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Author's new biography on Mother Angelica a fitting tribute to late nun Print E-mail
Written by Mitch Finley, Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 14:40

"Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy" by Raymond Arroyo. Image (New York, 2016), 228 pp., $23.

Unless you lived under a cabbage leaf for the past 30 years or so, you already know that the Mother Angelica (1923-2016) of this book's title was the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network. As such, she became the first Catholic media personality to garner the attention of the public in anywhere near the numbers racked up by the late, much-admired Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the mid-20th century.

Journalist and EWTN news editor Raymond Arroyo wrote two earlier biographical books about Mother Angelica, so this one about her last years makes it a trilogy. He also has written two other books about her -- one is a collection of her prayers and personal devotions and the other is a collection of her life lessons from Scripture.

Fans of Mother Angelica and EWTN will be taken with this new book as they were with the earlier volumes, to the point that both became New York Times best-sellers. Readers should keep in mind, however, that Arroyo is a journalist and biographer, albeit also a sincere Catholic, but he is not a theologian. Indeed, his academic background is in drama, so readers may want to take his theological evaluations and opinions as subject to some revision.

To his credit, Arroyo sidesteps any inclination to canonize Mother Angelica or portray her as nearly perfect. During his many interviews with the nun, he remarks, "she could be explosive, hilarious, conspiratorial, and holy -- at times all at once." The Mother Angelica of most of this book suffered strokes, is confined to her bed and can no longer speak; early on she speaks with a slur, later she speaks not at all. The book recounts the famous nun's frustrations, conflicts over who would succeed her after her death and convent political maneuverings over who would lead various new foundations.

In the end, Arroyo's theology, and probably the theology of Mother Angelica herself, presents a God who makes plans for individuals that include pain and anguish.

"She suffered throughout her life," he writes, "but never more than during those last 15 years. The loss of speech, the relinquishing of her will and self-mastery, was a supreme sacrifice. Yet even in her confusion, she accepted the indignities, the embarrassments, and the weakness of her condition as part of God's plan -- his will for her."

A more sophisticated commentary might have suggested a theology that presents suffering as part of the mystery of human existence. From this perspective, faith accepts suffering without viewing it as sent directly by God to the individual, in this case Mother Angelica.

"Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence" is a fitting conclusion to the author's narrative of the life and times of Mother Angelica.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward) and a best-seller, "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those in Between" (Word Among Us Press).

Author sees much of himself in Trappist's views on creation spirituality Print E-mail
Written by Mitch Finley Catholic News Service   
Friday, 15 July 2016 13:56

"A Way to God: Thomas Merton's Creation Spirituality Journey" by Matthew Fox. New World Library (Novato, California, 2016). 320 pp., $18.95.

Matthew Fox is an ex-Catholic and ex-Dominican priest who is now an Episcopalian. In 1993, he was silenced for his theological views -- including his advocacy for women's ordination, same-sex unions and some of his writings on creation spirituality. He was expelled from the Dominicans by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now-retired Pope Benedict XVI), the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Over the years, Fox claimed to find the roots of "creation spirituality" in numerous sources including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, Hildegard of Bingen, and not only the Bible but Jesus himself.

Fox also finds support for his views in various ecological and environmental movements as well as Buddhism, Sufism and American Indian spirituality. He tags this broadmindedness "deep ecumenism."

In this latest book, "A Way to God," Fox adds Trappist Father Thomas Merton to his list of those in whose thought he finds agreement with the tenets of creation spirituality. Father Merton wrote one letter to Fox in 1967, following that some months later with a package of bound notes on various topics along with a single-sentence note. Other than this, the book relies on Merton's own published writings.

Fox finds in Father Merton's thought what he identifies as a progression from a rather simple ascetic piety to a position virtually identical with his own. That is, Fox finds in Father Merton yet another great religious thinker who, if alive today, would be an advocate of creation spirituality. For Fox there is little doubt that Merton would agree with him on just about everything, as would Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Eckhart, etc.

The trouble is that, aside from what he wrote as he turned things over in his mind, we don't know how Father Merton would have finally acted in any given situation. Certainly it's clear from Father Merton's own journals, for example, that while he recognized the weak thinking and empty authoritarianism behind much of what he was asked to do in the name of his vow of obedience, in the end he obeyed, and for spiritually and intellectually healthy reasons.

