On Earth As It Is in Heaven. Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation

Editor: David Vincent Meconi SJ
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7350-7
Date: 2016
Price: £23.99
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Publisher: Eerdmans

I was reading this book while on holiday with my family on the Danish island of Bornholm. One of its chapters is about the theology of care for animals, entitled ‘Flourishing and Suffering’ in Social Creatures by Dr Faith Pawl from St Thomas University in Minnesota; just after I started reading my wife, daughter and I started on what was intended to be a substantial walk through a forest. But as we started off I heard a faint meow and saw a tiny kitten by the path; I told my wife and daughter, and that meant the end of our planned walk. It was clear the kitten had been abandoned, and we spent the next six hours or so finding her a secure home. I was being forced to face up the implications of what the Church teaches about how we should treat animals, an important part of our developing theology of creation, for my initial reaction had been to leave the kitten where she was – not to try and take responsibility for her in a foreign country where I had no idea what the support services were for abandoned kittens. If you have a twelve year old daughter you will know that I could never have got away with that. If we had left the kitten in the woods we would have to have left her there as well.

We have tried to show in this journal that the publication in 2015 of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the care of creation, Laudato Si’, was a seminal event in the life of the Church and the development of the Church’s social doctrine. The depth of the Holy Father’s theological reflection showed up a rather large gap – particularly in Britain and Ireland – in academic writing about the issues he addressed. While some conferences have taken place there is still a gap. Those who are hoping to write or reflect about a theology of creation will be helped by this collection of essays from the United States, from papers given at a conference at St Paul Minnesota by Dr Pawl and others , just before the encyclical came out – but the editor, David Meconi SJ, has in his introduction cross-referenced the points made by contributors to sections of Laudato Si’.

In the developing literature arising from the encyclical this collection is important and should be consulted by those who want to understand the pope’s project and its theological background. The authors are also good at raising the profile of the issue of environmental care in unexpected ways. For example, a good point made in the chapter by Christopher Thompson, which we could make in relation to institutions in the UK and Ireland: ‘..of the 244 Catholic colleges and universities here in the United States, not a single one offers a program of instruction in agriculture.’ In England agriculture tends to be taught in specialist institutions, some of which are now universities but the challenge is worth considering in Catholic universities and colleges. How as a faith community can we effectively give a lead over these issues if we neglect the study of agriculture? One is reminded of the aspiration of the co-founder of the Catholic Workers, the French peasant Peter Maurin, who wanted the movement to include ‘agronomic universities’, an aim which did not succeed.

One reason why this collection is so welcome is the provenance of its contributors. After the Holy Father’s letter appeared it was subjected to a lot of criticism from parts of the Catholic blogosphere, from Catholics who claimed to be ‘traditionalist’. The writers in Fr Meconi’s collection are much better representatives of what one could call ‘conservative’ theological approaches: so a link is established between environmental issues and the teaching of Blessed Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.

Back to the kitten in Bornholm. For the few hours for which we were responsible for her our daughter named her ‘Judy’: a reference to St Jude, patron saint of lost causes. Let us pray that saving our planet is not a lost cause.

DOCAT What to do? The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church

ISBN: 978-1-78469-131-8
Date: 2016
Price: £9.95
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Publisher: Catholic Truth Society

Six years ago the Austrian Bishops’ conference produced an adapted version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church aimed at young people, entitled Youcat. The English translation, with a distinctive yellow cover, appeared in 2011 and has proved very popular. The compilers have now issued a companion volume in the same style, focusing on the Church’s social teaching, called Docat.

The new volume is as impressive as the original Youcat and deserves to be used widely in schools, Confirmation programmes and youth ministry – and by permanent deacons, who are expected to be specialists in social teaching. Following a clear and hard-hitting foreword by Pope Francis, the Church’s teaching is dealt with in sections covering all the issues and the basic principles of social teaching: love (‘God’s Master Plan’), the Church’s social mission, the human person, the Common Good, Subsidiarity, Solidarity, the Family, Work, Economic Life, the International Comm-unity, the Environment, Peace and ‘Personal and Societal Commitment’. Like Youcat, the tried and tested question and answer structure, common in catechisms, is used.

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Dorothy Day. The World Will Be Saved By Beauty

Author: Kate Hennessy
ISBN: 978-1- 5011-3396-1
Date: 2017
Price: $27.99
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

When Pope Francis went to the United States in the autumn of 2015 one of the highlights was his forthright address to both houses of Congress. At one point he paid tribute to three Americans whom he saw as inspirational: Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. As I was watching this, and feeling amazed at the mention of her, the Republican (and Catholic) Chairman of the House of Representatives, sitting behind where the pope was speaking, seemed to shuffle uneasily. It occurred to me that many members of Congress might not have known who she was, and of those who did a few must have shuffled too.

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Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God

Author: Rachel Mann
ISBN: 978-0-232-53278-4
Date: 2017
Price: £12.99
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Publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd

The centenary of the Great War has occasioned many special events and a great wealth of new books – in France, for example the documentary maker and historian Jean-Yves Le Naour is bringing out a new book for each year of the war (1914, 1915 and so on). However, it seems that new books to mark the centenary looking at the war in terms of religious faith have been few and far between (an honourable exception would be Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War [Lion 2014]), and there has been little official commemoration from the churches, apart from one or two academic conferences (such as the 2014 annual conference of the Catholic Theological Association Church, Theology and War: Remembrance and Collusion). There have not been, as far as I am aware, statements about the centenary from bishops in this country as there have been from the bishops in Germany and France.

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