Archive for the Book Review Category

Fr. James Martin’s Book on Jesus: A Great Read

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , , , , on March 9, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Jesus-a-Pilgrimage-203x300The book has already hit two bestseller marks on Amazon.com: it’s a #1 in the categories of ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Jesus, Gospel, and Acts.’ And the book hasn’t yet been released. It is scheduled for March 11, but I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy to read just in time for the first week of Lent.

Fr. James Martin, SJ’s latest, Jesus: A Pilgrimage (HarperOne 2014), lives up to the expectations set by his already existing library of well-written, deeply engaging, entertaining, and inspiring books. Having written on themes including his own vocation story, his experience ministering in Africa, his work with a theatre company (where he became close to the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman), the role of the saints in his life, the place of joy and humor in the spiritual life, among others, Martin returns to the source of Christianity to examine Jesus of Nazareth from a deeply personal perspective and with in typically approachable style.

There are three intersecting threads that are neatly woven together throughout the book. The first is Martin’s personal experience of visiting the Holy Land while on pilgrimage. The story of his own journey to the land of the Gospels is itself an entertaining one, marked as it is by his own resistance to such a trip and the fortuitous encouragement and friendship that eventually made it all possible. He is able to describe, not just the scenery of the Palestinian landscape, but add stories and details that help bring the modern experience of this ancient land alive.

The second thread is the careful scholarship that informs so much of this book. While Martin admits upfront that he is not a scholar nor a professional theologian, he has done his homework and the thirty pages of endnotes are but one sign to illustrate that. The number of notes is not so much the scholarly signal, but the sources and material that he relies upon, which is reflected in both the content and the notes. The book, as it happens, is dedicated to his former professor, fellow Jesuit brother, and recently deceased New Testament scholar Daniel Harrington, SJ, who was no doubt proud of his brother and former student (Harrington also blurbed to book before embracing Sister Death). Martin relies not just on Harrington, but the work of other important scholars too including Raymond Brown, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Gerhard Lohfink, Elizabeth Johnson, John Meier, John Dominic Crossan, E.P. Sanders, Amy Jill-Levine, and so many others. While certainly not adding to the scholarly research, Martin does what few of the academic luminaries he engages can do: make some of the latest research accessible to a very broad audience.

The third thread is Martin’s approachable, personal, humorous, and insightful writing style. Those familiar with his other books will recognize immediately the familiar form his prose takes. While I have enjoyed reading many of Martin’s earlier books, especially his last Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (2012), I don’t think I’ve liked any of them quite as much as his My Life With the Saints (2006) until Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Like My Life With the Saints, this new book has the overlapping appeal of addressing a subject that is important and relevant to so many reader (i.e., Jesus), while also infusing the subject with the life of it’s author. This is, perhaps, the most appealing aspect of the book as a whole. It answers the question: What else could possibly be said about Jesus of Nazareth? Jim Martin’s experience of this one called the Christ is what can be said and hasn’t been said before.

This last point is something Martin addresses early on in Jesus: A Pilgrimage:

…after I explained that the book would focus only on specific Gospel passages, one friend asked sensibly, “What can you say that hasn’t been said?” “Well,” I said, “I’ll write about the Jesus whom I’ve met in my life. This is a Jesus who hasn’t been written about before.” It may be similar to hearing a friend tell you something unexpected about a mutual friend. “I never knew that about him,” you might say wonderingly. Seeing a friend through another pair of eyes can help you appreciate a person more. You may end up understanding your friend in an entirely new way. So I would like to invite you to meet the Jesus you already may know, but in a new way. Or, if you don’t know much about Jesus, I would like to introduce him to you. Overall, I would like to introduce you to the Jesus I know, and love, the person at the center of my life.

And he does.

Following a generally Gospel-based chronology, Martin leads the reader on a pilgrimage through the assumed historical timeline of Jesus’s earthly life and ministry, selecting (as he stated he would) certain key passages upon which to reflect most fully. Even a book just a bit over 500 pages cannot cover everything (the New Testament scholar John Meier has been working for more than two decades on his multi-volume series on the Historical Jesus titled A Marginal Jew, each volume of which weighs in at more than Martin’s singular project on the subject).

