, there “enters” an enclave of friendship in the house of a Jewish widow, Elizabeth, who has befriended her housekeeper and husband and the two people who, in time, will meet and be drawn together through a common love of Elizabeth and her brother, Abram.

Abram is a late vocation to the Anglican priesthood, and preaches repentance and baptism before his death in a beautifully colorful Orthodox context of intense iconography, praise, and a radical Christian life. Sunderland’s portrayal of Abram brings out the dramatic nature of conversion and its call to others, drawing out friendships and opening up relationships, literally, between heaven and earth! While, in one sense, one might have objected to such a prayer saturated book, it is so taken up into the life of Abram that it truly shows the “invisible made visible” and a generous embrace of a variety of different expressions of the heart’s awakening to the existence of God who loves us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One wonders, too, about the author’s ecumenical embrace of different traditions with an almost “interior” unity between them all; and, as such, it is like reading an account with the sense of Ut Unum Sint, That They May All Be One, by St. John Paul II — but without the explicit mention of the pope.

Sunderland touches, too, on the challenge of harnessing the good of genetic science and repudiating its harmful, historical antecedents which, ominously, touch the present; and, it is good to see a brief but intermittent exchange about the credibility of evolutionary theory. Indeed, the need for explicitly critical thinking is evident as one character speaks of the “Cambrian explosion, a fossil record with no found links to earlier fossils, a species that simply appeared.” In other words, within the scale and dynamic of the whole book, it is clear that the “chance” (cf. Proverbs 2:2) appearance of human life is as foreign to human existence as the passage between atheism to religious belief is intelligent.

In view, then, of our present times, full of the reality and ongoing tension of war, it is definitely consoling to discover an author who sees, simply, the whole: the detail amid the grand sweep of history — both challenging us to the good use of our freedom and intelligence and encouraging us, in the context of time from time immemorial, to believe in repentance and prayer for the good of all.

Yes; there are echoes of C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength — but a wonderfully exciting drama told wholly on her own terms! Christine Sunderland is both a woman with roots in the living waters (Psalm 1:3) and a scribe who brings out both the old and the new and shows their harmony in the hands of God (cf. Matthew 13:52)!

Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of 11, 3 of whom he hopes are in heaven, author of 11 books on Amazon 2 maybe 3 more due in 2022: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Francis-Etheredge/s?rh=n%3A266239%2Cp_27%3AFrancis+Etheredge

In The Eye of The Storm – Sigrid Grabner

Grabner, Sigrid. In The Eye of The Storm. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2021. 270 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Montz.

Sigrid Grabner received a Doctorate in Indonesian Studies from Humboldt University of Berlin where she also served as a professor. She was married to a former concentration camp survivor and at one time was spied upon by the East German Secret Police. Most of her career involved free-lance writings, mostly on historical or political topics. Her current book, while the story of one of our greatest Popes, reads more like an historical novel. It is an attempt to inform her readers about the history of this important Roman aristocrat and to help us understand the faith and motivations that led to his inspired leadership and personal sacrifices. In The Eye of The Storm – A Biography of Gregory the Great was originally published in Germany in 2009.

Writing a factual story about a man who was born almost 1,500 years ago was obviously a challenge. Fortunately, Mrs. Grabner did not have to rely solely on hagiographical data and legends, because St. Gregory was an author in his own right and as pope, had many of his homilies recorded and letters archived. Most famously, he wrote Dialogues that is a divided into four books which were hagiographical in nature concerning the lives of Italian saints. The second and most famous was on the life of St. Benedict, which was sometimes thought to be reflective of St. Gregory’s life, as both were monks and founders of their communities.

The Roman Empire was in a time of turmoil. It was beset by multiple barbarian invasions. The city of Rome had lost its status as the seat of the empire when this transferred to Constantinople and Italian administration to Ravenna. The glory that was Rome was no more. Gregory belonged to an old aristocratic family, and while he enjoyed the benefits of wealth and position, he was early inculcated with a sense of duty towards the people of Rome. He eventually rose to the highest civil position in the city, that of Prefect. His obligations to God were never overlooked but helped him develop into a well-rounded man. His three paternal aunts became consecrated women, as did his mother after his father’s death. Faith and earthly responsibilities went hand-in-hand and while Prefect his character became recognized by Roman society and the Church. While actively serving the citizens of Rome, he grew in the desired to venerate God more in a contemplative life. Around the age of 35 he left public service and founded a monastery. With characteristic self-abasement Gregory turned down the office of abbot in order to draw closer to God through study and prayer. This period of intense spiritual development did not last because Rome, under the threat of another invasion and the needs of Popes Benedict and Pelagius II, required his sage leadership and skill.

