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Book on monks offers some excellent insights but skimpy theology Print E-mail
Written by Brian Welter, Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 12:41

"Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics" by Christine Valters Paintner; icons by Marcy Hall. Sorin Books (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2016). 224 pp., $17.95.

"Illuminating the Way" excels for those looking for the horizontal church and horizontal spiritual practice, which is to say for a strong me-centered path of therapeutic religion. Such spirituality has close affinities to Carl Jung's psychoanalysis, and unsurprisingly, author Christine Valters Paintner repeatedly turns to Jung to buttress her observations.

As the author would have it, I go to church to deepen my relationship with myself. My feelings and thoughts are the most interesting things around, and God helps me feel and think well. Religion is about subjective, personal experience. This book tends to discard the "militia Christi" aspects of saints for a soft, emotional religion, though the thoughts on Evagrius fighting the demons brings some relief.

The book mixes interesting insights with unclear theology. St. Francis of Assisi conjures up the theologically irrelevant "archetype of the fool." More seriously, the author bases her critique of the sins of Western culture's "false god" of "productivity, striving, consumption and speed" on Franciscan spirituality. "There is a subversive act of truth-telling through the Fool's humor and playfulness," the author notes. These are timely words because the author links the holy fool – or "fool for Christ" -- to humility.

We see more wisdom later in the book with the reference to the holy pause, or "statio," whereby monks take a small break between tasks.

"When we rush from one thing to another, we skim over the surface of life," Valters Paintner notes. The author, a Benedictine Oblate, repeatedly expresses her admiration for the order's spirituality. (Benedictine Oblates, like the author, are laypeople who are associated with the Benedictines but do not make vows; lay Oblates have had a spiritual association with Benedictine monasteries for centuries.)

"Illuminating the Way" excels at emphasizing Christianity's creative side. Yet it does so excessively, which is to say without the discipline and moderation that orthodoxy assures. The end of many chapters exemplify this with, for example, mandala art exercises where the mandala lacks Christian symbolism. How does such random art deepen the reader's faith in Christ?

The skimpy theology is disappointing given what the author shows she knows of Christianity. The informative and accurate overview of the Egyptian desert fathers contrasts with the discussion on Mary, which stretches the bounds of Christian theology. She links the Virgin to pagan goddess spirituality: "My journey has been to the Great Mother, reclaiming the divine feminine in my life in a deeper way, and ultimately reclaiming/recovering/restoring the Mother who dwells within me and offers me everything I need in terms of nourishment, affection and attention."

The chapter on St. Brigid accomplishes this direct fusion of Christian and pagan: "With her connection to the ancient goddess tradition, Brigid extends the lavish generosity of the Mother to us." This leads to fairly Jungian, New Age conclusions: "The Healer is not only present in the traditional practice of medicine or other healing arts such as herbalism, massage, energy work, midwifery, and so forth. The Healer also works through spiritual direction, retreat work, psychotherapy."

The author misses opportunities to speak of grace, such as when, once again, she discusses feelings and how to handle them: "When the undermining thoughts and stories, or the voices of the inner critic and judge, come up, notice them, and then as best you can, don't let them take root. Try not to follow their trail that always leads to discouragement and self-doubt." Instead of relying on grace, this Christ-less Christianity requires self-reliance. She never clearly shows God's role in meditation and contemplation.

The theme of subversion comes up time and again, which shores up the author's description of Dorothy Day: "Her faith was rooted in reaching out to the needs of others, and she was sustained by regular prayer and worship. Yet she often came into conflict with the church over her activities." Both of these mirror themes among the wider American literature on Catholic spirituality, whereby respect for church authority and tradition is no longer valued.

"Illuminating the Way" offers many excellent insights, but is more faithful to contemporary feminist, psychotherapeutic, narcissistic culture than to the deposit of the faith.

One book offers exhaustive study of rosary, another adds mysteries Print E-mail
Written by By Mitch Finley Catholic News Service   
Thursday, 22 December 2016 14:21

"Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon" by Donald H. Calloway, MIC. Marian Press (Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 2016). 351 pp., $16.95.

