Review: Wounded Shepherd

wounded shepherd

Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic ChurchAusten Ivereigh. New York: Henry Holt, 2019.

Summary: An account of the papacy of Francis into 2019, focusing on his efforts to convert the Catholic Church to a church with Christ at the center showing compassion for those on the margins from one focused more on preservation of an institution, law, and doctrine.

The first pope to come from Latin America has been both a breath of fresh air, and a lightning rod for controversy. This biography focuses on Pope Francis, and how he handles controversy. Ivereigh presents a pope utterly at peace with himself, shaped by Ignatian practices that center around the life and ministry of Christ. Francis understands that controversy is necessary if he is to bring Christ to the center of a church that too often has been more concerned about self-protection–of the Vatican, of abusing priests, of law and theology.

A frugal man, he cleans up the finances of the Vatican, turning a middleman appropriating funds for itself to a mediator, using the church’s resources for the poor. He instills serving into a clerical church, modeling it in the washing of a Muslim woman prisoner’s feet. Rather that fire people, he seeks their conversion, if possible (although resistant bishops are retired at 75). He releases a blockbuster encyclical, Laudato Si, connecting environmental concerns with justice for the poor.

As he wades into the sexual abuse scandals, he meets with the victims. In a meeting with three Chileans, he begins, “I was part of the problem! I caused this. I am very sorry,  and I ask your forgiveness.” One of the victims, a gay man, Juan Carlos Cruz described a lengthy meeting discussing his life, with Francis telling him, “Juan Carlos, it doesn’t matter that you are gay. God made you that way, and I’m fine with it. The Pope loves you as you are, you have to be happy with who you are.”

At the heart of all this is a passion for evangelization, recognizing that the Church is no longer in an era where it enjoys the support of law and culture. Ivereigh helps us understand the roots of this vision at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) at Aparecida. “Aparecida” becomes synonymous with the humble, loving, serving approach that enters the barrios. It is not merely the conversions of the poor but the conversion of an institutional church into a priesthood of missionary disciples.

One can see how controversy can swirl around such actions and how the pope’s compassion toward Muslims, gays, and the divorced (for whom he provided ways to take communion) would arouse the ire of many. What was striking in this account was how much of the opposition came from the church in the United States. I found this a surprising turn, having often thought the church in US progressive in comparison with that in other parts of the world. But this has changed. Ivereigh chronicle the opposition faced from American cardinal Raymond Burke, among others, and the conservative Catholic movement in the US.

It is clear that Ivereigh loves this pope, recounting numerous instances where he extends deep mercy and understanding to people. He describes a pope who understands that to follow Christ is to share the wounds of Christ. Living in the U.S., I’ve seen more critique than praise of Francis. This book redresses that balances and helps the reader understand the wellsprings of Francis’s actions, particularly in his missionary efforts in Argentinian barrios. Whether the reader agrees or not with the policies and programs of Francis, understanding his passion to put Christ at the heart of the Church stands as a challenge for us all. Has something other than Christ been the focus of the lives of our churches, whether money, sex, or power? Francis’s papacy has addressed all three. Little wonder that “wounded shepherd” describes him.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Calvary Cemetery


Calvary Cemetery Northeast Entrance, © Bob Trube, 2019.

From the time I was old enough to walk to the West Side Library or the Mahoning Plaza, my walk along Mahoning Avenue took me past Calvary Cemetery. Later on, I used to walk along the east side of the cemetery along S. Belle Vista, either when I walked up to the James L. Wick, Jr. recreation area or more frequently, on the way to Chaney High School. Most of the time, I didn’t give it much thought apart from looking at some of the very impressive grave monuments. We used to joke that they needed those heavy stone monuments to keep some of the people in their graves.

I can’t recall that I was in the cemetery until the deaths of some of my wife’s relatives, and of her mother, who died in 1998, and was buried next to her husband, who had died many years earlier. I did not grow up in a Catholic home, and most of my relations were buried at Forest Lawn over on Market Street. Many of my Catholic friends had grandparents, aunts and uncles who were buried there.

Calvary Cemetery is one of four Catholic Cemeteries serving the Diocese of Youngstown. The others are in Cortland (All Souls), Massillon (also Calvary), and Austintown (Resurrection). Calvary is the oldest of these, and the largest. I could not find a figure of how many people are buried at Calvary Cemetery. Find-a-Grave currently lists 20,586 memorials photographed, which they say is 67% of the memorials. This would suggest that at least 30,000 people are buried there, and perhaps more if a memorial remembered more than one person buried nearby, such as a couple. [Since first posting, I heard estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 and learned through a reader that an employee of the cemetery told her 250,000 people were interred there.]