Moderns often fail to realize that our experiences are not unique and certainly no more grave that those in St. Gregory’s time. The Pope’s Rome had been beset by hordes for over 100 years. The Goths had conquered Rome itself, and in St. Gregory’s era it was the Lombards causing death and destruction. Despite many pleas to the emperor in Constantinople and the Byzantine governor in nearby Ravenna, not only did Rome go largely unprotected but St. Gregory’s efforts to establish peace were often condemned or undermined when the Byzantine troops from Ravenna would attack the Lombards during periods when the Germanic tribe thought a truce made with Gregory in Rome ensured peace. Plagues assaulted the people more virulently than Covid-19. Starvation was often a concern because of the frequent fighting that disrupted food shipments and more distressingly because of mismanagement by Church stewards. Just as today, there were disputes within the Church on matters of doctrine, both in the Western Church and with the temporal and church rulers in Constantinople. During all of this disorder, St. Gregory himself was often incapacitated due to lingering illnesses.

Problems within the Church were frequently a reflection of the weakness of the people’s faith and their self-centeredness. When times were good and things went well, they conveniently failed to rely on God. It was not simply a lack of trust but a failure to see a need for God because they felt empowered to control their destiny alone.

St. Gregory would have much preferred to return to his monastery, but his fidelity to the Church and people of Rome, stemming from his unconditional love of God and his creation, kept him in service as the first “Servant of the Servants of God.” St. Gregory never accepted evil but out of love endeavored to always resist it and strive for the good of all people. The frequent invasions themselves were never considered a blessing, however he began to look at the presence of the barbarians in his mist as an opportunity to spread the word of God. He was always pragmatic in his efforts at outreach. He sent Benedictine monks to England because he rightly believed that the Angles might listen to the Word, but did not try to overtly convert the Lombards in Italy by such methods; rather, he worked gradually through their Christian queen to gain the good graces of her husband and people.

Mrs. Grabner’s work exposes the reader to the turmoil of the past and how one great man attempted to bring true peace through trust in God. The book is a worthy read for both history buffs and spiritual readers.

Lawrence Montz is a Benedictine Oblate of St. Gregory Abbey, past Serran District Governor of Dallas, and serves as his Knights of Columbus council’s Vocations Program Director. He resides in the Dallas Diocese.

Achieving Chastity in an Unchaste World – Fr. Thomas Morrow

Morrow, Fr. Thomas. Achieving Chastity in an Unchaste World. New Hope, KY: New Hope Publications, 2021. 92 pages.

Reviewed by John Naughton. 

Fr. Morrow has extensive experience in counseling sexual addicts and homosexuals. His findings are documented in his book Achieving Chastity in an Unchaste World. In his two-page introduction, he describes the problem as a major contemporary pastoral dilemma — skyrocketing sexual addiction due to the prevalence of pornography on the internet, cable TV, and streaming services. The sexual addictions discussed include masturbation, fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts. He also provides an outline of much of the book: 1) the sexual addiction habit and its scope, 2) causes, 3) treatments. The sexually curious reader as well as those dealing with sexual insobriety will find the entire text informative.  

Father cites the four primary reasons people become addicted, other than the availability of immoral sexual temptations, as boredom, isolation, pleasure seeking, and hurt, which are examined in detail.

He describes the cure for most habitual sexual addictions as “. . . harmonizing moral behavior with human nature by changing one’s behavior in a way that is adapted to the psyche and what fulfills it.”

For those with underlying psychological problems, he strongly recommends a good Christian therapist. 

Of particular note is that sexual addictions can lead to physical and psychological problems. For example, Father cites the warning from Kevin Majeres, Harvard medical school faculty member, author of The Science Behind Pornography: “When someone views pornography, he gets overstimulated by dopamine, so his brain destroys some dopamine receptors. This makes him feel depleted, so he goes back to pornography but, having fewer dopamine receptors, it requires more to get the same dopamine thrill; but this causes his brain to destroy more receptors; so he feels an even greater need for pornography to stimulate him.”

Dating couples will find Fr. Morrow’s book an excellent guide to avoiding sexual sins and enjoying a chaste courtship. For example, Father’s counseling experience has led him to promote short hugs and gentle kisses for dating couples, and he cautions engaged couples to avoid foreplay which leads to fornication. He also encourages at least nine months of courtship prior to engagement, and two years in all before actually marrying, so couples can really get to know each other before making a lifetime commitment. He points out that the modern-day trend of cohabitation is both personal and public sinning and a very bad example to all.

Habitual sexual addicts will find the book quite helpful, and if they follow the advice Father Morrow recommends they will have broken the habit and over time embrace freedom from sexual addiction. 

