Category Archives: Books

John Kane Review of Kathy Coffey’s new book: When the Saints Came Marching In

Editor’s note: Kathy Coffey’s latest book, When the Saints Came Marching In: Exploring the Frontiers of Grace in America was recently published.  Below is a review of the book by John F. Kane, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Regis University.

When the Saints Come Marching In

“Kathy Coffey has given us a book of American Saints for the era of Pope Francis. Where her title metaphor focuses on the American penchant for exploring frontiers, the book’s saints—some canonized, others simply recognized—made me also think of Francis’ metaphor of going out to the streets of our world.  The saints Coffey covers, in brief readable chapters, are all ‘gutsy realits’—a memorable phrase used to describe Sr. Dorothy Stang. And all wonderfully human, warts and all. I learned about saints I’d never known, and learned more about others I thougth I knew. In the end the book made me think of all the saints among us in this country—so much good news to counter all the bad news that fills our headlines and our heads.”

Visit the Liturgical Press Website to preview the book and to find out more info about how to order it.

Easter as a Verb–from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins uses easter as an active verb, asking the Risen Lord to “easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east…” The context of the quote is important: from “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” a poem where Hopkins struggles with the news that five Franciscan nuns have drowned in a storm at sea. We who are no strangers to such disasters recognize the situation he describes: “Hope had grown grey hairs, Hope had mourning on…”

If we deny such glumness, if we’ve never seen hope clothed in black, we fail to understand why Easter is such a gift. Perhaps it is only out of dark desperation that we can turn to the Resurrection and fully appreciate the potential for Christ himself to “easter in us.” Like the clueless disciples trudging to Emmaus, we ask him, “Stay with us…” (Luke 24:29)

That is our prayer in whatever dark trench we find ourselves. If we too have lost hope, enthusiasm or even interest, it doesn’t seem to bother him. Somehow, he rekindles the dormant spark so it becomes an inner flame. He gladly joins a long walk and conversation, winding it up, typically, with a meal.

The message is kept alive by a community that walks and eats together, shares stories and stakes everything on this one wild hope. We agree with the poet Alice Meynell that our planet “bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave” (“Christ in the Universe”). Those who follow Jesus believe that he is our resurrection and life—not in some rosy heaven or distant future, but right here, right now.

Scripture scholar Luke Johnson explains that the Christian’s memory of Jesus is not like that of a long ago lover who died and whose short time with us is treasured. It’s rather like a lover who continues to live with the beloved in a growing, maturing relationship. Past memory is constantly affected by the continued experience of the other in the present. So the church’s memory of Jesus is affected by his continuous and powerful presence. Jesus comes to life again and again, just as he did for Mary, Peter and John that grey morning near the tomb.

Because of his life in us we can be vulnerable and weak in a world set on power and ambition. He brings intimacy to the lonely, peace to those in turmoil, strength to those weakened by illness. As he did during his life on earth, Jesus heals those in pain, welcomes those in exile, restores dignity to those in desperation, and comforts those who sorrow. He assures us all, “I created you for everlasting life. You are too precious to ever let you die. You will live forever.” For the frightened, discouraged, hesitant person in each of us, Easter spells life, love, and hope.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Dorothy Stang, Part 2

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  Read part 1 here.

Enter the villains. The ranchers hire gunmen who shoot her to death on February 12, 2005. Seeing the gun, Dorothy doesn’t run or plead for her life, as most folks would. Fear would’ve been natural and understandable. Instead she pulls out her Bible and reads the Beatitudes aloud. The divine power transcends human limitations; in those final moments, she imitated Christ. She must’ve spent a lifetime preparing for that climax; now she teaches me how to live.

Breathing a deep lungful of piney mountain air, scented with sage, at home in the Rocky Mountains, I recall Dorothy’s joy outdoors. Without much institutional church, she finds God in the green canopy of trees, the cathedral of forest. Dorothy reminds me that when we lose our sacred connection to the earth, we’re stuck with small selves and petty concerns. In film footage, she proudly shows off a tree farm, exulting, “we CAN reforest the Amazon!”

Dorothy has encouraged me to stop eating beef, since intensive grazing requires destruction of the rainforest. I’m learning “green” alternatives to wasteful habits. Like most North Americans, I have enough stuff and now lean towards a simpler life. David explains, “she was so in love with what she was doing, she didn’t notice her dirt floor, primitive plumbing, no electricity.”