The cemetery was established in 1885 and was also known as Mount Calvary Cemetery. There were two older Catholic cemeteries in the area, the Old Catholic Cemetery known as Rose Hill, and the German Catholic Cemetery, also known as St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery. When Calvary was opened, those interred at these other two cemeteries were moved there, meaning that Calvary includes graves of those who died prior to 1885.

While the list is not nearly as long as the one for Oak Hill Cemetery, where many of the early “pillars” of Youngstown were buried, the cemetery serves as the final resting place of some important figures in Youngstown history. These include:

  • Michael Patrick “Little Pat” Bilon (1947-1983), an actor most famous for his role as “E.T.” in the 1982 film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.
  • Michael Joseph Kirwan (1886-1970), long-time Congressman for the 19th District, serving from 1937-1970.
  • Charles Joseph Carney (1913-1987), Kirwan’s successor in Congress.
  • George “Shotgun” Shuba (1924-2014), the Brooklyn Dodger outfielder most famously know for “The Handshake” as Shuba waited at home plate to shake Jackie Robinson’s hand after Robinson hit a home run. The event was photographed and became a widely circulated symbol of the breakdown of racial barriers in Major League Baseball.
  • Leonard Thom (1917-1946), the executive officer on PT 109, commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy.
  • Dr. Louis E. Rampona (1904-1986), physician to Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.
  • Charles J. Williams (b. 1871-d. unknown). He was the first African-American patrolman and detective, appointed to the Youngstown Police Department in 1899.

Calvary Cemetery continues to serve the needs of the Catholic community in Youngstown, although indicates that while accepting burials, space is becoming limited. The cemetery is well into its second century as the final resting place for many Catholic residents in Youngstown. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Is Evangelicalism Dying?

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Billy Graham in Duisburg, Germany, 1954.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-29/Lachmann, Hans/CC-BY_SA 3.0

Recently apologist Hank Hanegraff converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, joining the exodus of prominent evangelicals to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Ed Stetzer, in a column in Christianity Today, noted the attraction for many thoughtful evangelicals of the liturgy and sense of authority and unchanging belief when belief seems to be a “choose your own adventure” story for evangelicals and many Protestant churches are trimming their belief sails to the winds of culture.

A friend of mine, who has recently converted to Catholicism described the evangelical church as “fading away” and that it will probably not exist in 50 years. His judgment was that were this to occur, the movement won’t be missed. I’ve been thinking about his remark all week. You see, both in terms of the organization I work with, and the church where I worship, evangelicals are the “people” within the larger Christian family with which I am identified. And truth be told, I am unashamed of the core distinctives David Bebbington and others have said mark this movement within the larger Christian family: a focus on the work of Christ, the authority of the Bible in our lives, the need for conversion, and a commitment to live out our beliefs in action. I should also say at the outset that I both deeply respect and learn from believers from these other parts of the Christian family, as I hope they might from our part of the family as well.

If there is anything that is dying, it is white, boomer evangelicalism. The evangelical movement globally is rapidly growing, particularly the Pentecostal segments of it. In the U.S., ethnic minority churches are rapidly growing and they share the theological convictions, if not the ethno-cultural trappings of boomer evangelicals. There has been a great deal of commentary about white evangelicals since the presidential election. What I think it all really comes down to is that large swaths of the white evangelical church have exchanged gospel power for political clout and have associated themselves with partisan politics rather that the impartiality of the gospel. We’ve forgotten our own conversions and what it was like to be lost…and found, and we’ve become indifferent to others or even judgmental. The Bible is often simply the launching board to justify whatever we want for ourselves or want others to do. Crosses are just part of the “Jesus junk” we adorn ourselves with and we think little of this as the place where God’s love and justice meet. Activism is going to political rallies and posting yard signs.

I know this is sweeping and there are many exceptions. I had a chance to visit with some of them on Thursday. They are bright, talented graduate students. They were simply talking about the Christian community of which they are part. It is diverse in majors and the ethnic background of people and they love that and want it to be even more true. They love to read and think deeply about the Bible and not beat others over the head with it but rather do what it teaches. They love conversations with those who differ from them–that is the nature of grad school. They love Jesus and each other. They care about the poor in their midst. Several worship in a church in a rough area of town that is a “food desert” and they are dedicated to serving the people there. They encourage me to hope and pray for better evangelical days ahead. And their example makes me want to do all I can both to encourage them and call the evangelicals of my generation to repent and to recover.