Each of the chapters bears the trifold mark highlighted above of pilgrimage, a foundation of sound scholarship, and approachable writing. As someone who is an “academic,” I admit that I approach reading books about theology and scripture aimed at popular audiences with caution and hesitation. It’s just too easy for the seemingly arcane and esoteric, but important, details about this or that doctrine or this or that historical event or this or that word in Greek to become confused in translation. This is something I myself have struggled with in writing books like my latest The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013). It is not easy to find the right combination, yet Martin certainly has here.

One of the subjects that comes across as a central Christian tension — indeed a real tension about which most Christians might not always be aware — is that between the so-called “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” Martin explains early on in the book how he will address this tension throughout the book:

Moreover, Jesus is always fully human and fully divine. That is, Jesus is not human during one event and divine in another, no matter how it might seem in any particular episode of his life. He is divine when he is sawing a plank of wood, and he is human when he is raising Lazarus from the dead.

It is the Catholic “both/and” view that holds the tension up as both a reality and struggle, yet affirms the central doctrinal claim of the Incarnation. The materials that Martin brings into dialogue with the various Gospel passages explored throughout the book helps the readers to appreciate both dimensions of this Jesus called the Christ.

This review could go on and on with additional details and descriptions of passages throughout the book, but I suppose the ultimate message I have to offer is that this book is definitely worth reading and for a whole variety of audiences. For those who might not have an academic background in theology or scripture, this book would serve to offer a richer context for Gospel passages frequently encountered in the Liturgy and in private study, but often misunderstood. Martin gives helpful, yet non-intimidating, exegetical references along the way. I could imagine this being a great book for parish faith-sharing groups (although the book does lack in-chapter reflection questions). For those who have more (or a lot) of academic background in theology or scripture, this book would serve as a grounded yet lighthearted and personal refresher, living up to Martin’s goal to offer another view of a mutual friend.

While there are many underlined passages in my copy, I have to say that one of my favorite has little do with Jesus per se, but with a passing reference Martin makes to when Ignatius Loyola made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land only to be kicked out by the Franciscans, who have been the guardians of the sites for centuries, because they didn’t think it safe for Ignatius to be there. It seems especially funny in an age when the Bishop of Rome is a Jesuit who took the name Francis.

Photo: HarperOne

From the Spiritual Bookshelf

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

One of the great unexpected perks of the type of ministry, both popular and academic, that I am engaged in is that frequently publishers and authors will share with you a variety of new books. Many times I experience the personal frustration of not being able to at least preliminarily explore some of the books that come through my mailbox or inbox before they land on an ever-growing real or virtue stack of “to be read” books. Working on several concurrent book and other writing projects, traveling as often as I do, serving the community in pastoral ministry, and completing a doctoral degree full time all unfortunately compete with my ability to mention some excellent and interesting new books with the speed and regularity I would ordinarily like. This is my feeble excuse for not talking about these three books as soon as would have liked (and the many others I hope to also get to at some point).

And so, rather than three individual reviews and comments, I thought I might offer something of a joint spiritual review of three books that have come across my desk in recent months, each from different authors with vastly different backgrounds, grounding their reflections in three different spiritual traditions.

Rooted in Love

91RYJ27ZhoL._SL1500_First on the list is Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian Spirituality Into Daily Life (New Voices, 2013). This book, written by the South African author Margaret Blackie, a scientist and spiritual director, offers an interesting look at Ignatian Spirituality. Grounded in accessible and personal experiences, Blackie’s approach to Ignatian Spirituality finds its origins in what Karl Rahner might describe as “everyday mysticism.” It might find itself stylistically in the same vein as Tim Muldoon’s The Ignatian Workout (2004) or Jim Martin, SJ,’s A Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything (2012), as a text that seeks to make the Ignatian adage “Finding God in All Things” tangible for the modern reader. By and large, I believe that Blackie does this and does so in a unique way.

While one certainly learns about Ignatian Spirituality along the way, this book is less didactic than it is experiential. With the distinctive and expert style of a spiritual director, Blackie’s prose reads more like a conversation than it does a lecture, which is something someone on retreat or seeking to find a quiet retreat-like experience at home can appreciate. One feels like they get to know Blackie personally throughout the book, sharing with her the experiences of her own spiritual and life journey while also considering your own path. Each chapter includes reflection questions for further consideration, prayer, and possible discussion in a group setting.

