Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books
John Christman, SSS
As Catholics it is often pounded into our heads that whatever gifts we have received in life, whether talents, graces, or fortunate circumstances, we are to share with others. If this is a standard of success, then musician, singer/songwriter, and activist Brandi Carlile has certainly achieved it.
Carlile gained notoriety early in her career with an emotionally packed, hard-hitting Americana songwriting style that could swing from vulnerable ballad to defiant anthem at the drop of a hat. Her breakthrough 2007 album entitled The Story attested to this ability while also gaining her wide critical and popular acclamation.
In 2017 musicians as varied as Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Pearl Jam, and Adele contributed to a song by song tribute to Carlile’s album entitled Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story — An Album to Benefit War Child, with President Barack Obama contributing an introductory endorsement. The album was made to benefit children around the world displaced by war and conflict. It is a powerful testament to Carlile’s attunement to the lives of others, especially those whose lives are filled with suffering.
This sensitivity bears rewards in her latest album entitled by the way, I forgive you. This album won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, and was nominated for other Grammy awards including Song of the Year. The Song of the Year nomination was for a song entitled “The Joke,” an uplifting power-ballad encouraging the downtrodden and marginalized not to give up.
But where Carlile’s latest album gains its lasting appeal is through her ability to look as deeply at herself as upon others, and all with a country twang! With her John Denver-esque phrasing and Lucinda Williams like grit, Carlile sings of the joys and sorrows of humanity filtered through her own experience. In her beautiful, clear-eyed song “The Mother,” Carlile sings not just a love song to her daughter but to motherhood itself.
Alternately, in her song “Sugartooth,” she explores the struggles of addiction through the tragedy of an old friend’s death. Faith, temptation, and forgiveness are woven throughout these songs, like theological touchstones. Answers may not come easily, but she’s thoughtfully marked out the territory she’s grappling with.
One might think these heavy subjects would make for solemn listening, but Carlile and her band know how to keep these songs from getting weighed down. A change of tempo, a well-timed crescendo, and some creative percussion all help in this regard. But in the end, it’s Carlile’s voice and lyrics that carry this album. Those are the gifts she builds everything upon, and we are all the better for her sharing them.
Óscar Rodriguez Maradiaga
(A Conversation with Antonio Carriero)
Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2018
96 pp., $16.95
When this book arrived, I was drawn to it. I knew that Cardinal Maradiaga was a close associate of Pope Francis and was one of the first prelates named to the C-9, and its coordinator, as this select international group of cardinals worked with the Holy Father to reform the Curia. But more recently I have read that he has come under the dark blanket of sexual abuse and its cover-up by clergy in an accusation that he has protected his auxiliary bishop who has been accused by at least two of the diocese’s seminarians of sexual abuse. That bishop has submitted his resignation from his episcopal office.
These two realities caused me to want to learn more about this man, and so I took up this book. Its format is a question and answer conversation between the cardinal and a Salesian priest, Antonio Carriero.
The book lays out Maradiaga’s early life, his education by the Salesians, his attraction to that religious congregation which he entered after high school. Because of his intelligence and creativity, he easily made his way to ordination. He is lavish in his praise of the community and the work of the Salesians in which he had been given greater and greater authority and responsibility in the Central American Province.
Maradiaga was asked by Pope Paul VI to accept the episcopal office and, due to the responsibilities he had at the time and his desire to remain in the Salesian community, he requested that he be given some months to consider the request. At the death of Paul VI, the request became null, but it was again renewed by Pope John Paul I who also died before Maradiaga responded. In 1978, Pope John Paul II returned with the request and Maradiaga accepted to become the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. In 1994, he became the archbishop of the archdiocese and in 2001 was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
As an auxiliary bishop, Maradiaga became active in CELAM, the Episcopal Conference of Latin America, where he rose through various positions and held the role of general secretary from 1995-1999. In his work with the conference, he came into rather regular contact with Jorge Bergolio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and he worked very closely with Bergolio in drafting the official document from the Fifth General Conference of CELAM, held in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2009.
Throughout the book Maradiaga strongly supports the reform of the Church by Pope Francis. As stated earlier, he was the original coordinator of the C-9 who were charged by Pope Francis to assist him in the reform of the Curia. Some of his statements in this book about the pope’s critics are quite biting. Maradiaga also aligns himself with the pope on migrants and immigrants, on the new evangelization, the concept of the Church as a “field hospital,” and his belief that priests and bishops should “smell like their sheep.” He concurs with the pope that one of the greatest problems in the Church is clericalism and careerism.
There is very little, if anything I noticed in the book about sexual abuse of young people by clergy or the cover up of such abuse by those in authority. I suspect that this was intentional. Maradiaga’s critics, and there are many, might find this book somewhat self-serving in that you have two Salesians in conversation about the life and many years of service of Maradiaga in so many areas of the Church well beyond his religious congregation and his archdiocese, in CELAM, in CARITAS, and in the C-9.
