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.

The Month in Reviews: November 2015

With the colder weather of November, it seems I found time to read a few more books. I began and ended the month around the idea of calling–our calling to care for creation at the beginning of the month, and a more general book on calling at the end. I read a novel on the life of St. Brendan the Navigator, and finished Philip and Carol Zaleski’s monumental work on the Inklings. I explored the history of the “Great Books” movement and a work on the Greek classic philosophers.  I learned about faith-rooted organizing and considered the idea of the pastor as public theologian.

All in all, a good month of reading, and you might find something here that would make a great Christmas gift. So, here is the list with book titles linked to the full review:

Laudato siLaudato Si’, Pope Francis. Vatican City, 2015. Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, advocating an “integral ecology” that links care for the creation with care for the poor, the quality of life in our cities, and a way of life emphasizing spiritual rather than material priorities.

Irresistable CommunityThe Irresistible CommunityBill Donahue. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2015. Looking at the upper room narratives, Donahue explores how Jesus created community through the table, the towel, and the truth.

BrendanBrendan, Frederick Buechner. New York, Harper Collins, 1987, 2000. This is a fictional account of the life of St. Brendan, often known as the Navigator. Buechner traces his life from being taking by St. Erc at one through his early years, the establishment of his leadership in founding Clonfert and in making kings, and most of all his marathon journeys, one lasting seven years.

Preventing SuicidePreventing Suicide, Karen Mason. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. This handbook is written for pastors and other religious counselors, who the author contends can play an important role in preventing suicide. It focuses on how both theology and psychology can contribute to helping those at risk to harm themselves.

AcediaAcedia and Its Discontents, R. J. Snell. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015. This is an exploration of the vice usually known as sloth, which is rather an contempt of all relationships and a destructive embrace of unchecked freedom rather than God and the good work to which God calls us.

The FellowshipThe FellowshipPhilip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2015. This traces the literary lives of the four principle Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams) the literary club they formed and its impact on literature, faith, and culture.

When Athens Met JerusalemWhen Athens Met Jerusalem, John Mark Reynolds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The Christian message advanced in a Greco-Roman World prepared in many ways by both the failure of the Homeric gods and the classic philosophers. This book explores the intellectual antecedents to the gospel in pre-Socratic, Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian thought, culminating when Jerusalem meets Athens when Paul preaches on Mars Hill.

A Great Idea at the TimeA Great Idea at the TimeAlex Beam. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008. Beam narrates the story of the Great Books movement from its beginnings with John Erskine, Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, to the publication of The Great Books by Britannica and rise of Great Books groups, the “core wars” and the remnants of this movement still hanging on today.

Faith Based OrganizingFaith-Rooted Organizing, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014. Most advocacy and activism efforts have been organized around secular principles. The authors explore what organizing and advocacy work that is deeply and thoroughly rooted in Christian principles would look like and illustrate this from their years of experience.

God and RaceGod and Race in American Politics, Mark A. Noll. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. This text explores the interwoven story of religion, race, and politics in American history, with a concluding theological reflection.

Pastor as Public TheologianThe Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. The authors contend that at the heart of the pastoral calling is a vision of doing theology with the people of God, pointing them to what God is doing in and through the Christ, and how they may participate in that work.

CalledCalled, Mark Labberton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Understanding our calling to follow Jesus and seek God’s purposes for the flourishing of the world is key both to a life well-lived and a church that fulfills its mission. This book explores the contours of what it means to live a called life.

Best book of the month: This doesn’t take much thought. The Fellowship was a magnificent treatment of the circle of friends that became known as the Inklings. Along with well-painted portraits of Lewis and Tolkien, we learn more about both Williams and Barfield as well as Warnie, Hugo Dyson and others in this circle.

Best quote of the month: This was from Frederick Buechner’s Brendan from the mouth of his traveling companion, Finn in response to Brendan’s last words “I fear the sentence of the Judge.” Finn, after Brendan passes says:

“I’d sentence him to have mercy on himself. I’d sentence him less to strive for the glory of God than just to let it swell his sails if it can.”

That might be good wisdom for any of us who are our own harshest judges.

In coming weeks you can look for reviews of a book on the intellectual state of American universities, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, a collection of apologetic essays in response to the New Atheists, John Frame’s magisterial A History of Western Philosophy and Theology and a re-reading of Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, which I first picked up twenty years ago. I also have a couple of books on sex (!) and Seamus Heaney’s version of Beowulf sitting on my TBR pile. I might also be working a book or two on Youngstown, my home town, into the mix. Stay tuned.

So here’s to a good cup of wassail and some good books!

Cardinal Peter Turkson on Caring For Our Common Home

OSU President Michael Drake, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Dean Bruce McPheron

OSU President Michael Drake, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Dean Bruce McPheron

On Monday, I posted a review of “Laudato Si’ “, Pope Francis’s encyclical on caring for our common home. This wasn’t by accident. I read the encyclical in preparation for a lecture at The Ohio State University by Cardinal Peter Turkson. He is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and led the drafting of the encyclical. He is the first Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church from Ghana.