For those who are already familiar with and are fans of Ignatian Spirituality, this is a good book to take another look at the tradition you embrace. If you are not as familiar, I think this is a helpful and comfortable way to get to know it better.

The Wandering Friar

9781625101815medNext on the spiritual shelf is a book written by a fellow Franciscan friar, John Anglin, OFM, titled The Wandering Friar: A Traveling Franciscan Preacher Looks at the Church Through the Stories of Its Members (Tate, 2013). This is a unique book. Rather than a straightforward narrative or expository text, Anglin’s book is a compilation of experiences, stories, and real-life parables collected from his many years on the road as a retreat leader and preacher. The book is divided into two parts. The first, “The Hand of God,” is the shorter and features his personal vocation story and the setup for how he became the wandering friar (which is also the title of his blog). Here we get the clearest introduction to and description of his whole project, which is mostly contained in the remaining portion of the book:

I hope to hold that mirror, as it were, before many members of the People of God that I have encountered over the years and before you, the reader, in the hope that you will see more clearly the Body of Christ that you receive in the Eucharist and that we truly are as the Church (51).

As you might tell from this brief excerpt, Anglin grounds his reflections as a Franciscan friar and traveling preacher in the rich theology of the church from Vatican II. Throughout the book, you get the sense that he understands — especially having lived through it — the significance of the Council and the importance understanding ourselves and the People of God in this light has for the ongoing reflection on what it means to be the Body of Christ. Additionally, as you might also note, this short except is reflective of another aspect of this book that might be welcomed or not by particular readers. Anglin’s style has an aural quality to it, which makes sense given that these are reflections of a preacher. He writes in a way that bears a resemblance to how we might hear his reflections. This is a stylistic observation, one that could potentially be frustrating for those looking to pick it up like another book, but perhaps interesting to those who can conjure the voice of an experience Franciscan sharing his story and the stories of those he has met aloud.

The second part of the book is the bulk of the text, a collection of stories and parables taken from the life of a itinerant preacher, taken from the experiences of many different people over the years. These are presented in such a way as to provide a different look at what we call “the church,” something that Anglin — rooted in good theology and Vatican II — continually reminds us is the Body of Christ and not just its leaders.

Atchison Blue

9781933495583.jpg.x625The last book on the spiritual shelf today is a real gem. Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, A Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith (AMP/Sorin, 2013) is a personal spiritual reflection written by the television journalist Judith Valente. The title, which caught my attention right away, comes from the color of the chapel glass found in the St. Scholastica Benedictine Monastery, where Valente’s faith journey finds its support and new life. This is a spiritual memoir of sorts that offers a glimpse and appropriation of a monastic way of living and praying from the vantage point of a modern-day professional. We are presented both with Valente’s journey, but also invited along the way to consider how we might embrace — regardless of social location, profession, and state of life — the Benedictine spiritual rhythm of ora et labor(prayer and work).

Not that one should judge a book by its cover, I feel like I have to say that this book — in its cover, in its French style, and in its rugged page cuts — is an attractive book and one that definitely drew me to it.

Valente’s book is something of an in-between text compared to Blackie’s and Anglin’s. Whereas Blackie gives a solid and direct presentation of Ignatian Spirituality from a personal and dialogical perspective and Anglin provides a collection of disparate and personal narratives, Valente presents the Benedictine tradition as experienced in her journey peppered with seemingly disparate, but nonetheless interesting, stories that bring the reader along with her on her assignments for PBS and other such adventures. It is something of an exitus and reditus flow of the ora et laborspirituality — one leaves the monastery to labor in the diverse fields of the world and returns to the monastery (real or analogous) to pray and recharge.

Valente is an excellent writer and the book takes little effort to settle in. I found myself moving smoothly along with her narration, interested in the first-person “behind-the-scenes” like story of her faith journey.

 

 

A New Selection and Translation of Francis’s Writings

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Francis essential writings paracleteEvery now and then new books are released relating to the Franciscan world. Recently, a new edition of selected writings from Francis of Assisi has joined the Franciscan library.

Since the publication of the three volumes of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents (New City Press, 1999-2001), which remains the preeminent English edition of the early sources, there hasn’t been a whole lot added to the list of books that present Francis’s writings either in new translation or selected form. Jon Sweeney, the publisher at Paraclete Press and perhaps best known for his book, The Pope Who Quit (Image, 2012), selected, translated, and offers a little commentary for nineteen of Francis’s authentic texts. The book is titled, Francis of Assisi: The Essential Writings, In His Own Words (Paraclete, 2013).