But, regardless, it does provide an introduction to how this powerful cardinal of the Church looks back on his life and the Church today. He is now 76, past the required age of submitting his resignation as a bishop, and he might be able to quietly retire in the light of his failures to protect minors from the abuse of his auxiliary bishop. That would not change all the good he has done.
Patrick J. Riley, DMin
Book Review Editor
Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2018
148 pp., $16.49
While preparing to write this review, I asked ten people from my generation what they remember about Pope Paul VI. The first answer from all of them was that he wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which held to the Church’s traditional condemnation of artificial contraception. The tone of most of these responses was negative.
Well, Pope Paul did write that encyclical in 1968, against the advice of the very commission he had established to study the issue. He was widely and, almost universally, criticized, even by some bishops. In point of fact, the great majority of Catholics in this country and beyond do not adhere to this teaching. It is somewhat sad that most people’s recollection about this pope have to do with this one act.
Collins’ book does a very good job of fleshing out the many contributions Paul made to the Church in his lifetime. For many years he served the Church in the Roman Curia, later becoming the much loved and effective archbishop of Milan. He served as pope from 1963-1978. He chose to continue and bring to conclusion the Second Vatican Council which Pope John XXIII opened in 1962. He led the last three sessions of the council and at various points he came under severe criticism by the more traditional council fathers, and also suffered at other times the attacks of the more liberal groups.
It was to him that fell the difficult and onerous process of implementing the decrees of the council, particularly those that had to do with the liturgy and ecumenism. He was the first modern pope to travel outside Italy, with nine major pastoral visits to 20 countries. He met in Jerusalem with Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople, and the two leaders of Christianity revoked the mutual excommunications of the Great Schism of 1054. He also traveled to Africa, South America, the Far East, Europe, and the United States, where he made his famous address to the United Nations. He was very active in ecumenism. He created the structure for the synod of bishops, set retirement ages for bishops, and removed the right to vote in papal conclaves from cardinals over the age of 80. These are just a few of the accomplishments of the man who sat in the Chair of Peter for 15 of the most tumultuous years for the Catholic Church as it sought to renew its sense of self and its mission.
In view of his canonization in October of last year, Collins does the Church a great service in reintroducing Pope Paul to new generations of Catholics.
I would like to add to this review a note of thanks to Liturgical Press for its series People of God: Remarkable Lives, Heroes of Faith. So far, they have published 20-plus titles in this series of books of around one hundred pages, which are solidly researched and well-written. Liturgical Press has done the Church a great service.
Patrick J. Riley, DMin
Book Review Editor
Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2018
128 pp., $14.95
Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) holds the distinction of being the first self-identified African American to be ordained a priest in the United States. As a young child, he fled the planation along with his mother and three siblings when they learned that they were going to be sold off to pay the plantation’s debts. His father ran off to fight in the Civil War and died in battle. The family fled into Illinois, which was a free state, to the city of Quincy where they hoped to escape vigilantes who sought to capture runaway slaves.
Augustus worked from a very young age in the tobacco industry, from the lowest position making a pittance and advancing into higher positions in the company. When the tobacco season was over, he tried to go to school but was ridiculed because he could neither read nor write and was black. He was sent home from every school, public and parochial, when the white parents complained of his presence.
The great break came into his life when his family became parishioners of Saint Boniface Parish where a kindly Irish priest, Peter McGirr, took a great interest in Tolton. For four years Father McGirr tutored and taught Augustus. The young man served Masses, taught catechism, and helped around the parish. The Irish priest detected the possibility of a priestly vocation in young Augustus and taught him Latin. Augustus did feel a calling to the priesthood and he and his pastor sought to get him accepted into a seminary, but he was rejected by the 18 seminaries in the country at the time, and by all religious orders. With some help Father McGirr got him accepted into The College of the Propaganda of the Faith, the seminary in Rome that trained priests from mission countries and trained priests to become missionaries.
Before continuing on Tolton’s biography, it must be noted that the author does an excellent job placing him in his historical context. She describes Cardinal Simeoni’s pressure on the American hierarchy to get behind the evangelization and conversion of the freed slaves, and the American bishops’ dragging their feet in this regard.
She relates the stories of his contemporaries, the Healy brothers, children of a white, wealthy slave owner and a black woman, who were not dark-complected and who, through the efforts of their father, secured fine educations and, after being ordained priests, rose to elevated positions in the Catholic clergy. Throughout their lives, they refused to relate to anything which would connect them to their African American roots.
She tells of Tolton’s relationship with the newspaper man Daniel Rudd, who led several national Catholic black congresses in which Tolton played major roles. He also developed a relationship with Katharine Drexel, who directed the work of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament toward the education of black and Native American children.
