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Out of October’s Shadows II
The pleasant sun shines one last glance of hope
As it retreats toward southern skies. Earth yields
Few reassuring signs to help us cope
With longer, colder nights and empty fields.
Yet Barren hills reveal the shape of earth
Where sacred fingerprints emerge to show
How dark and light were both part of the birth
God set in place to let creation grow.
Though days grow short as leaves begin to drop,
And cold winds mar the brilliant evening sky,
These cries of nature warn that we can’t stop
The hands of time that claim we too will die.
When bones creak just from rocking on the porch,
And daily tasks include rest in the shade,
These tell us that it’s time to pass the torch.
“For new to shine what’s older needs to fade.”
That chance to shine brings its attendant fear
Of what our lives have written on each page.
Both noble and more shadowed acts appear;
Yet shadows can be faced in every age.
For shadows come because there is a light
That shines for even just a little while,
To help reveal the paths and choice that’s right
For every generation’s special style.
Though we prefer to keep life shining bright,
We never would see stars without the night.
Life grows—then fades—as part of God’s design
To help us soar from “earthbound” to divine.
Mary E. McGann
Liturgical Press Academic
In a “Zoom” lecture earlier this year organized by Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the renowned theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ presented, “Enfolding with Affection: Imagining ‘Us’ in Creation Theology.” In the midst of this engaging lecture she made an intriguing aside. She expressed how she wished that she was just beginning her theological career, because with Pope Francis’ impressive encyclical Laudato Si’ there is so much important and exciting work to be done. With this in mind, Mary McGann, RSCJ’s impressive The Meal That Reconnects: Eucharistic Eating and the Global Food Crisis is just such an example of how fruitful Pope Francis’ watershed encyclical can be.
McGann’s deep understanding of liturgy, culture, and ecology uniquely equip her to draw connections between the Eucharist, agriculture and justice. The interrelated qualities of these have been explored by other influential theologians, however, given our current ecological challenges and the spotlight Pope Francis has shined upon this reality for the whole Church, McGann’s work is very timely and well-researched.
One key concept she uses to explore Eucharist, food, and justice is “relationship.” We see this in the titles of the three parts of the book, “Part 1 – Eating as Relationship, Part 2 – Broken Relationships: Dining in the Industrial Food System, and Part 3 – Eucharist: the Meal that Reconnects.” Pope Francis, likewise, utilizes this notion of relationship to weave together the many threads of Laudato Si. “Relationship” is a very helpful lens through which to see a much larger context to our eucharistic gatherings. “With whom are we in relationship when we participate in Eucharist?” That is a very expansive question, but what if we try to literally explore the process that brings the actual bread used to make the host to our altars? In doing so we encounter that even this process has largely been subsumed into a vast high speed, mechanized industrial food system very far removed from “the work of human hands” envisioned in our Eucharistic prayers (195).
While part one of McGann’s book deftly sets the stage by establishing a theological, scriptural, and liturgical basis for the sections to follow, it’s likely not radically new information for those interested in eucharistic theology. What is most engaging are parts two and part three of the text. In part two McGann gives a compelling crash course in how the contemporary industrial food system developed and how it works. From the perspective of Catholic social teaching, reading this section is dispiriting to say the least. However, McGann ends each chapter in this section with an integrative reflection entitled “Making connections with Eucharist.” Here she brilliantly opens up the implications of the agricultural crisis for a eucharistically minded people. Importantly, she does not stay on the level of diagnosis, but moves to positive suggestions for a healthy way forward in our food systems. From all of her research she offers five “foundational characteristics that mark an alternative food economy that can be sustainable into the future: (1) small in scale, (2) locally based, (3) organically sustained, (4) regenerative of Earth’s resources, and (5) rooted in justice” (125). She then explains what each of these could look like in detail.
In part three of the book McGann then brings all of this into conversation with her primary area of expertise: liturgy. Here she offers creative and down to earth insights into how liturgical life and everyday parish life can be envisioned to integrate eucharistic values in harmony with Catholic social teaching (especially Laudato Si’), food systems, and proper care for the earth. Many of these suggestions are simple and attainable, creating community involvement without a big price tag. Whether starting a ministry to bake bread with local materials for hosts, or creating small gardens on parish property to help feed community members in need with food grown by the “Church,” some of these things are already being done around the country. McGann provides clear and succinct theological explanations for these activities that would be easy to share with parishioners and parish pastoral leadership. As such The Meal that Reconnects is that rare book that blends theology, justice, and liturgy in a practical and readable manner. It’s also hopeful while being honest and clear-sighted. It could just be the leaven your parish needs to embrace it’s eucharistic calling.
John Christman, SSS
Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow
What is the best way to respond to an earthquake, an event that shakes the very foundations upon which we dwell and depend? That is the question that Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow seeks to answer in his book, Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. The earthquake is metaphorical, of course, but that only increases the urgency of the question. It includes all at once the many ecological, social, cultural, and religious upheavals of the present and it is severe and disorienting.
Waskow suggests two alternative responses. One is to look for stability by returning to the tried and true certainties of the past. This he sees as ultimately unhelpful and not life-giving, especially when those in authority try to re-impose those certainties on others. The other is what he calls, “the dance,” or as in the title of his work, “God’s dance.” The dance does not seek to return to the old certainties, but rather to engage the new that is emerging amidst the earthquake.