  • To repent of our political captivity and to recover our prophetic calling.
  • To repent of our forgetfulness of our lostness and the wonder of being found by Christ and to recover our sensitivity to the least, the last and the lost.
  • To repent of our “solo scriptura” approach to the Bible where each of us are our own pope and we read into the Bible what we want. Will we test our reading against the creeds, the confessions, and how our brothers and sisters from other classes and cultures read the same text?
  • To repent of sin management and censoriousness of others and recover the sense that we are all equally in need of the work of Christ at a cross that brings down the privileged and raises the powerless.
  • To repent of our culture wars and to recover a sense of culture care that seeks to preserve and strengthen what is good, and to bring healing to what is broken.

I mentioned earlier how I learn so much from Eastern Orthodox and Catholic believers and the rich resources of this part of the family. At the same time, I would entertain the humble hope that there are riches within the evangelical part of the family line, and that it would indeed be a tragedy for this to die out. As sad as the break of the Reformation was, it led to reform in all parts of the church. The evangelicals who came from this fomented a missionary enterprise, that despite its imperfections, brought the light of Christ to many people, who in some cases are now re-evangelizing the West. Even as evangelicals have played a key role in the modern day fight against human trafficking, so also they led the fight against slavery. In the world of the university where I work, I’ve seen a generation of Christian researchers arise coupling academic rigor and Christian thought in fields as diverse as philosophy, education, and technology.

I do think there are things in evangelicalism as it has developed over the past 40 years that deserve to be laid to rest. But I would also suggest that to talk about a branch of the family dying is a regrettably sad, and even cruel thing. I wonder if a better conversation might be one where we seek to learn from the best of each part of the family. Will we heal the rifts of the Great Schism, or the Reformation? I doubt it. But we might begin to draw closer as we pray and wait for the Great Return when all wounds and rifts will be healed, and a single, pure and spotless Bride will greet her Lover. Come, Lord Jesus!


Review: To Whom Does Christianity Belong?

To Whom Does Christianty belongTo Whom Does Christianity Belong?, Dyron B. Daughrity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

Summary: This book argues that when one speaks of “Christianity” this must be understood in global terms in all of its diversity of expression and not simply in the forms we Westerners are most accustomed to.

I’m still surprised how often in conversations about matters of faith people will categorize Christianity as a Western, Euro-American faith and distinguish it from belief systems in other parts of the world. Not only is this inaccurate as to both the origins and history of Christianity, it is wildly inaccurate in terms of understanding Christianity today, when it can truly be argued that Christianity is a global faith. The Pope is from South America. The most rapidly growing churches are in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Increasingly missions, and migrations, are bringing the message of Christianity back to Europe where a vibrant Christian presence has given way to secularism.

That and more is the contention of this book. The author, in a sweeping, readable survey of Christianity around the world, contends that “Christianity” doesn’t really belong to any single group or part of the world. Some of this has to do with the diverse understandings of what Christianity is. Who gets to define this? Is it the apostolic fathers, the growing house church movement in China, the Dalits of India, or the liberation theologians of Latin America?

He turns to the “theological loci” of the church and here as well notes the distinctives to be found in ideas of the church in different parts of the world, such as the Kimbanguists of Africa, ideas of Jesus, the rise of Pentecostalism and new ideas about the Holy Spirit and teaching about the afterlife. Daughrity gives examples from various Christian movements around the world to illustrate this diversity.

He considers the church in the world looking first at Rome and the changing face of Catholicism and its various expressions throughout the world. He considers the Protestants, continuing to split and express their faith uniquely. He weighs the impact of secularization, for now a movement that has most deeply touched Europe, and wonders whether North America will follow. And he talks about the new face of missions, where as in the beginning of the church, the gospel often goes along paths of people migrations as much as through intentional activity, although now from Europe, Asia, and Latin America to the rest of the world, including the secularizing west.

The last part of the book considers contemporary themes or issues. First there is the contested ground of marriage, gender, and sexuality where the secularizing west is at odds with the majority cultures of the world–and surprisingly, Orthodox eastern Europe and Russia. Similarly, there are diverse understandings of the role of women in the family and the church. Finally, the author considers the emergence of indigenous styles of music and worship where Christians are singing new songs in many tongues.

