November 1989

Diary 1964/65.  By Chiara Lubich. New City Press. 170 pages. $6.95.

Add Chiara Lubich’s name to the list of extraordi­nary Catholic women (one thinks of Edith Stein, Doro­thy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Mother Teresa, among others) who, in some myste­rious cosmic reckoning, perhaps have helped redeem this century of hatred, vio­lence, and despair. During the grimmest days of World War II, Lubich, an Italian, founded the Focolare movement, an experiment in Christian communitarianism. Through prayer, community of goods, mutual love, and the imitation of Christ and the Virgin, the Focolarini hoped to bring light into the gloom of iniquity. The effort has succeeded beyond its founder’s most sanguine imaginings. Granted the papal imprimatur in 1962 as the “Work of Mary,” the Focolare movement has spread across the globe.

In 1964 and 1965 Chiara Lubich made several trips to North and South America to encourage the Focolarini who were establishing their work in the U.S., Argentina, and Brazil. Lubich’s diary records her experiences and thoughts during these jour­neys. Wherever she went, she reminded her followers of their awesome responsibil­ity: “A Christian…is a living Gospel; he is the Good News brought to reality.” An audience with Pope Paul VI in 1965 gave her a fresh understanding of what that reality entailed. “Unity and fire,” the Pope adjured her. Unity: “with God, with each other, with the Pope, with our superiors.” Fire: “which sets everything ablaze…consuming everything with the love of God.” “Fire” in another sense, too: a flicker­ing, but unquenchable, flame that Chiara Lubich and the Focolarini have ignited in this century of darkness and distress.

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Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Complete Edition.  Edited, revised, and supplemented by Herbert Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater. Christian Classics. Four vol­umes; 2,824 pages. $95.

The 2,565 saints included in these volumes form a bridge that reaches from earth to heaven. They lived, suffered, rejoiced, and died for Christ so that we might walk upon that bridge.

Reading of these holy men and women recalls the words of Georges Bernanos: “Incredulous fools deny the existence of saints. And pious fools seem to imagine that they grow of them­selves, like the grass of the fields. Few realize that the rarer the essence of the tree, the more fragile it is.”

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Be Reconciled to God: A Family Guide to Confession.  By Thomas Weinandy. The Word Among Us Press. 152 pages. $6.95.

Conditions have scarcely improved in the five years since Pope John Paul II declared that “the Sacrament of Reconciliation is in crisis.” As Fr. Thomas Weinandy writes: “Many Catholics do not participate in this sacra­ment. Those who do are often unsure of its benefits.” Believing that (to vary a familiar pop-religion slogan) “The Family that Confesses Together, Stays Together,” Weinandy endeavors to miti­gate the crisis. In Be Recon­ciled to God he provides, first, a succinct explanation of the economy of salvation, and second, a practical guide to confession for parents, teenagers, and small children.

Although the deteriora­tion of the practice of confes­sion distresses Weinandy, his response borrows nothing from the gloom-and-doom school of lamentation. He elects instead an emphasis upon the positive, upon an orthodoxy that radiates love and understanding rather than wrath and chastise­ment. Recognizing the mis­takes of the past, he avers, for example, that “the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be a moment when children experience, not fear and trepidation, but the pardon of Jesus and the merciful kindness of our heavenly Father.” Weinandy illuminates the word “recon­ciliation” — especially as it captures both the individual and communal nature of sin and repentance. As individuals we sin against God, and to God we are reconciled through confession. Because “our sins have injured the Body of Christ,” confession also reconciles us with the community of believers.

Weinandy emphasizes that confession is above all a sacrament: it is a source of life-giving grace and not merely, as the fatuously relevant would have it, “a wholesome psychological experience.” For Weinandy the Sacrament of Reconcilia­tion cuts to the very heart of the Christian way.

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El Infierno.  By Carlos Marti­nez Moreno. Readers International. 266 pages. $16.95.

When the novelist and lawyer Carlos Martinez Moreno fled Uruguay after the military coup of 1973, he carried with him a jumble of experience derived from his efforts to defend scores of those accused of belonging to the Tupamaros. In exile in Mexico (he died there in 1986), he brooded over the “voices within” that prodded him to sort out the experi­ences and bear witness to the imprisonment, torture, and murder ruthlessly employed by the government in its campaign of terror to stamp out terror.

El Infierno is fiction grounded in fact; the moral truth it embodies lifts the book beyond newspaper headlines into the realm of timeless art.