“Holy” once meant pious and passive. But Dorothy models how to raise Cain and act for justice. As we baby boomers age, Dorothy is patron saint for slow butterflies and reluctant caterpillars. She didn’t remain captive to her traditional upbringing. She probably could’ve hunkered down into the retirement center, counted her wrinkles and kept careful tabs on her ailments—as some older folk do. Instead, vivaciously, she tried new things, journeyed to new places. Her face is so youthful, it’s hard to think of her as 73. If I want to look that luminous at that age, I too must shed fears and take risks.

I want to love as gladly and fully as she did. It’s easy to get caught up in trivia: social commitments, work deadlines, domestic chores. But is this how we want to spend the precious coinage of brief lives? At Dorothy’s funeral, her friend Sister Jo Anne announced, “we’re not going to bury Dorothy; we’re going to plant her. Dorothy Vive!” If I want that immortality, I should examine what seeds I’m planting now, how I’ll live on in memory.

Dorothy has ruined my easy cop-out: how can one small person offset complex and apparently hopeless wrongs? Dorothy and I are the same height, 5’2”. Yet look what this giant accomplished: her killers’ trials, televised to every Brazilian classroom, have given children hope.

Her family and community won’t pursue canonization, preferring to give the poor the money that cause would require. Many already consider Dorothy a saint and martyr—in the early church, that’s all that mattered. As one biographer said about St. Catherine of Siena, “someone must’ve told her women were inferior. She clearly didn’t believe it.”

Environmental Warrior: Dorothy Stang

In a slightly belated tribute to Sister Dorothy Stang, who died 2/12/05, this essay is reprinted in two parts, from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC.

Dorothy’s brother David is always eager to talk about his martyred sister. “She whacked me around as a kid,” he admits. “A tomboy, she played the best football in the family.” That tenacity carried her through the Amazon, where she became a feisty defender of the poor and the rainforest. After her death, she’s still a role model in the arenas of the environment, aging and women’s roles.

Her story has the attributes of heroic legend, so let’s tell it that way. First, the setting(s). In Brazil, less than 3% of the population owns 2/3 of arable land. When the government gives land to displaced farm workers, loggers and ranchers burn poor settlements, sell valuable timber, then graze cattle (to supply our McDonald’s!) The consequent loss of the rain forest is tragic because it contains 30% of the world’s biodiversity. Some call it “the lungs of the planet.” As it shrinks, global warming increases.

It’s hard to imagine a place more distant from Brazil than Dayton, Ohio. Young Dorothy lives here, her backyard a model of organic gardening, where she learns composting and the dangers of pesticides. In 1948, she becomes a Sister of Notre Dame and teacher. You expect her to become a benevolent nun who dies of old age in a quiet convent, right? That’s where her story gets interesting.

Our heroine volunteers for Brazil when her order calls for missionaries. She accompanies families to Para, bordering the rain forest, to defend their land. She asked the right questions there: not minor matters of narrow denominational or territorial concerns, but “How do we preserve the earth’s treasures? How do we empower God’s beloved people who live upon this land?” Dorothy had the expansive spirit of Roman philosopher Seneca, who declared in 42 A.D., “the whole world is my own native land.”

She organizes people into co-ops: they learn crop rotation, read the Bible and worship with music and dance. (Because priests are scarce, she becomes their “shepherd.” In a contemporary version of Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”), it didn’t much matter if she was male or female, ordained or not. What DID matter, burningly, was “no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.”

When her people are attacked, she tells them brusquely, “quit crying; start rebuilding!” Her old VW Beetle wobbles over bridges with rotting planks—while her passenger David makes a nervous sign of the cross. Dorothy takes the peoples’ case to the government. When officials deny receiving her letters, she burrows through their files ‘til she finds them. Persistently, she asks for protection of poor farmers, but nothing is done. Amazingly, she keeps this up for 38 YEARS. Dorothy starts fruit orchards with women and projects for sustainable development with 1200 people. The Brazilian Bar Association names her “Humanitarian of the Year” in 2004.

To be continued…

A TRIBUTE IN TWO PARTS to Sister Mary Helen Rogers

Sister Mary Helen Rogers, OLVM died January 13 at the age of 100. This tribute to her is reprinted from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC.