There are several things to like about this little book. The first is its design. In a recent podcast interview with America magazine, Sweeney talked about how one of the important aims of Paraclete Press is to create and help facilitate beauty, including the design of their books and products. The size, shape, formatting, and cover design all demonstrate this.

Another thing to like about the book is the pocket-sized collection of these texts. One of the things Sweeney shares in the introduction is his own experience of encountering the earlier Omnibus of Franciscan writings, which was well over 1,000-pages long. Similarly, each of the three critical English editions of the early sources are large and bulky, and even the smaller “Classics in Western Spirituality” volume of the essential writings of Francis and Clare of Assisi is large by comparison. This slim volume is perfect for those — especially Secular Franciscans, Franciscan sisters, and friars — who are looking to keep a handy copy of the basic writings of Francis in the car, purse, or chapel.

One other thing to like about the book is that, while there are times when the translations are not exactly what Franciscan scholars would have concluded with, there is a refreshing quality to having a slightly different expression of these key texts. For those who are already very familiar with the writings of Francis of Assisi, a different translation — even if you disagree with some of the translator’s decisions at times — helps draw your attention to different aspects of the writings with a fresh eye.

There are some things, however, that will certainly frustrate Franciscan scholars and, perhaps, others who are very familiar with the Franciscan intellectual tradition and history. One thing that is noticeably absent is the explanation of which critical Latin edition Sweeney is using in order to produce the English translation. He makes reference to an open-access online translation of Esser’s 1976 edition in the “for further reading” appendix, but never names that text as his source nor makes reference to Carlo Paolazzi’s very important and recent edition, Francesco D’Assisi: Scritti (Grottaferrata, 2009). For the average reader, however, details of this sort are likely unimportant for the spirit of the texts are nevertheless conveyed throughout.

Another thing that is disappointing are the occasional factual errors, which include dates, historical contexts, and titling decisions. While Sweeney does a commendable job in selecting these texts, the arbitrariness of the titles and dating is at times frustrating to those who know the tradition well. For example, to date “The First Rule” (oftentimes referred to as “The Earlier Rule,” and by scholars for specificity, the Regula non bullata) as “1209” without further qualification is misleading.  Additionally, to write that, “There were later versions of this Rule, but most notable is this on, which Francis wrote in his original fervor and inspiration and personally carried to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III” (17). This is not quite true. Francis did go to Rome to seek permission for his way of life and might have had with him something simply composed, but it was most certainly not the text Sweeney presents here. Scholars, especially David Flood (see his Die Regula non bullata der Minderbrüder [1967], among his other studies), have shown the long development of the text called the Regula non bullata. It can be said to have begun being composed in 1209, but it wasn’t at all what we have in this volume until 1221 (if not later). Similarly, the dating and titling of other texts (e.g., what Sweeney titles, “My First recommendation to the Faithful”) are quite questionable. The dates are too often presented with apodictic clarity, when scholars are more cautious, and the titles bear — admittedly at times in their introductions — a certain arbitrariness.

These points are not to suggest that this is a bad book, it isn’t. But it is important to acknowledge what the book is and what it is not. It is a wonderful edition of accessible translations in an attractive and functional design that will help many to become familiar (or more familiar) with the writings of Francis of Assisi. What this book is not is a reliable scholarly source for English translations and historical contexts of these texts. That still remains the Francis of Assisi: Early Documents volumes. And Sweeney acknowledges that, writing in the introduction: “And yet I find that as scholars and serious students have more resources than ever at their disposal, we also live in a time when fewer and fewer everyday, nonspecialist, spiritually attuned people interested in Francis actually turn to his own words to discover him” (2). This book, ostensibly, is for those people. How important getting all the facts correct really is…well, that’s up to the reader to decide. I’ll keep this book handy because, as with Scripture translations, it’s always good to have a variety.