His lecture was an exposition of the encyclical, the distinctive of which is a call for an integral ecology that brings together both natural ecology and human ecology. He contended our relationship with God, each other, and the earth is intimately connected. Therefore, he stated that this is not an encyclical on climate change per se’, but rather a social encyclical that links our treatment of the earth and our treatment of the poor, who often suffer the most from environmental degradation even though they have done the least to cause this.

There were several things he brought out that illumined and enriched my own reading of the encyclical:

  • He mentioned that the characteristic word the encyclical uses for our relationship to the creation is care rather than stewardship, a term that is used only twice in the encyclical. While stewardship focuses on responsibility and answerability, care has to do with love, and resonated with my sense of how important it is that we recover a sense of and a love of place, particularly the place where we make our home.
  • He emphasized the encyclical’s call for an ecological conversion, and spoke of the need for the change of direction in our lives that comes with repentance from sin–strong words for a university audience. It struck me that this call penetrates to the heart of our challenge, which is ultimately not one of more scientific evidence, or just new technologies, as importance as these may be, but a fundamental change in our direction in how we think about both creation and our fellow human beings across the globe.
  • A third concept he discussed was that of justice, which he defined as “respecting the demands of the relationship in which we exist.” I can see the implications this has both for how we relate to the creation and to our fellow human beings. In terms of this encyclical, an injustice to one is really an injustice to both.

He concluded with his hopes that this encyclical and similar statements from other religious bodies will give the world’s leaders that backbone they need to reach a binding agreement on climate change at this December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. I have to confess that he seemed more hopeful than I am of progress on this front.

The question I found myself wondering about is why there isn’t more talk of mobilizing Catholic and other religious bodies toward the kind of ecological conversion of which the encyclical speaks. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, or 16 percent of the world’s population. The encyclical reaches out to the wider human community as well, and has been responded to with interest from other religious communities. How many people does it take before an idea of caring for our common home reaches the “tipping point”? It doesn’t seem to me that political leaders respond to documents, even if they bear the papal imprimatur. What they do respond to is movements of the people. Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Walesa all led people movements shaped deeply by religious principles. Might we not hope and pray and work for such a movement around what arguably is the most important challenge to face humanity yet–protecting our common home for our children?

Review: Laudato Si’

Laudato siLaudato Si’, Pope Francis. Vatican City: Link is to online version of the encyclical (.pdf version available at site), 2015 .

Summary: Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, advocating an “integral ecology” that links care for the creation with care for the poor, the quality of life in our cities, and a way of life emphasizing spiritual rather than material priorities.

Encyclicals are circular letters from the Pope to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church addressing important matters of church teaching. The title of the encyclical is taken from the first two words of the encyclical in Latin. This encyclical, “on care for our common home” begins with the words Laudato si’ or “Praise to you” and are the first words of a song of Saint Francis. The remarkable thing about this particular encyclical is that it has been addressed not only to the Catholic faithful, but “to the whole human family.”

The encyclical begins with a review of prior church teaching on the environment and particularly that of Saint Francis of Assisi, from whom the Pope draws his inspiration for what he terms “integral ecology.” For Saint Francis, the love of God and his creation transcended the separate categories in which we often place science and faith, care for the environment and care for the poor, the pursuit of stewardship of the earth and social justice. One commentator has noted that the most significant word in the encyclical may be the word and because Pope Francis associates things we often separate.

Six chapters follow this introduction. Chapter 1 explores “what is happening to our common home?” and considers pollution and climate change, water supplies, biodiversity, and the decline of the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, and global inequalities. Chapter 2 is titled “the gospel of creation” and explores a Catholic theology of creation. emphasizing that our dominion of creation was not domination but tilling and caring for it. It movingly states:

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” (paragraph 92)

Chapter 3 turns from God’s intent to the “human roots of our ecological crisis”. The encyclical sources this in an inordinate reliance on technology–technocracy, in the globalization of the technocratic paradigm, and an excessive anthropocentrism that paradoxically compromises human dignity as we exploit not only the environment but other human beings as well. This chapter ranges widely considering everything from genetically modified food (and the usurping of smaller landholders by big agribusiness) to the dignity of human work and the need for gainful employment. Chapter 4 then turns to the remedy of these woes in “integral ecology” that concerns environmental, economic, social, cultural and everyday ecology, the common good and justice between generations.

Chapter 5 considers “lines of approach” and has to do with various public spheres in which environmental advocacy and action must occur. I was struck how often the word “should” was used here in ideas for international, national, and local policy. Perhaps the most trenchant remarks in this section are in the Pope’s call for transparency in dialogue and decision-making and in his call for a rapprochement between religion and science around environmental concerns.

The final chapter concerns “ecological education and spirituality” and turns to the impact a Catholic eco-theology might have at the parish level. In a section on “Joy and Peace” the Francis writes:

“To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.” (paragraph 222).

He also calls for a kind of ecological conversion and considers the relation of the Trinity, and of Mary to the creation. He concludes the encyclical with two prayers, the first “a prayer for our earth” and the second a “Christian prayer in union with creation.”