"Journey With the Expanded Rosary: Experience the Mysteries for Each Day of the Week" by Rich Melcher. Leonine Publishers (Phoenix, 2016). 116 pp., $12.95.

At 351 pages - not including various appendices and reference sections in the back of the book - "Champions of the Rosary" is easily the most exhaustive study of the devotional prayer known as "the rosary" that this reviewer has ever seen. The book is organized into three major sections: "History of the Rosary," "Champions of the Rosary" and "Praying the Rosary." There is no doubt that anyone who reads this book will be ever after the best informed on the rosary in his or her parish, if not his or her diocese.

The book's subtitle refers to the rosary as "a spiritual weapon." One may wonder if this doesn't narrow the rosary overmuch and even attribute to it a rather grim countenance. The late Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton was likely the 20th century's most prominent "champion of the rosary," his famous rosary slogan being "The family that prays together stays together."

This slogan encourages the rosary not as a spiritual weapon but as a source of family health, strength and loving intimacy. Indeed, one might ask if the rosary, like any good form of prayer, isn't primarily a means of nourishing loving intimacy with God and neighbor. Those who want a "spiritual weapon," of course, are free to understand the rosary thus if they want to.

Part I, "History of the Rosary," attributes the rosary's origin to a commission given to St. Dominic by Mary and concludes that this is an historical event. Father Calloway bases his conclusion on an 1891 secondary source written by an English Third Order Dominican, Augusta Theodosia Drane, who quotes what she claims are the actual words of Mary spoken to St. Dominic. Father Calloway quotes the words reported by Drane, but where Drane got her information is apparently unknown.

One can only conclude that Drane repeated legendary material and gave the impression that it was historical. It is highly likely, then, that the account of the commission to St. Dominic by Mary is legendary rather than historical. This does nothing, of course, to reduce the credit due the countless members of St. Dominic's Order of Preachers who promoted the rosary over the centuries.

Part II of this book narrates the stories of no less that 26 "champions of the rosary," ancient and modern. Beginning with St. Dominic (1170-1221), Father Calloway repeats his belief in the historical nature of the encounter between Mary and Dominic, relying more on hagiography than historical research.

He includes quotations from numerous popes who also accepted the historicity of this event and repeated it. Modern "champions of the rosary" discussed in this part of the book include Pope Pius XII, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. John XXIII, Father Peyton, Blessed Paul VI, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Part III, "Praying the Rosary," offers practical instruction based on Father Calloway's apparent liking for apocalyptic theology, the spiritual dangers presented to faithful believers by Satan, etc. In response to the question, "Why pray the rosary," he concludes with words from Blessed James Alberione (1884-1971): Praying the rosary "is the surest way to triumph over spiritual enemies, the most suitable way to progress in virtue and sanctity."

"Champions of the Rosary" summarizes virtually everything ever written about the rosary and presents short biographies of virtually every "champion of the rosary" who ever lived. The author's recommendation of the rosary seems to be based rather heavily on a fear-based devotionalism. Many devotees of the rosary may be more motivated to pray it out of love than fear. Regardless, "Champions of the Rosary" provides a resource on the rosary not to be found anywhere else.

Rich Melcher's "Journey with the Expanded Rosary" offers what he calls "tri-expanded rosary mysteries." These are three biblically based sets of five mysteries, and Melcher's aim is to add to, not replace, the traditional "mysteries" of the rosary. There are various ways to use this book, and the author provides several suggestions for how to do this. A welcome chapter, the final of the book's eight chapters, explains the basics of how to pray the rosary.

Some readers/pray-ers of the rosary will find the material provided by this book to be a significant addition to, and enrichment of, the rosary. Others may find it more confusing than enlightening. It will depend, most likely, on personal inclinations and preferences. Either way, this book is worth considering as a possible alternative to the standard approach to praying the rosary.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes including "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers and Those in Between" (Word Among Us Press).



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