The Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si'

laudatoThe Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si'
Editor: Vincent J. Miller
ISBN: 9780567673152
Price: £28.99
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark

It is over two years now since the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si'. In the English-speaking world it is perhaps inevitable that the well-resourced Catholic academic world of the United States would lead the way in theological reflection about the Pope's ground-breaking letter, and the publication of another excellent collection of essays proves the point. Vincent Miller, based at Dayton University in Ohio, has brought together scholars who comment in an accessible way on the key themes which the Pope addresses, originally at a conference in Dayton at the same time as the encyclical was published (March 2015), although they seem to have been updated. The collection is divided into three parts: the first, 'Everything is connected', the second which looks at the themes of Laudato Si' and a third part, 'Responding in care to our common home'.

Professor Miller is an established authority on consumerism and globalisation. His opening essay, in many ways a keynote for the whole collection, is entitled 'Integral Ecology: Francis' spiritual and moral vision of interconnectedness'. Interconnectedness is one of the big themes of Laudato Si', and Miller looks at the depth and beauty of the Pope's teaching. He quotes this striking passage: 'Each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything, as it were, a caress of God' (section 84). This reflects our belief in God the Holy Trinity. Miller identifies another favourite idea of the Pope - the image of the 'gaze of Jesus': the Lord gives us an example of 'serene attentiveness' for looking at the world in which we live. Integral ecology is not simply a spiritual path - it is deeply moral, demanding certain courses of action, and there are many obstacles in its path: the world economic system, exploitative approaches to technology (both discussed by the Holy Father), together with people's inability to understand the complexity of interconnections in the world. Miller shows that the idea of 'integral ecology' is one of the major and most original contributions of the encyclical to academic discourse. The remaining two essays in the first part of the book look at the science behind the encyclical: the first, by Miller's physicist colleague at Dayton, Robert Brecha, is a reasonably accessible explanation of the importance of climate change, and the second, by Terrence Ehrman, gives a detailed picture of the way in which species interact with each other and with the environment. Not just species but pharmaceuticals: did you know, for example, that the female contraceptive pill, when it ends up in the water system, affects fish population?

The central second section of the collection addresses specific topics in the Pope's letter - its theology of creation, its theological anthropology, its 'spirituality of solidarity', the relationship between creation and liturgy, its use of the 'option for the poor', and its economic vision. These are outstanding and take many of the letter's themes further. The essay dealing with Francis' theology of creation (by Elizabeth Groppe) makes extensive use of Dante, building on the Pope's quotation of the verse about 'the Love that moves the sun and the stars'; that by Sandra Yocum, 'Liturgy: The exaltation of creation', is a powerful reflection of the use of creation motifs in the Church's liturgy for the Sacred Triduum; and the final essay in part two by Anthony Annett shows the depth of the Pope's critique of the ideology behind the world economic system. The letter is 'a radical criticism against what he calls the myths of modernity-individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, a market without rules. These are the values that animate neoliberalism, and they are an inadequate basis for genuine human progres.' (p.172),

The third part of the book comprises four contributions which look at what can be done in response to the ecological crisis which Pope Francis addresses. In an essay covering 'concern for our global commons', Ottmar Edenhofer and Christian Flachsland relate the climate change issues to two fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching - the Common Good and the Common Destination of Goods. They also look at the practical implications of how the Church enters into dialogue with others about ecological issues, and at how decisions are made. I am not sure why they want to water down the meaning of the Pope's call (echoing Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate) for a 'world political authority' (section 175), suggesting that it is merely a call for 'international co-operation and coordination among nation states' (p. 184). A good many right-wing Catholics in the United States certainly disliked what both Popes have called for - but one cannot deny the clear meaning of their words. A world political authority is a world political authority. In his second essay in the collection 'What is to be done?', the physicist Robert Brecha looks in detail at what can be done in scientific and economic terms to avert destruction, and reaches a surprisingly hopeful conclusion: 'it can be hoped that we are able to avoid negative impacts that we do have the ability to foresee' (p. 212). Daniel DiLeo, in 'Creation care through consumption and life choices' shows the importance of individual life choices as part of the wider picture: when one is trying to explain the vision of Laudato Si' to children and young people this approach is very useful (of course it may take years to get children to turn off lights or water taps). The final essay by Erin Lothes Biviano is very practical, exploring ways in which the Church can co-operate with others and take new initiatives.

