Eating Together, Becoming One

Thomas O’Loughlin
ISBN: 978-0814684580
Liturgical Press Academic 2019
Paperback 192 pp £19.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £18.00

A few years ago, Pope Francis visited a Lutheran church in Rome as part of the Reformation celebrations. One of those present told him of her pain because she and her husband were unable to receive Holy Communion together. The Pope said: ‘I wonder – and I don’t know how to answer, but I make your question my own – I wonder: is the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum to journey together? I leave the questions to the theologians, to those who understand.’

The theologian Tom O’Loughlin takes up the challenge: should baptised Christians be able to receive Communion at Catholic Masses, and should Catholics be able to receive Communion in other churches? O’Loughlin, who has written about this before, moves beyond conventional arguments – seeing Communion as unity’s fruit, not a way to it, or the focus on either participants’ faith or the validity of the presiding minister’s Orders – we should start in a different place: a genuinely shared meal demands real hospitality: ‘Today we have a liturgy that brings out in words and actions the meal dimension of offering thanks to the Father in the manner of Jesus, and so once again we know we are engaging in a human act that is an encounter with the divine mystery. It is our sacramental meal, but the human basis of this sacramentum, this mysterium, is a meal – and as a meal it participates in the whole human reality of meals.’ (p. 31)

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Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times

Jonathan Sacks
ISBN: 978-1473617315
Hodder and Stoughton 2020
Hardback 384 pp £14.99 Pastoral Review bookshop £13.50

The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written this book based partly on a radio series he led in 2018, arguing that society needs shared moral values: we have lost this capacity at our peril. The first three parts of the book illustrating the problems are followed by tentative solutions. We have moved away from the sense of community implied by the plural pronoun ‘we’ to an isolated individualism, so that shared values break down. Community units – the family and local networks – are weakened, empowering the ‘market’ and the state. