Volume > Issue > Briefly: May 1998

May 1998

The Lord

By Romano Guardini

Publisher: Regnery

Pages: 629

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Michael Berg

Romano Guardini was a well-known theologian (Freedom, Grace, and Destiny) and a master explicator of the spiritual life (The Life of Faith). But he was also a priest, and how wonderful it must have been to be a member of his congregation. The Lord is a collection of 86 meditations first spoken to Guardini’s flock as Sunday homilies. They reveal a poet whose object of adoration is Christ, and a pastor whose vocation is not only to guide his flock but also to share with them his vision.

In The Lord, first published in 1937 and now available in a new Gateway edition, Guardini presents a sequence of essays on the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ. He brings us face to face with Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Guardini evokes Christ in remarkably moving passages, beautifully rendered in this translation.

Guardini’s reflections challenge us at the basic level of faith, and we find ourselves examining how we answer Our Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” An earlier edition of this book played a critical role in my life, when the answer to that question meant life or death. Spiritually collapsed and psychologically depressed, as close to despair as I have ever been, I knocked, unbidden, on the door of the Jesuit residence at the university where I now teach, and I asked to see “an old priest.” The holy man who came to me has guided my spiritual life for 10 years now, and I owe him more than I can tell, let alone repay.

Early on, he recommended that I read The Lord. I did so. Again and again I was moved to tears, and now, looking back, I remember the hours spent with Guardini’s homilies as moments of calm in a storm that took many months to abate. Often I found shelter in the pages of the book, gazing in imagination upon the men and women depicted there, most importantly Jesus Himself, of course, but also Our Lady. The darkness of those days forced me to turn to Jesus, for the first time without any holding back, knowing that there was no one else, and to beg Him to seize control of a life which had become continuous torture. The Jesus Who rescued me I met unavoidably in the pages of Guardini’s book.

And I know that what assailed me 10 years back, seemingly out of the blue, is actually endemic. I had for years been complacent in my Catholicism, perfectly happy to forgo obedience to this or that commandment or this or that teaching of the Church. I had no idea what true commitment to Christ meant; I did not know Jesus well enough to realize that with Him it is all or nothing.

Is it not obvious today, when theological Modernism is fashionable again and moral compromise has reached epidemic proportions, that we should all benefit immeasurably from a profound re-acquaintance with our Savior? Here, from the Introduction, is Cardinal Ratzinger on the matter: “Our time is in many respects far different from that in which Romano Guardini lived and worked. But it is as true now as in his day that the peril of the Church, indeed of humanity, consists in bleaching out Jesus Christ in an attempt to shape a Jesus according to our own standards, so that we do not follow Him in obedient discipleship but rather recreate Him in our own image! Yet still in our day salvation consists only in becoming ‘truly real’…. Guardini’s book The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.”

Maximum Security: The Culture of Violence in Inner City Schools

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Pages: 280

Price: $No price given.

Review Author: Aaron Godfrey

Devine ends his book with a chapter entitled “A Jesuitical Fantasy” in which he really summarizes, perhaps unknowingly, what is wrong with education today. He recalls his own high school education and what was passed on to him as a Jesuit scholastic. Good teaching embodies cognition (instruction and scholarship), discipline (boundaries), mentoring, and spiritual guidance. It worked, despite being excoriated in the 1960s as oppressive and spirit-maiming. In loco parentis became a “no-no” in the 1960s, and as the middle class could no longer distinguish between freedom and license, most of the educational establishment fell apart. When school disruption became common, security systems, guards, and metal detectors were installed in schools.

The author currently directs a New York State program which has the goal of keeping at-risk students in school so that they will go on to post-secondary education.

Maximum Security is depressing and enlightening, and shows us aspects of lower-tier, inner-city schools that have been swept under the rug. Devine has given us an unblinking and intimate look at such schools in New York City and the many stumbling blocks to their improvement. The violence, fear, and pain of young people is in counterpoint to the frustration and anger of those who “teach” or at least are in front of the classrooms. Poverty, ignorance, and violence interact and proliferate, as welfare and television have become the bread and circuses of this generation of America’s poor. The book is a journey through an earthly hell where the students abandon hope once they enter, even with intervention, and are subjected to the twin terrors of administrative apathy and peer violence.

Apart from moments when Devine employs the tortuous language of Foucault and Deconstruction, Maximum Security is well organized and clearly written, leveling valid criticism at nearly every segment of the contemporary educational establishment. Devine’s recommendations are cogent and deserve attention, especially his proposals to make schools smaller and to turn teaching once again into a vocation instead of just a job.

Maximum Security is a terrifying but wise book that presents the causes of many of the dreadful problems of urban schools and proposes solutions to them. It certainly should be read with attention by school administrators, school boards, and leaders of teachers’ unions.

The Priestly Office: A Theological Reflection

By Elinor C. Briefs

Publisher: Paulist

Pages: 81

Price: $7.95

Review Author: James Schmitmeyer

When I was a seminarian intern, I went one day to the pastor saying that I could not keep up with all the work piling up on my desk. Every phone request and every committee task seemed important and urgent. The pastor sat back and folded his hands. “Jim,” he said, “you’ll soon learn that there are two stacks on your desk. The first stack is what has to get done. The second stack is what really has to get done.” This was practical wisdom, the voice of experience, and any priest who reads The Priestly Office will find similar wisdom — but far more as well. In a concise but scholarly manner, this book brings a welcome sense of order to the many valid but seemingly conflicting perspectives on the nature and role of the priest in today’s Church.

Dulles’s goal is “to propose a viable concept of the ministerial priesthood that is coherent with biblical data, with the Catholic tradition, and with the teaching of Vatican II.” The discussion includes a critique of positions not approved by the Magisterium, but is most noteworthy for its overview of the work of faithful theologians on the nature of the priesthood. It is further enriched by numerous references to recent papal pronouncements.

The core of the book is a reflection upon the three functions of priesthood as described in the documents of Vatican II: the ministry of the Word, the ministry of worship, and pastoral ministry.

As we priests go about dividing our tasks between Stacks #1 and #2, each of the basic functions occupies a special place in the life of every priest. But, like a parent torn between the demands of career and family, the priest will not find adequate sustenance in identifying himself solely in terms of various functions. The remedy to low priestly morale or lack of identity will not be found in any arrangement of the stacks of “Things to Do.”

This has become clear to me in my first assignment as a pastor. While I acknowledge my personal delight in the task of preaching, I am well aware that my parishioners do not use the word preacher to describe me. Nor do they employ other functional labels such as caregiver or prayer-leader (thank God!). I am, so far as I can tell, simply referred to by my people as “our priest.” This is how they introduce me to their friends and relatives. Their connection to me, in other words, is essentially intimate, not functional. It is, I hope, a reflection of the connection I strive to have with Christ, which is something infinitely more than functional, something directed toward what is generally known as holiness.

It is this connection to Christ and the importance of striving for holiness that are beautifully rendered in the final chapter of this book, showing all the functions of priesthood from a true and unified perspective. It is Dulles’s contention that unless a priest seeks and achieves a high degree of holiness, he will simply not be able to preach effectively, preside fruitfully, or pastor lovingly. As a working priest, I am grateful to Dulles for this practical reminder, and for the inspired wisdom at its heart.

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