Blind obedience wasn't in Father Merton's nature, but neither was rebellious disobedience implying an unconscious belief in his own infallibility. Father Merton would have laughed at anyone who suggested that he leave the Trappists and become a prophet for his own opinions. He knew the real meaning of humility and it had nothing to do with insisting that "they're wrong and I'm right" followed by becoming a martyr in his own eyes.

Fox believes Merton was assassinated by the government of the United States, although he doesn't believe this can be proven. Still, he is convinced it's so based on "circumstantial evidence," about which one hears so much on television crime shows.

"A Way to God" is a book worth reading for anyone interested in the theology of spirituality and in the life and thought of Father Merton.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward) and "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between" (The Word Among Us Press).

Author's scholarly take on Peter brings Holy Land to life for readers Print E-mail
Written by David Gibson Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 14:23


"Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven and Faithful" by Stephen J. Binz. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2015). 193 pp., $14.95.

Travelers planning to visit the Holy Land may want to read Stephen Binz's "Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven and Faithful." In addition to his Scripture scholarship, Binz conducts study trips and pilgrimages to the places most closely linked with Jesus and his first disciples.

The author obviously loves bringing the Holy Land's geography to life for readers. They travel with Peter in these pages from Galilee to Rome.

It is enjoyable to hear Binz talk about the home where Peter hosted Jesus or the small church at the place on the Sea of Galilee's shores where Jesus cooked fish for his disciples after his resurrection.

The author seems particularly insightful in his advice about the right starting point for a Holy Land tour. Pilgrims "often begin their Holy Land tour with the cities of the Mediterranean coast," he points out. But he prefers "to visit these coastal sites at the end of the trip because they are the places from which the Gospel was launched westward throughout the Roman Empire."

He explains that "believers who left from this harbor to bring good news to the nations ... knew that (Jesus) called them to cross boundaries and overcome barriers."

This book is at its best in its attention to Peter's crucial role in the ancient church's decision to baptize gentiles - to welcome even those who were not Jews and did not follow Jewish dietary practices into the community of faith and, as a consequence, to begin to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

While "the apostolic mission to all parts of the world will soon be led by Paul," Peter's admission of the Roman centurion Cornelius to baptism in the Acts of the Apostles "makes it clear that Peter was the inaugurator of this mission," Binz says.

"Saint Peter" exhibits a religious educational intent at numerous points. By this I mean that the book is not meant only to highlight Holy Land events that occurred some 2,000 years ago but to clarify what these long-ago incidents imply now for the concrete lives of Christians.

Binz says the Gospel challenges Christians to become "open to what seems impossible" - like "walking on water, feeding thousands with a few loaves, rising from the dead, forgiving an enemy, giving precious time to prayer, giving away hard-earned money, standing alone for what is just."

He comments, too, that "the call of the risen Christ for us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth convinces us that now every place can be a holy land."

"Saint Peter" is not a scholarly tome overloaded with footnotes or discussions of technical points. On the other hand, some other biblical scholars might quibble with a point or two here.

Binz does not appear to question the traditional view that the author of the Gospel of Mark is the John Mark who made an appearance in the Acts of the Apostles and went on to become a close associate of Peter. Thus, Gospel readers might well expect John Mark to introduce them in a highly significant way to Peter's teaching.

"Although Mark had many sources for the material of his Gospel, Peter seems to be his most important and consistent source of information," Binz writes. The New American Bible cautions, however, that "Petrine influence" in this Gospel should not "be exaggerated."

What I think readers will enjoy most is the book's description of Peter not as someone so perfect that they never could identify with him, but someone like them in important ways.

Binz explains that in the Gospels "we are shown the flaws in Peter's character -- the chips in the Rock." However, "we are also shown, through praise and criticism of Peter throughout the Gospels, how God is working through the life of this great disciple."

Jesus' passion becomes a "point of crisis for Peter," Binz comments. Peter insists to Jesus that "I will not deny you," but Peter then denies Jesus three times.

"Peter's bluster holds a lesson for all future disciples," says Binz. "If we do not recognize our vulnerability, then we have set ourselves up for failure." He suggests it is wise "to place our confidence in a power beyond our own."

Peter will become known later for preaching the good news and for his healing ministry. Binz underscores the resemblances between the healing acts of Jesus and those of Peter.

In light of this, Binz writes, "Peter's ministry demonstrates that Jesus is still powerfully at work in his church."

Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service's documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.



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