Photo: Paraclete Press

One of the Best Books on St. Clare, Franciscan Life Today

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, the current President of St. Bonaventure University and a well-respected Franciscan scholar, writes in her foreword to the English edition of The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare: Their Form of Life and Identity (Tau Publishing, 2010): “These pioneering contemplatives wish to promote a life for the third millennium that will adhere to ancient principles, attract modern women and inculturate the Order in new social situations.” In a sentence, Sr. Margaret summarizes the aim of this relatively new study by a community of Italian Poor Clare Nuns under the direction of their then Abbess, Sr. Diana Papa, OSC, to pray, reflect and raise important — if at times challenging — questions about their life and religious life in the 21st Century.

This is by far one of the more exciting books that I’ve read on either the Clarian life (those women who follow the Rule of St. Clare of Assisi, commonly known in the Franciscan family as the “Second Order”) or the Franciscan form(s) of religious life more broadly conceived.

The text is a compilation of the Rule of St. Clare, the Second Order Rule of Pope Urban IV, and the General Constitutions of the Poor Clares, presented in such a way as to offer a thematic selection of different aspects of their life. After the presentation of the primary texts that govern the way of life for the Poor Clare Nuns, these Sisters provide commentary, supplementary scholarship, and, most interestingly, raise questions about how to authentically live this way of life in our contemporary setting.

It might not sound like a text that would appeal to a wide audience, but for those who are connected in any way with the Franciscan family or interested in the historical development and contemporary appropriation of St. Clare’s way of life after the model of Francis of Assisi, this will be of great interest to you. It certainly is something that speaks to friars, sisters and Secular Franciscans who wish to delve more deeply into the Franciscan tradition from the vantage point of modern Poor Clares engaging their tradition head-on.

I’m inspired by the insights, questions and commentary presented by these women and hope that such work might be pursued by the men of the First Orders. As I’ve read The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, I find myself reflecting on what a comparable project might look like for the Order of Friars Minor. Similarly, I wonder what a project of this sort might look like for women and men of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis, recognizing that something akin to this was published by the Third Order Regular communities not long ago (see History of the Third Order Regular Rule: A Source Book).

I definitely recommend this book to those who are connected at all to the Franciscan tradition, especially to those women and men who have professed to follow one of the Rules inspired by Francis’s way of life. I can’t imagine that there is a Poor Clare Sister out there who hasn’t yet picked this up, if such a Sister exists, she should get ahold of a copy of this right away. It is through the honest and courageous work, prayer and reflection of women like these Italian Poor Clares that we will continue to authentically live the Franciscan life long into the future.

The Perfect Book for Corpus Christi Sunday

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

So this past weekend the Church celebrated Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) Sunday. The solemnity dates back to the Middle Ages when adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became widespread, but it’s presence today raises certain questions for the faithful. One such question might be the rather pedestrian, “isn’t every celebration of the Eucharist a celebration of Corpus Christi?” And the answer, to some degree, is yes. However, as I expressed in my homily over the weekend, like so many things we do routinely and often in our lives, the celebration of the Eucharist can become rote and we might miss a lot of what we should be noting. The “Body of Christ” is a perfect example of something that a lot of people miss, at least miss in its entirety.

Most folks, I’m willing to bet, arrived at Mass this Sunday, heard “Corpus Christi Sunday” and thought of the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine and Christ’s Sacramental presence in these elements. But that is only one mode or way that Christ is made present in the Celebration of the Eucharist each time we gather together.

The Church teaches that there are three modes or ways that Christ is made present at the Eucharist, and therefore three ways we can come to recognize the Body of Christ each time we gather for Mass and beyond. These modes are (1) the People of God (the assembly and presider), (2) the Word of God, and (3) the Eucharistic Elements themselves. That third mode is the most recognized, but the other two are incredibly important and equally manifestations of Christ’s presence in the Church. Don’t believe me, check out the Second Vatican Council’s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, very early on in the text to be exact (no. 7).

Instead of rehearsing the importance and meaning of each of these modes of Christ’s presence, I want to take the opportunity to direct you to an excellent book that addresses this particular subject. Fr. Bruce Morrill, SJ’s new book, Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word and Sacrament (Paulist Press, 2012), is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject.

As the subtitle indicates, this short and accessible book (it weighs in at only 134 pages), takes the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Eucharist and Christ’s presence as the starting point and structure of the text. Morrill skillfully presents the Church’s teaching in a way that is insightful, historical and practical, not just for Roman Catholics — although that is the theological and liturgical location from which he writes — but he also presents the teaching of the Eucharist in such a way as to hopefully reach an ecumenical audience.