Sister Grandma

It all began over forty years ago, when after service as a Papal Volunteer in Belize, I knew I couldn’t return to start the graduate program at University of Chicago I’d planned. After a year of living with poverty, I needed a more gradual transition back to the wealthy U.S. Fortunately, my aunt, a Victory Noll sister, ran a Center in one of Denver’s worst neighborhoods. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty had provided funding for a summer program for children, which my cousin and I offered to direct. It was a match made in heaven!

Our aunt and her community happily introduced us to the neighborhood, the local attractions, and best of all, the mountains. Although they worked daily with grindingly difficult situations, violent gangs, drug and alcohol addictions and suffering people, they were a remarkably cheerful and upbeat bunch, celebrating everyday miracles. Dinners with them were always fun, with dessert an essential, and the table often decorated. Perhaps because they’d given me such a warm welcome, or because I loved the mountains so much, I stayed in Denver, completed the graduate work, and married.

Some eight years later, our oldest son was feeling his lack of grandparents. His only living grandfather was in another city, but his sister, my aunt, had always been a joyful presence in his life. He approached her shyly: “would you be my foster grandma?” She of course was delighted, and scooped the kindergartener into her arms. “Of course! I’d be thrilled!”

The other children quickly assumed that my aunt was Granny; it didn’t bother them that she was also “Sister.” One day, they were leaving her office as a client entered. “’Bye Granny!” each called sweetly. She apologized for the interruption to the woman who said graciously, “Oh Sister, you be with your grandchildren!”  Over thirty years later, slight embarrassment crosses my aunt’s face as she tells the story. “She didn’t quite get the concept of nuns. So I told her this was my niece and her children before any rumors could get started.”

Granny had a knack for gifts and notes on each child’s birthday, candy for the “major religious feasts,” which included Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, and root bear floats. “Royalty were never treated as well; no child was ever cherished as much as we were,” one daughter remembers. Faithfully, despite blizzards, she’d attend First Communions, Confirmations and graduations. Now engaged in their own work with nonprofits, the children see her as a model of how to live with compassion and treat all people with a profound and gentle respect. From her they learned that justice is about making love tangible in ways large and small.  To be continued…

LAS MUJERES OCULTAS DE LOS EVANGELIOS Esta Disponible

Debido a la alta demanda, el popular libro, Mujeres Ocultas de los Evangelios ya está disponible en español. Estas son las historias imaginadas de la mujer durante el tiempo de la vida de Jesús. ¿Te has preguntado acerca de la madre ausente en la parábola del hijo pródigo? Ella es una de las 19 mujeres cuya historia es finalmente dijo en Mujeres Ocultas de los Evangelios. Para comprar una copia de este libro en español, visite este sitio web:

(Español) Mujeres Ocultas de los Evangelios

  librosliguori@compuserv.com

Easter Season: One of the Best Parts of Being Catholic?

By Blog Editor

Easter is not just celebrated on Easter Sunday, in fact, the Easter Season is 50 days, and in Kathy Coffey’s latest book, The Best of Being Catholic, she writes why Easter is so important to Catholics.

The Best of Being Catholic has three sections:

1) The Beliefs We Cherish

2) The Seasons We Celebrate

3) The Company We Keep

In Chapter 13, which is focused on Easter, Coffey explains that it can be helpful to separate the religious meaning of Easter from all of the “cultural accumulations”

This happened experientially for me one year when Easter brought snow and sickness. Without lilies, bunnies, bonnets, egg hunts, pastels, or yellow marshmellow chicks, this was the Acid Test of the feast. In a friend’s mountain home, sniffling, coughing and watching dreary weather, would the message of resurrection still hold?

Indeed it came powerfully, through a totally unexpected channel: clearing skies and sunlight gradually stroking the mountaintops. What had been grey fog parted to reveal luminous peaks, emerging slowly. It echoed the absence and presence/hidden and revealed/hide and seek themes of this season. The resurrected Jesus may be unrecognized or invisible, but is still with his friends in a less physical way.

If there had been musical accompaniment, those mountains streaked with sun would’ve invited the Alleluia chorus, belted loudly. The mountains unfurled banners of good news: granite heavily grounded, yet airily sweeping the skies. While it’s not our traditional image, a healing sleep without coughing fit Easter nevertheless: joy unexpectedly found in the midst of sorrow.

TO BE CONTINUED…