This book is not one to be read and put aside. It is a textbook on sexual addiction and a reference work to be kept at hand for sexual addicts, dating couples, pastors of all denominations, counselors and therapists.

The book is relatively short — eighty-six pages — but packed right through to the end, including the appendices, with reasons to avoid temptations to sexual sins which lead to addiction. 

Appendix A, “Two Stories of Overcoming Lust and Finding Peace and Chastity,” describes a young man who fell into masturbation and then pornography which were consuming him. He began to realize he was on the road to hell and started going to Mass and confession. Praying the rosary and chaplet, reading the Bible, the lives of the saints and the Diary of Saint Faustina, daily Mass and weekly confession became part of his continuing attempt to kick the habit. Finally, after years of trying he is relieved to fall into sexual sins only “once every four to five months,” which emphasizes the difficulty and time it takes to be spiritually free. The second story tells of a man who needed two years to conquer the sin of lust with daily Mass, frequent confession and spiritual reading. Both of these men were guided by their priest through their long rehab.

Appendix B, “Courtship and Culture,” is the story of a young lady Father helped. She cohabitated for three years and had “a difficult adjustment back to Catholicism.” During the cohabitation she became a single mom needing a place to live, economic stability, and friends who practiced their religion, not the friends of her former milieu.

Those of us who considered Pope John Paul II a saint before he was buried will be pleased with the number of quotes from his “Theology of the Body.”  

Fr. Morrow continues his wonderful work helping sexual addicts through his counseling and his bookLearn from this quite serious but quite readable work.

John Naughton is a retired IBM Program Manager, blessed to be married to his wife, Carolyn, for 64 years, blessed with seven children, 26 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren, blessed to serve as Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist for 29 years and blessed to work in pro-life ministry for 48 years. When asked how he is doing, he responds, “Too blessed to be stressed.”

The Prayerful Kiss – Francis Etheredge 

Etheredge, Francis. The Prayerful Kiss: A Collection of Prose and Poetry. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, 2019. 140 pages.

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland.

The title of this stunning collection of prose and poetry, The Prayerful Kiss, references Psalm 139 which begins, “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me” (KJV), exploring God’s creation of man. And so, in his first meditation, Francis Etheredge asks, “When does conception begin?” Does it begin with a kiss, a prayerful, intentional kiss, a kiss that is open to life in the context of marriage?

Mr. Etheredge has gifted us with a profound and touching collection of paired meditations and poems. Drawing on his own life of searching for meaning, searching for vocation, and searching for God (sometimes without knowing it), the words ring true, seeded in the pain and joy of his own fallen humanity.

He travels the humble road from sinner to saved. His anguish is tangible. He confesses, echoing Saint Augustine, that he has not always accepted life, not welcomed the unborn he has fathered, growing in the womb:

But then the child was aborted. Whatever was half-thought about the existence of a beginning, an initial moment of animation, the various possibilities of our lives, the pain of discovering that that child’s life has been abruptly, terribly ended, was a pain as uninvited and prolonged as the joy had been brief and brilliant. Thirty years on, however, this child is as present to me as every other child; and, even if I cannot explain it, I am conscious of a fatherhood that I cannot forget. (50)

His fear of commitment to vocation and marriage is finally overcome by an enlivened faith, overcome by the living Christ in his life. He has dodged and hedged and turned away from the choices of life — marriage, career, priesthood — until, at the age of forty, he sees that God the Creator can re-create him, give him a new beginning. He finally hears and obeys Our Lord’s words, go and sin no more.

With God directing him, he discovers his vocation. He commits to marriage and being open to life, to welcoming the children conceived in marriage. He trusts God and can now obey him, for he sees there is no other way. He will not fear suffering; he will not fear the unknown. He is reborn to a life of life.

The poems and meditations begin to reflect this new life of family and children. Some are painful to read because they are so real. “Losing Her” speaks of his young daughter being led away by a stranger in a market, but a prayer prompts him to look to the checkout stand and call her name: “First a fruitlessly nervous first call,/ barely audible,/ and then a second,/ louder,/ more blasting naming of my child/ which unlocks the hand/ leading her away/ to let her return and stay.”

“Freezing” describes the horror of embryos frozen for research in this brave new world of genetics challenged by bioethics: “Freezing/ is indescribably stopping a beginning:/ a beginning begun in the outward mixing of what/ God personalized through recognizing/ His own work in the unnatural handling of human ‘potters’.” (65)

Francis Etheredge is finally able to say he has been given grace to start again: “This poor man called and the Lord heard him (Psalm 34:6); and, after over twenty years of marriage, those words have not ceased to have their meaning but, rather, have grown roots in the very depths of my being.” (85)

And as for vocation, he decides he must write to explore “the myriad and challenging questions” of life but also to “wake up to the need of others to be able to read what helps to be written.” (90) Why write? Write for both writer and reader, he says.