Morrill is the Edward A. Mallow Professor of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University and a renowned scholar in the field of sacramental theology and liturgy. This is his seventh book he has published as author or editor. While always grounded in sound theological and scholarly sources,Encountering Christ in the Eucharist is well-written and approachable enough that it can be read by a wide audience, broadening the readership of Morrill’s work from the academy to a more popular audience as well. One of the book’s promotional blurbs, by Msgr. Kevin Irwin, former dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University, echoes this point well:

The author’s rare combination of writing with theological insight and pastoral experience makes this book highly accessible to a wide audience. It deserves to be used in the college classroom as well as in ongoing formation programs for adult Christians.

I couldn’t agree more. After reading this text my first thought was, “I would love to lead a reading or discussion group with with book!” Furthermore, to reiterate Irwin’s point, I have no doubt that I will be returning to this book as my academic career continues to unfold and I eventually return to the classroom. I only wish this was out during the 2010-2011 academic year when I was teaching theology at Siena College, I would have used it for sure.

In addition to more studious uses of the text — adult faith formation in parochial settings or classroom reading for university courses — this book is a great resource for liturgical ministers and preachers. This is precisely why I mention it within the context of Corpus Christi Sunday. Far too often presiders come to this solemnity in June and subject their congregations to some pietistical and superficial reflection on the Eucharist that does not inform, edify or challenge the congregation. Reading Morrill’s latest book will likely enliven the admiration for and excitement about what it is we celebrate when the assembly gathers together each Sunday at the Table of the Lord.

Of particular interest to these same ministers is Morrill’s final chapter, titled “Leadership for Christ’s Body: Liturgy and Ministry.” Here he outlines the immediate and implicit relevance of the Church’s teaching on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for the work of the Church’s ministers and for the entire People of God.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough — get your copy today!

Photos: Paulist Press, Vanderbilt University

‘The Cost of Community’ is A Must-Read Book for 2012

Posted in Book Review, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This post is long, long overdue. Regular readers of DatingGod.org will know that the last six weeks have been a rather challenging time with the deaths of two grandparents and a brother Franciscan friar, the holiday season and a lot of travel all coming together to make ordinary activity just that much more difficult. Luckily, things are now calming down in the New Year and I have finally been able to return to that ever-growing stack of books that I am sent to review for the blog or for popular magazines and academic journals. I received Jamie Arpin-Ricci, CJ’s latest book, The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom (IVP 2011), in late Fall and have enjoyed it immensely (and not just because Arpin-Ricci so kindly interviewed me on his excellent blog last year, see his “Dating God – Dan P. Horan, OFM” post of last January). It is an unusually creative, insightful and challenging book that helps bring the Beatitudes into today’s troubled world in a new way, while focusing on issues related to the Christian quest for social justice. All this is done with a constant reference to St. Francis of Assisi.

Arpin-Ricci is a member of a lay Franciscan community rooted in the Anglican tradition and a pastor of a community in Winnipeg, Canada known as “Little Flowers Community,” which is in part inspired by the Mennonite tradition. He has dedicated much of his life to the service of the church and of the poor and marginalized in the communities in which he finds himself. His book, The Cost of Community, contains a great mixture of scriptural interpretation, personal reflection, Franciscan and Christian history and stories from his experiences in ministry that help illustrate the complexities, challenges and joys of the vita evangelica.

One of the first things I do whenever I pick up a new book is check out the bibliography. In Arpin-Ricci’s book one finds a hefty, although not exhaustive, selection of recommended texts organized by the headings “Sermon on the Mount,” “The Beatitudes,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the category I was most interested to examine, “St. Francis and the Franciscans.” As a Franciscan friar and someone who, if not a ‘Franciscan scholar as such’ plays one on TV, I tend to be very critical of texts that come out bearing the categorization “Franciscan” or about “St. Francis” that are too often fluffy, unsound or errant. Oftentimes few sound sources are used in researching the most popular Saint of all time and the spiritual and theological movement he unwittingly inaugurated.

While Arpin-Ricci’s endnotes and recommended reading in the category of “St. Francis and the Franciscans” is not without its notable absences, it is refreshingly composed of some of the more significant texts in that area, with, it would seem, particular priority given to the most accessible books (you’re not going to find the latest Italian or German scholarly tomes or articles here, but you wouldn’t expect to anyway). He includes Lawrence Cunningham’s masterful work as well as Bill Short’s now classic Poverty and Joy as well as some classics including Bonaventure. Noticeably absent, however, are the writings of St. Francis himself.