Each essay in the collection is helpfully prefaced by a list of the relevant passages in Laudato Si' and finishes with suggestion questions for group discussion. This is a very helpful and brilliant book which should be used as much in this country as in the United States to try and encourage clergy and laypeople in parishes to take seriously what the Pope did in 2015, to challenge the widespread indifference and intellectual laziness which are so widespread.

Ashley Beck, St Mary's University, Twickenham

Reflections on the Bible: Human Word of Word of God

bibleReflections on the Bible: Human Word of Word of God
Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, translated by M. Eugene Boring
ISBN: 9781619709089
Price: £11.99
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts

In the anglophone world, Bonhoeffer has tended to be associated with famous misinterpretations of his Letters and Papers, but in recent years things have begun to change. This is due in large part to the English translation of his complete works in 17 volumes. The true breadth and richness of Bonhoeffer's writing, for Christians of all denominations, has thus been more widely acknowledged after decades of being obscured; not only by erroneous readings, but also clumsy translations from the German.

But weighty, multi-volume critical editions do not suit all readers. Many find lengthy footnotes cumbersome and distracting, and have neither the time nor inclination to wade through all the obscure fragments therein. Much of Bonhoeffer's uniqueness stems from his accessibility. At his most memorable, he writes in pithy, succinct and powerful statements, which can leave an impression on any reader, not just an enthusiast or specialist. Think of his comment that Jesus is 'a man for others', or his claim that 'when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die'. So there are good grounds to compile short and affordable compilations of salient moments in the Bonhoeffer corpus, and disclose the treasures hidden inside.

One such compilation is Reflections on the Word of God, which is arranged thematically around Bonhoeffer and Scripture. There is much to celebrate here. Bonhoeffer engages directly and explicitly with Scripture in ways perhaps more evident than in certain other theologians. Some of his most important theological texts were even dismissed as mere 'sermons' in his own lifetime. His working with Scripture is not a mere commitment to Sola Scriptura, but a profound reworking of Luther's orientation to the Bible as the primary locus of God's revealed Word, with ecumenically significant consequences.

Bonhoeffer discerned and wrote about his own distinct devotional 'method' for living the Scriptures in daily life, borrowing from Thomas ˆ Kempis and St Ignatius Loyola. He worked with a weekly pattern of meditating on a particular verse, repeatedly asking oneself, meditatively, how the verse is 'concrete' (meaning fully real) in one's own life. One of his descriptions of what he termed his 'Spiritual Exercises' is included in the final chapter of these Reflections, in which he states 'I...ask with all my powers what God is trying to say to us' (p. 110).

Bonhoeffer was also remarkably ahead of his time as regards more formal Biblical interpretation. Trained in the rigours of German historical criticism, he was one of the first to highlight the weaknesses of an overly scientific method, and to outline what he termed 'theological interpretation', that is, reading the Bible as 'the property of the church' (as 'God's Word') and not as a mere historical source ('human word'). While the contrast between the human word and God's Word is the subtitle to this book, a key text on this topic (from Bonhoeffer's Creation and Fall), is unfortunately not included.

There is much more that could be said on Bonhoeffer's relationship with Scripture, and so there is much to commend the writings compiled here. Nonetheless, there is some biographical confusion in the ordering of the texts, which would benefit from a little more editorial glossing. The opening chapter ('A Grand Liberation') describes a powerful moment in Bonhoeffer's 20s, when he says he truly became a Christian through reading Scripture. The second chapter then moves back to Bonhoeffer's university days, and a rigorous academic essay on hermeneutics (from which he felt liberated). The reader needs this information behind the two texts. Editorial problems are evident elsewhere. There is no indication as to the genre of the chapters - which include letters, sermons, essays, chapters in monographs - which makes the book feel a touch confusing. Finally, the translations here are not consistent with the critical edition, and there are thus potentially confusing renderings of key Bonhoefferian terms. That said, any Christian who wants to freshen-up their encounter with Scripture, or for those engaged in preaching and catechesis, there is nothing like reading Bonhoeffer to foster his sense of the Bible as 'the place where God has chosen to meet us' (p. 109).