The most profound section of the book is entitled “Caragua.” In the figure of Marcos, a veteran anar­chist, Martinez Moreno engages in a lengthy medita­tion upon the moral justifica­tion of revolution. Marcos argues with his fellow revolutionaries in a passionate effort to persuade them to spare the life of a peasant who has accidentally stum­bled upon the guerrillas’ stronghold. Marcos fails: the peasant, though innocent, must die to preserve the guerrillas’ security. What is one lowly peon compared to the revolution? Everything, replies Marcos. As he digs the man’s grave, he muses to himself: “We were Robin Hoods, we wanted justice, we were crusaders against injustice, defenders of the poor.” Marcos blurts out: “We are burying Robin Hood.” The other grave diggers look up, startled, their puzzlement an emblem of death of revolutionary ideals.

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Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.  Edited by Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee. Zondervan. 911 pages. $29.95.

Fifty years ago this volume could not have been published. “Charismatics” didn’t exist, and Pentecostals were too busy stoking the bonfires of revival to worry about scholarly dictionaries. Most Christians back then evinced a distaste for Pente­costals; they were, averred decorous believers, a wild and weird bunch that flour­ished only on the weedy margins of respectable faith and practice. For their part, Pentecostals shunned main­stream Protestantism, praised the Lord in store-front churches and canvas taber­nacles, and reviled worldly society and its satanic al­lurements.

Much has changed in recent decades, and the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements reveals the magnitude of the trans­formation. The defensiveness and exclusiveness of the past have largely vanished. Although most of the con­tributors are Pentecostals or charismatics, a number of the writers are distinguished scholars from outside the tradition. In the Editorial Preface the editors declare that they “have sought to avoid apologetic and polemical approaches.” The mes­sage is clear: Pentecostals possess the self-confidence and intellectual sophistication to open their faith to dispas­sionate scholarly scrutiny. Of major significance is the “Charismatic” in the book’s title, for this introduces that vast array of Spirit-filled believers within mainline denominations and from recently emerged groups that do not belong to traditional Pentecostalism. It also encompasses Catholics, a fact that would have taken a Pentecostal’s breath away not too long ago. (For some, it probably still does.) The 66 contributors include several Catholics, and one of the most impressive articles in the book is a 15-page entry on “Catholic Charismatic Renewal” by Fr. Francis Sullivan of the Gregorian University in Rome.

If the publication of this dictionary demonstrates the self-assurance and success of the Pentecostal and charis­matic movements, it also suggests that they are ad­vancing down the road toward complete respectabili­ty and full acceptance by mainstream Christians. Are they too doomed to recapitu­late the classic pattern identi­fied by Ernst Troeltsch? Will today’s Spirit-possessed believer become tomorrow’s church bureaucrat?

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The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspond­ence between Thomas Jeffer­son and Abigail and John Adams.  Edited by Lester J. Cappon. University of North Carolina Press. 638 pages. $17.95.

In these letters (first published in 1959 and now reprinted in paperback) Jefferson and Adams exchanged thoughts on everything from complicated matters of foreign diplomacy to the particular merits of the Virginia mockingbird. Although neither man was especially devout in the orthodox sense, both mused often on religious questions and concerns: church-state relations, freedom of worship, sectarianism, the person of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, and the possibility of an afterlife. Of the two, Adams evinced the more stridently anti-Catholic sentiments, noting in one letter that, “I have long been decided in opinion that a free government and the Roman Catholick religion can never exist together….” After the restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814, he brooded over the threat the order posed to the United States. “Do you know,” he warned darkly to Jefferson, “that The General of the Jesuits and consequently all his Host have their Eyes on this Country?” Jefferson too despised the Jesuits, but he sought to calm his excitable friend, assuring him that the future lay with an enlightened and adamantly non-Catholic America. “We are destined,” he wrote, “to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings….”

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The Woman of the Pharisees.  By Francois Mauriac. Carroll & Graf. 241 pages. $8.95.

Mauriac’s novels reveal his adroitness at stripping away the finery of respect­ability and propriety and dis­closing the ugliness in the heart of man. He mastered the art of teasing from hidden corners the psycho­logical tricks that sinners employ to conceal their wretchedness from others and, especially, themselves.

In The Woman of the Pharisees (first published in 1941 and now reprinted), Madame Brigitte Pian seeks to do good, but she has no love. She distorts the faith to suit her own twisted pur­poses, and, as the narrator observes, she “attributed to our Father in heaven the complexities and perversities of her own nature.” She burnishes the “armor of her perfection” until it gleams, but inside, evil festers. But if Mauriac zeroed in on man’s sinfulness, he also believed in the redemption of bent souls. Her armor shattered, Madame Pian learns at last “that it is not our deserts that matter but our love.”

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