What is perhaps most pleasing to me, a fellow member of the worldwide and ecumenical Franciscan family to which Arpin-Ricci belongs by virtue of his commitment to the Anglican tradition’s Third Order, is how well he seems to understand and present Francis to his readers. Take for example this paragraph:

To view St. Francis as an environmentalist is to miss the point, though he is certainly well-positioned as creation’s patron saint. His love for creation is inseparably linked to his commitment to peace, and his radical generosity to and fraternity with the poor. Francis was enraptured by the image of the kingdom of God that was bringing the all-encompassing shalom that we are called to cocreate as the community of the Beatitudes. Blessed are the peacemakers. In this way, when we pray these lines we are declaring our commitment to the gospel of hope that is both immediate and future, concerned with both justice for all and our ultimate justification. They are indivisibly one in the singular, perfect will of God to which we uncompromisingly submit. That is a tall order (153).

Like this passage, Arpin-Ricci continually weaves the example and vision of Francis of Assisi and his followers into the lived experience of the reader so as to challenge and edify Christians who seek life in the Kingdom today.

The narrative that Arpin-Ricci shares with us throughout his reflections are at times heart-wrenching and illustrative to the greatest degree. I often think about the story he tells in the beginning of Chapter 2 (“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”) in which we read about Arpin-Ricci’s witness of the very public suicide of a man who was the brother of a member of the Little Flowers community and lived down the street from Arpin-Ricci. He jumped to his death, a troubled man with untreated mental illness, in the presence of his sister and neighbors. After recounting the emotional story, Arpin-Ricci writes:

Blessed are those who mourn…When faced with the stark reality of such unimaginable suffering, our carefully articulated theology, our quick spiritual platitudes and our easy assurances of salvation seem to crumble. And it was into this reality that God began to open our hearts and minds and lives to the powerful and unrelenting truth of the Beatitudes. How, in light of such tangible loss and suffering, can we ever call ourselves blessed? (35)

Arpin-Ricci is a talented writer whose prose and ability to tell a story help make The Cost of Community wonderfully accessible and a joy to read. It’s a book that, although not exclusively centered on the Franciscan tradition as such, certainly led this Franciscan friar to appreciate how manifold the tradition really is and inspirational the example and wisdom of the 800-year-old tradition is for so many people throughout the world. Arpin-Ricci does an excellent job making both the Beatitudes and the broader Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Franciscan inspiration at the heart of his own experience, relevant for today’s Christian community. Community, of course, is central throughout the book and one does not walk away from this book doubting in the least the place — with its joys and challenges — that community has as the constitutive element of Christian life. You simply cannot “go it alone.”

To, as they say, “put my money where my mouth (or review) is,” I will tell you that this book was the most popular gift that I gave to friends for Christmas this year. It might not be for everyone, but there is certainly something about it that will speak to the heart and experience of each reader.

‘Dating God’ Book now Available for Pre-Order on Amazon.com!

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , on December 1, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Well folks, the time is drawing near. Many have been wondering when the book that launched this blog a year ago was going to be released, and that day is coming. Amazon.com now has Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis available for pre-order, so be sure to lock in the super low price and, if gets lowered between now and the shipping in January, you get it at the even lower price.

Here is the description from the publisher found on Amazon: “How can we deepen our most important relationship?

The experience of dating provides us with a helpful image to explore Christian spirituality with a fresh lens. Replete with emotional ups and downs, euphoric highs and depressing lows, energy, affection, and fear, our everyday experiences of getting to know another in an increasingly more intimate manner might help us to envision our relationship with God in a new and ever-deepening way.
From the Introduction

The journey to God, says Br. Dan, is a lot like dating. You have to get to know God in the same way and in a similar process as you would with someone you date, when you want to explore another person’s truest self.

Dating God is not an answer book or a schema providing easy steps or instructions to have an ideal spiritual life. Rather, it offers a new look at the timeless condition of human longing for a deeper relationship with the Creator. And, contends Br. Dan, the Franciscan tradition, which includes Francis and Clare of Assisi and those men and women who followed them, is perhaps the best model for this deepening relational experience with the Divine.”

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