There appear to be two fundamental theological premises for his confidence that dancing in the earthquake is the proper response. One is that the earthquake has shown our conception of God as Lord to be a casualty of the quake. In its place Waskow chooses the name, YAHWEH, (which he notes was itself translated by many as Adonai/Lord). But he chooses YHWH, without the vowels, and notes that when we try to say this name aloud, we don’t speak but we breathe. God then is the breath that pervades all existence. It breathes in us and through us. It is part of the very breath of nature as we breathe out CO2 into the atmosphere, and the trees breathe it in and then breathe out oxygen back to us. The breath that is God inseparably interconnects all that the Holy breathes into existence. The breath is not static. It is always moving. Indeed, it must if life is to survive and thrive.
The second theological premise has to do with midrashic interpretation. Waskow claims that midrash was never a once and for all interpretation of a sacred text, but always a new and ever-changing interpretation as God’s breath moved in varied times and places. As the text and its interpretation confront new and different times and places, it is invariably reinterpreted. The new interpretation then works to address and transform the situation in which it arose. This changed situation in turn provokes still other new interpretations, over and over again.
If God is YHWH, divine breathing, then dancing in the ever-changing movement – God’s earthquake – is Waskow’s response to the quake. In his own words: “…all sacred thought and action, like a spiral, is rooted in the past and spins through ‘now’ into the future. To reject reinterpretation of the wisdom we inherit is to lock God into the past. To lock God into only the present or the future is to erase the wisdom of the past. Midrashic reinterpretation of ancient sacred wisdom makes God Eternal by constantly outdating/updating the Divine” (p. 91).
This summary does not do justice to Waskow’s text, but it may help to understand why the specific interpretations he offers in it are likely to be for his readers new instances of God’s earthquake!
Joseph J. Fortuna, S.T.D.
Pastor, Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Gerald O’Collins in his Introduction notes that Heinz Robert Schlette launched the term “theology of religions” (p. vii). He continues, “But so far as I know no one has proposed a “Christology of religions.” This is his contribution to the theology of religions. He not only creates one, he uniquely develops his own Christology of religions by targeting the high priesthood of Jesus Christ as it is given in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Another strength of his book is his chapter on the special place of the dialogue after Vatican II with Jewish and Muslim theologies and the documents that emerged from that dialogue.
O’Collins taught for 33 years at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome. He has a doctorate from Oxford and in 2006 he was a Companion of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC), the highest civil honor granted through the Australian government. He has written or co-authored 54 books. His specialty is Christology.
His presentation covers the following issues: 1. Incarnation as caring for “the others” and sharing the sufferings of all, 2. Christ’s high priestly intercession for all, 3. Universal presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, 4. The Church joins Christ in loving intercession for all people, 5. The faith of the suffering “others,” discerning the presence of Christ and the Spirit, 7. Dialogue and relations with Muslims and Jews.
Collins emphasizes that, though he is a Catholic theologian, he will focus on what is common to Christians rather than what is particular to Catholic Christology. He notes that he engages two theologians: Karl Rahner (1904-84) and Jacques Dupuis (1923-2004) both Catholics. His book “takes up the thought of Anglicans and Protestants such as Karl Barth, David Brown, and other scholars… It is as a Christian rather than specifically as a Catholic that I have continued to elaborate a Christology that is, or at least should be, shared by all Christians. It is in the same spirit that I now write A Christology of Religions (p. viii).”
His book will be inspiring to all readers and of special interest to theologians specializing in Christology. It will also be informative for ecumenists, Jewish and Muslim clergy, the laity and many others.
Ernest Falardeau, SSS, STD
I bought this book about two years ago and it got lost in my office for a couple of years. I re-discovered it during the Covid shutdown, and I began reading it every morning.
Ellsberg has done a great service in collecting this rather massive assortment of men and women he refers to as saintly witnesses. He offers two each day. Many of the persons described are canonized, venerables and “servants of God.” He draws from the Hebrew prophets, and Jewish leaders, the apostles, women of the New Testament, and martyrs of the early Church. Among the entries are popes, theologians, mystics, hermits, bishops, priests, women religious, and lay men and lay women who acted on the Gospel and made an impact. He also includes artists and poets. Not all of those included are Catholic, nor are all of them Christian. Each of the persons described in this book have made their own unique contribution to spirituality.
Many saints and blesseds appear in the book on what is their traditional feast day. Others are listed on the day of their death or birth. Each day as I open this book, I am introduced to two people, one on the left side and one on the right. Ellsberg gives a brief description of their life and contribution. At the end of each person’s biography, Ellsberg offers a short quote either by that person or something written about him/her.
I, perhaps like many, am moved and motivated by people who had a particular vision and who directed their energy toward realizing that vision. Some call them heroes. Ellsberg calls them saintly witnesses. I just find it uplifting to read their stories the first thing in the morning, before I head off to Mass. I am so happy that Covid gave me an opportunity to discover it among the piles in my study and I highly recommend it.
Patrick J. Riley, D.Min
Book Review Editor, Emmanuel