Jacob Phillips, St Mary's University, Twickenham

Dementia: hope on a difficult journey

dementiaDementia: hope on a difficult journey
Author: Dr Adrian Treloar
ISBN: 9780852314715
Price: £9.95
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Date: 2016
Publisher: Redemptorist Publications

In her later years, my mother suffered from the progressive condition of vascular dementia until her death. She was looked after for a long time by one of my sisters, who is a psychologist, and the rest of our family provided some weekend relief to my sister. Eventually my mother needed nursing home care and she became resident in one of the few remaining but ever decreasing number of Catholic nursing homes - paid for by the sale of her flat. Two resident priests suffering from dementia, assisted by the nuns, provided morning Mass and one of the nuns led the rosary in the afternoons. On visiting my mother in the nursing home I saw how she remembered all the prayers at Mass, the rosary, and the old hymns, even though she would not remember my visit.

When osteoarthritis made it impossible for me to carry out any sanctuary duties, I concentrated my diaconal ministry on leading regular Word & Communion services at two local nursing homes, one founded by a charity of the Beaconsfield churches. This was as well as visiting the housebound with Word & Communion. In those services, I am assisted by excellent members of our 21 strong SVP, who also take people to Church, hospitals, and GPs, visit those in need, and organise a weekly coffee and company meeting in the parish hall, Christmas lunches and summer visits, etc.

 I do find it rather sad that as a Church we have found it possible to maintain schools that were run by Religious but not care and nursing homes that were also run by Religious. The Jesuits, the Mill Hill Missionaries, and the Sisters of Charity, as well as a few other Religious orders have professionally run homes for their own retired members and others.

This very readable 135 page book, including illustrations, is by a Catholic, experienced old age consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Dr Adrian Treloar, who starts by explaining dementia from a medical viewpoint. He then provides practical advice and guidance for carers of people with dementia and discusses good spiritual care - something that is often overlooked. He discusses the role of the sacraments for those with dementia and Catholic internet resources and prayers. Looking through the lens of the Catholic faith, the author explains that dementia is a social and spiritual illness. Recognising that difficult behaviour can be part of the illness and not the person is important for carers. Dementia is a profound change in life but is also part of the journey towards God.

Based on my experience of looking after my mother at weekends and visiting her in her nursing home, I wish that I had had access to such a book before starting on the difficult journey of her dementia. However the experience of mother's dementia has been very useful experience for me in my diaconal ministry to the elderly - both with and without dementia.

Michael Phelan, Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Northampton

Uganda: My Mission

ugandaUganda: My Mission
Author: Fr Damian Grimes MHM, MBE. (Editor: Andrew Lamb)
ISBN: 9780995544000
Price: £9.50
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Year: 2016
Publisher: Damian Grimes

This interesting autobiography is an example of the roles of missionary and local clergy and Religious in education in Africa, South America, and elsewhere. As a Catholic priest, the author led a multi-faith co-educational school (25% Catholic, 10% Muslim, and the balance from various Protestant traditions) which provided excellent moral, religious, and secular education - in line with Catholic Social Teaching and his personal example - to its pupils.

The author, Fr Damian Grimes MHM, was educated by the Jesuits in Leeds and then joined the Mill Hill Missionary Society, (founded by English Cardinal Vaughan just over 150 years ago). After further education at the Society's junior seminary and its senior seminaries in Holland, and Mill Hill, England, Fr Damian was ordained as a priest in that Missionary Society and then sent to Glasgow University, established in 1451, (the first Catholic priest student to go there since the Reformation).

My two brothers and I were pupils at St Ignatius Jesuit College, Stamford Hill, during the early fifties. Putting together our experiences, and Fr Damian's stated appreciation of his Jesuit education, we know that he would have been influenced in his subsequent educational work in Africa by the Jesuits' pursuit of educational excellence and their robust disciplinary style. After graduation, Fr Damian completed a post-graduate diploma in education. This was where he gained some ideas regarding student democracy and participation that he would put into practice later as a head teacher.

After ordination and university, Fr Damian was sent by his Society to Uganda, where he worked in the pastoral ministry of education from 1959 to 2000. After eight years of teaching and deputy head experience he was appointed in 1967 as head of the soon-to-
be famous local government-sponsored Namasagali College, which was about 100 miles east of the capital Kampala.

Fr Damian witnessed many political upheavals throughout his time in Uganda: from the country being a British protectorate to an independent but unstable country with numerous coups. In his book Fr Damian reveals the struggles and successes of managing a Ugandan co-educational (almost unknown in 60s Uganda) secondary school in difficult and complex circumstances. But he built up a school that gave a first class education,  finishing with good 'A' level results to many girls and boys from poor families.