I found much to commend here. Here is an ecology that is pro-human life from the uterus to the grave, and at the same time fully recognizes the dignity of all creatures. Francis recognizes that it is often those who have contributed least to our ecological problems who suffer the most and sees the issue of justice and not simply ecological concerns in this suffering. He also recognizes that most profoundly, we need a conversion from the materialism and consumerism that is neither ecologically sustainable nor spiritually satisfying. With his namesake, he eloquently argues for how our lives are inextricably bound up with the life of the whole creation.

He speaks prophetically to those in political and economic power. And I found myself wondering here whether in fact it will be the weak of this world, the powerless, who will, under the grace of God, confound the mighty and whether change, if it comes, will not come from the politicians or big business interests but from a grassroots movement. My own hope is that such a movement might be nurtured by Christian communities whose faithful presence and witness in these matters captures the imagination of others, as did the church in eastern Europe during the fall of Communism.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” I’m troubled that we have not lived in such a way to leave a healthy, verdant world to our children. The kind of world their children find may well hinge on whether both the church and the wider human community heed this passionate plea for our common home.

[Note: after publishing this post, a friend asked for the source of this Bonhoeffer quote. It appears on a number of sites but there is no source information on any of these and a search of Google Books and questions to some who know Bonhoeffer’s work well have failed to turn up the actual source of this quote. So it may be more accurate to say that this statement is attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, actual source unknown.]

Review: A Year of Living Prayerfully

A Year of Living PrayerfullyA Year of Living Prayerfully by Jared Brock, Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2015.

Summary: Jared Brock and his incredibly patient wife Michelle go on a year long pilgrimage that takes them to the Vatican to meet the Pope and to Westboro Baptist Church and many other places alternately delightful and weird in a quest to deepen their prayer life.

OK. I was really prepared not to like this book. It appeared to be a knock-off of A.J. Jacobs’ A Year of Living Biblically and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Frankly, I thought the cover a bit cheesy (although reminiscent of Jacobs’ book).

I was pleasantly surprised. What I found instead was an alternately amusing and thought-provoking spiritual pilgrimage that not only deepened the writer’s prayer life but challenged mine.

Beginning with a conversation that described the movement from crisis praying to kingdom prayer, Brock and his wife embarked on a journey taking him to New York, Israel, Europe, Asia, England and back to his home in Hamilton, Ontario. They began by praying and celebrating Sedar with a group of Orthodox Jews. Daily prayer with the men of the synagogue renews his thirst for prayer.

In Israel they encounter the crassness and commercialism that exploited the center of three major faiths. Brock can only pray for Jerusalem’s shalom, and in that the shalom of the world. He goes to Mt. Athos in Greece and experiences both silence and the Jesus prayer. Then they head off to Italy and through a strange set of circumstances, a meeting with Pope Francis.  Francis says that “prayer was opening up your heart to God” and asks them on parting to pray for him. From there, they went on to Spain and hiked a short distance of the Camino in winter and looked in vain for one who received the Campostela (a certificate for hiking the equivalent of 124 miles).God answers their prayer while waiting in line at the airport behind a man who had done just that. He spoke of completing the walk in silence, communing with God. France, the kitchen of Brother Lawrence, and Taize’ were their next major stops. Most moving was the account given them of the assassination of Brother Roger, who founded Taize’, and those who continued the prayers, and extended forgiveness to a woman who did not know what she was doing.

Apart from a Quaker prayer service and an attempt to meet Billy Graham, who was too frail to do so, the next part of the book gets weird. They visit a “nudist church” and meet some very unconventional Christians carrying out ministry to a population few try to reach. They are encouraged on their own to try sitting naked before God in prayer. They meet a physician who prays as well as heals the sick, humbly and with sometimes miraculous results, and then attend a Benny Hinn crusade that seems more about prosperity (at least Benny’s prosperity) than a gospel of healing. Then weirdest of all, they visit a Tony Robbins conference that ends with walking on burning coals. This section closes with a visit to Westboro Baptist Church and the determination to pray down the love of God upon this benighted and hate-filled church.

After a risky journey to North Korea and a visit to Yonggi Cho’s church in Seoul, the Brocks end up in England visiting Keswick, where he finds the photo of a young Scotsman who was one of the first Hundred who followed Hudson Taylor into missions with China Inland Mission. The young Scotsman was his great-great-grandfather. He is challenged by the “boiler room” in Spurgeon’s church–the prayer meeting that fueled Spurgeon’s ministry and the prototype of modern 24/7 prayer. He ends in his home town of Hamilton, at a site of a revival in the 1850s that was part of the Third Great Awakening.

The narrative is broken up with quotes by either the individuals he is meeting or famous “people of prayer”. One of those I appreciated most was this by St. Teresa of Avila: “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” Brock’s writing style is conversational and even colloquial at places making the book an easy read. Yet I had several “takeaways”:

  • The silences as well as our words are important, not only in singing but in prayer.
  • Prayer is about communing with God, about being in God’s presence and carrying that through our lives.
  • Prayer is something done in and through our embodied life.
  • Finally I was struck anew with the transformative power of prayer.

I will close with this quote from Karl Barth found on page 308: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Perhaps in such a disordered world, living prayerfully may be the sanest response.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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.”