In the end the author doesn’t answer the question of the book’s title, except to infer that it might belong to those you would not have thought of, and to a far broader swath of humanity than we might credit. The closest he gets to an answer is at the very end where he suggests that it belongs to all, who in their need, and their sufferings for righteousness seek the risen Christ. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are some who will object to what might seem a “relativizing” of the Christian message. I would contend that what the author does is to resist the temptation to harmonize the diverse and even divergent strands of Christianity and gives us rather this global mosaic in all of its complexity. I also appreciate the combination of a broad and thoughtful account presented in a highly readable style. I would recommend this for anyone who wants to get a good picture of global Christianity today.

Review: Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation: The Mediation of the Gospel through Church and Scripture

RevelationI have more than one friend who grew up in an evangelical or mainline Protestant background who has converted to Roman Catholicism. For many, this has been a thoughtful decision carefully taken. One of the reasons some take this step is the focus of Protestants on personal interpretation of the scripture, the belief that each believer is capable of understanding the scriptures unmediated by the church, pastors, church doctrine and tradition, among other things. They see diverse interpretations in many cases and Christians justifying almost anything on the basis of their reading of scripture and unchallengeable because they claim “the Bible tells us so.”

Others in the stream of the churches of the Reformation appeal to Sola Scriptura, the authority of the Bible alone, and the distortions or even contradictions they observe in the traditions of the church. They join Martin Luther in appealing to the scriptures alone, saying “Here I stand.”

Matthew Levering, who currently teaches theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois was educated in a Protestant seminary (Duke) yet embraces and articulates a Catholic theology of the relation of scripture and church in how God has revealed the Christian message. What I found most helpful was his thoughtful engagement with a range of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theologians in an exploration that argues both the inspiration and authority of the biblical text and while also contending for the crucial role of the church in clarifying and mediating our understanding of the Word of God we find in the scriptures. We encounter N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Alexander Schememann, as well as von Balthasar and Ratzinger in the pages of this book.


Matthew Levering

Levering begins by discussing the nature of the Church as a missional community founded by the Son and the Spirit, countering the individualism of the post-Reformation church. He moves on to explore the importance of the Church’s liturgy as the context in which the Gospel message of scripture is proclaimed. The hierarchy of the priesthood has been an important in maintaining a unity in our understanding of revealed truth. The Church’s councils and creeds are especially illustrative of this importance. Church councils such as Nicaea clarified the shared understanding of scripture on such important issues as the Trinity and the nature of Christ as fully God and fully human, resolving the contested interpretations of scripture around these issues.

Levering takes on the role of tradition in the transmission of Gospel revelation through the generations and argues against those who see these traditions sometimes in conflict with themselves, believing in the continued work of the Spirit to guide the Church. He contends, along with John Henry Newman, for the development of doctrinal understanding through the history of the church and, against many post-modern approaches, for the possibility of propositional truth, that God reveals God’s self in cognitively understandable terms.

His last chapters articulate a high view of scripture’s overall trustworthiness, arguing against those who would differentiate between errant and inerrant portions. He concludes with a surprising chapter supporting the contribution of Greek philosophy to the Christian understanding of God.

There was much here I appreciated. I too find troubling personal biblical interpretation gone amuck. I think it is undeniable that the Church has played a crucial role in articulating our gospel faith, drawing on the scriptures. Similarly, there is a recognition of the work of the Spirit of God at work in continuing to develop our understand of the testimony of the scriptures.

At the same time, I think there is much more to be engaged in a discussion of tradition and the magisterium.  What is to be done when traditions are distorted and the hierarchy is not filled with the Spirit and is advancing what can only be construed as the traditions of humans, particularly at the expense of the Word of God? Is the Church to simply wait for however many centuries it takes for the Lord of the church to right things?

I also wish Levering would have talked more about the appropriate use of the scriptures by individuals. Certainly since Vatican II the study of the Bible by the laity has been encouraged. And countless generations of Christians have advanced in their spiritual lives through personal reading and study of the Bible. It seems to me that a place for mutual engagement between Protestants and Catholics would be to explore the relation between our individual and communal reading of scripture and to what degree should we subject our personal readings to the understanding of scripture in the wider community.

Levering’s book is a thoughtful contribution to this basic question of how the Church hears and understands God’s word revealed to us in the scriptures. It is Catholic without being anti-Protestant. It is both a book of clarity and conviction and yet an irenic engagement with those who don’t identify as Roman Catholics.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free in e-book format from the publisher through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”