Tolton graduated from the Urban College and hoped to be sent as a missionary to Africa, but Cardinal Simeoni sent him back to Quincy in his strong belief that America needed missionaries to the black community. He received a very positive reception in Quincy and was very successful in catechizing African Americans and he drew many white Catholics to his Masses. A local German pastor, who felt that Tolton was “stealing” his parishioners,” caused him great harm. Tolton requested several times that he be transferred to Chicago and was finally granted his request.
He worked very hard in creating the Parish of Saint Monica in Chicago and took on a number of speaking engagements to raise money for the construction of his church. He wore himself out and died at the age of 43.
The singular focus of his work with African Americans was his very strong belief that the Catholic Church was the one institution which could truly liberate them. It was the basis of his lectures and his evangelizing.
Tolton’s cause for canonization took a formal step in 2011 under Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who submitted the necessary documentation to Rome. One year later, in 2012, Augustus Tolton was declared Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI. His cause continues.
Patrick J. Riley, DMin
Book Review Editor
Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2018
360 pp., $34.95
Given the present destructive divisions between and within nations and in the Church, The Surprise of Reconciliation in the Catholic Tradition is very timely as it provides a gold mine of ingredients for achieving reconciliation.
The book is the result of a creative process wherein the 13 contributors and two editors participated in a weekend retreat around the theme of Johann-Baptiste Metz’s “dangerous memory.” “More than anything else, this retreat helped this volume’s contributors become a community of Christian scholars pursuing a common theological project rather than a disparate group of academics contributing to a collection of edited writings” (x).
The writers offer both theological wisdom and practical insights by drawing upon experiences of Christians, past and present, who have wrestled with reconciliation. They offer fresh insights in terms of responses to violence in different contexts. Employing the methodology of ressourcement (“returning to the sources”), the authors propose particular and largely unknown awareness into various dimensions of social reconciliation including “forgiveness, truth-telling, limiting violence, the healing of memories, and the pursuit of justice” (xvii). They have fulfilled this intention very successfully.
Contributions extend from the biblical and patristic period through medieval and early modern eras, and into the modern period. While even a partial summary is not possible, a few examples might suffice.
Based on Saint Paul, Thomas Stegman, SJ, initiates the first offering and reminds readers that crucial to any “Christian” approach to reconciliation is to identify it as beginning with God’s initiative, namely, through the saving person, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Followers of Jesus are called to be ministers of reconciliation who take the initiative to love and forgive others even as they await the unfolding of God’s ‘new creation’” (xviii).
Chapters that follow illustrate this central conviction in different historical periods, e.g., in the writings and efforts of Irenaeus of Lyons, authored by John O’Keefe; those of Cyprian of Carthage, written by Scott Moringiello. Jay Carney offers insights taken from the Peace of God movements in tenth and eleventh-century France, Laurie Johnston examines an issue with striking resonance for the twenty-first century — the relationships between Muslims and Christians in Iberia and beyond during the medieval period.
Into the modern period, Steven Judd, MM, explores how person-to-person contact helped “heal the breaches” that threatened to tear apart southern Peru during the violent Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s and early ‘90s, while Emmanuel Katongole employs Metz’s notion of “dangerous memory” to frame lessons learned from the efforts of the Catholic activist Maggy Barankitse in Burundi and Rwanda.
Basing his presentation on the practice of forgiveness in postwar Uganda, Daniel Philpott points out the emergence of political forgiveness as a key dimension of postwar social reconciliation. Political forgiveness, he posits, offers an alternative to the dominant international consensus predicated on human rights and a generally retributive vision of justice.
Every chapter contains excellent footnotes. In the concluding chapter, Robert Schreiter, CPPS, an expert on the modern Catholic theology of social reconciliation, weaves the insights of the authors into a comprehensive understanding of the key dimensions of a “spirituality of social reconciliation.” With sincere gratitude for the scholarship of the cohort of authors, this final chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
The intent of the text is to inspire Church historians, theologians, and social ethicists to explore further dimensions of its subject. That being said, The Surprise of Reconciliation in the Catholic Tradition is valuable reading for all those engaged in the pursuit of reconciliation, especially those who serve in ministry.
Allan R. Laubenthal, STD
Saint Mary Seminary
Life Rolls on like Thunder after Easter
Thunder rolls, but it fades,
And then only its echoes remain —
For a while.
People change, like charades,
And some leave us with heartaches and pain —
Or a smile.
Blossoms bloom, then they die,
While we wait for the fruit that will come:
But not yet.
Easter hopes raised us high.
But life’s burdens can make us so numb
That our lives blaze a trail:
Our own pathway of valleys and peaks.
And though dreams sometimes fail,
Still Christ’s love walks beside us and seeks
So, may God touch your life
To uplift all your busy concerns
And amaze . . .
You, through troubles or strife,
How his grace helps your twisting and turns
Run your race . . .
. . . and find his face.