In pursuit of student participation in school governance and as a wider lesson in democracy, Fr Damian set up a student cabinet that met weekly under his leadership and a six strong school pupils' court, where the head judge was always a girl and the deputy judge always a boy. As a result of giving authority and standing to his girl pupils, a woman Ugandan government minister criticised Fr Damian for not teaching his girl pupils to be subservient to their future husbands. Some of Fr Damian's former pupils went on to hold senior positions in government, trade, and industry.

Although a very few Mill Hill missionaries returned home (not always voluntarily) during the dangerous and brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin from 1971 to 1979, the majority including Fr Damian and my own brother, Fr Bernard Phelan MHM, stayed on to continue ministering and showing Christ to their people in Ugandan schools and parishes.

Fr Damian was an astute politician in his dealings with government bureaucracy (helped by the fact that Idi Amin and his cabinet had visited his school). He recruited young and idealistic newly qualified graduates from Britain as his teachers and paid them fair rates even during the financially impoverished Amin years. Young VSO volunteers, such as the now 69 year old newscaster, Jon Snow, of Channel 4 News, served one year stints in his school.

One of Fr Damian's teachers ran the school's farm which was used to build a micro economy with good employment opportunities and sales of produce within the village, as well as providing education in farming. Subjects as diverse as boating, boxing, creative dance, drama, music, and chess were included in the wide ranging curriculum, although he cut back later on boxing because of health concerns.

A school library was commissioned from the British Council. A pool was constructed and used for swimming lessons, to avoid drowning accidents in the nearby Nile. 'A' level exam results were excellent and led to many going on to university. In addition to religious lessons, Fr Damian gave weekly talks on art, music, poetry, history, philosophy, current affairs, and other disciplines. The emailed Guardian Weekly and Spectator were available to 'A' level students.

After retiring as headmaster of his school Fr Damian became a university lecturer before returning to the UK as parish priest in a small Welsh church.

Michael Phelan, Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Northampton

Renew Your Wonders: Spiritual Gifts for Today

renewyourwondersRenew Your Wonders: Spiritual Gifts for Today
Author: Damian Stayne
ISBN: 9781912237008
Price: £12.99
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Date: 2017
Publisher: New Life Publishing, Nottingham

In this, the 50th anniversary year of Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, it is perhaps timely that in a book full of fire and life, Damian Stayne has added a distinctively English contribution to the canon of Catholic charismatic classics associated with names such as Ralph Martin, Pat Collins, Briege McKenna and Francis MacNutt. The fruit of more than three decades of ministry in the Church, Renew Your Wonders summarizes the theological and pastoral understanding of the charismata gained by Damian and the Community of  Cor et Lumen Christi which emerged, like the Catholic Charismatic movement itself, from a student prayer group.

In taking his theological starting point as the challenge of Paul outlined in 1Corinthians 14.1 - 'Make love you're aim and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts' - Stayne heads off any sense that a desire to see the power of God at work among his people contradicts the supreme call to love. Instead, his book goes on to present chapters on prophetic and healing gifts, demonstrating their roots in scripture and tradition before at turns charming, pummelling and astonishing the reader with contemporary examples often directly connected to the work of Cor et Lumen Christi. The book doesn't shy away from contested topics such as tongues and deliverance ministry, but I found the matter of fact way in which Stayne talks about such things to be at once both disarming and reassuring. After further chapters on discernment, faith and miracles, the book concludes with a chapter dedicated to growth in the gifts based on ten keys, forged from the author's experience.

Among the intriguing features of the book is the way in which Stayne situates the charismatic flowering in the Church as part of a broader 'Century of the Spirit' promise which yielded the global Pentecostal movement on the one hand and Vatican II on the other. This contextualization is salutary, as Stayne paints a picture of global ecumenical and evangelical vitality far removed from more inward looking 'lauds and laments' all too often associated with the Council.

To declare an interest, I have known the author since we were both young, so I cannot claim the kind of safe distance from the subject which might allow one to be wistfully in thrall to far off tales of derring do - this stuff is happening in Chertsey! The book has limitations - understandably its pace does not permit extensive discussion of the mystery of apparently unanswered prayer and perhaps more could have been said about how Damian and the Community handle any pastoral confusion or misplaced expectations at advertised healing events. This does not, however, vitiate the overriding argument that kerygma and charism, proclamation and power are inextricably connected - with the unsettling implicit corollary that those of us content with their separation may be missing the point.

Anthony Towey, St Mary's University, Twickenham

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