He then considers writing and the nature of words and the Word of the ultimate Creator: “Writing is like finding a word,/ His word, while unsplitting,/ making one word in all that exists:/ giving the reason/ faith finds in science/ the image of itself.” (96) He considers Christ and His Church, the grace of God turning his inwardness outward and giving him faith.

And so his faith is “enfleshed” in this moment of belief. His heart was locked, just as the doors in the upper room after the resurrection were locked. But Christ entered, bringing life: “Thus breath will enter you and cause the ‘bones’ to ‘live,’ receive ‘sinews,’ flesh and skin, ‘and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”(Ezekiel 37:5–6)

The profound themes of life and death and grace not only carry notes of Saint Augustine, but also the rhythms and pace of T.S. Eliot. There is a profound seriousness of purpose, a dark night of the soul in an unbelieving world, redeemed by the bright dawn of Christ.

Not only do I thankfully recommend The Prayerful Kiss by Francis Etheredge, but I believe it should be a part of every English Department’s studies. I’m looking forward to the second offering in this trilogy, Honest Rust and Gold, and the third, Within Reach of You (En Route Books and Media, 2020, 2021 respectively).

Christine Sunderland (www.ChristineSunderland.com) serves as Managing Editor for American Church Union Publishing. She is the author of seven award-winning novels about faith and family, freedom of speech and religion, and the importance of history and human dignity. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a white longhair cat named Angel.

The Quality of Mercy – Anna Burke

Burke, Anna. The Quality of Mercy. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2015. 59 pages.

Reviewed by Dan Sherven.

Anna Burke’s The Quality of Mercy is a short, peaceful, reflective, and enjoyable work.

The book weighs in at 60 pages, and can easily be read in one day. But the depth of thought present in Burke’s reflections is heavy. It’s a recommended read, both for people to new to the Faith and for those who have been walking in Christ’s quality of mercy for a long time.

Each of Burke’s reflections is only a couple of pages long, so this work could easily be added to one’s daily reading. It is written in a concise and fresh style, which will capture even the unseasoned reader. And for those who love books, each reflection Burke provides is tied to a New Testament passage.

So one can read The Quality of Mercy alongside the Bible, for an even deeper understanding of the quality of mercy exemplified by Christ. With that said, you do not need to have your Bible open as you read The Quality of Mercy, because Burke’s reflections on each New Testament passage stand by themselves.

The phrase “The quality of mercy” is the title given to a speech in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ’gainst the merchant there.

— Portia, in William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1, 183–204.

Much like this speech from Shakespeare, reading Burke’s The Quality of Mercy simply brings peace. In each reflection, Burke invites us to calm down, contemplate — and feel — the quality of mercy Christ embodied.

Each reflection highlights a different New Testament story, where the quality of Christ’s mercy was made manifest. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand how and why Christ was so merciful. Yet Burke invites us to step into that Divine Mystery.

The Quality of Mercy makes reference to many modern-life examples, of things which can distract us from God as well as exemplary people who embodied Christ’s mercy. One stand-out is the story of Óscar Romero, who was San Salvador’s fourth archbishop. He was vocal in the Salvadoran Civil War, and ultimately assassinated for his views while celebrating Mass.

Additionally, there is one reflection on the nature of Judas’ kiss. Burke asks us to think about the infinite mercy Christ showed in dealing with Judas, despite Judas betraying Christ. Then she asks us to do our best to follow Christ’s example, in forgiving those who have done us wrong.

This book takes little effort to read because of its to-the-point language, brevity, and overall clear style. It is a style which is reader-centric, rather than writer-centric. It is written to be read in the morning while the birds are chirping and you are drinking your coffee, contemplating life.

The book invites us to contemplate the mercy of God. Many people can focus on the other half of that equation, too much, that other half being justice and punishment from God. Perhaps the reason this book brings a deep sense of peace is because it reminds us that when God was made manifest in the flesh — one of His primary attributes, if not the primary attribute, was His mercy.

It is easy to punish ourselves for our sins as fallen creatures. We sin, we repent, we sin again. And it’s noble to eliminate all sin from one’s life, as much as is humanly possible. But when we do fall, in sin, sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. Sometimes we can be too hard on others too, when they sin. That’s why it’s important that we remember Jesus’ quality of mercy.

You can order Anna Burke’s The Quality of Mercy here.

Dan Sherven is the author of three books: Light and Dark, Classified: Off the Beat ‘N Path, and Live to the Point of Tears. Here you can find his books, articles, podcasts, and more: https://linktr.ee/dansherven

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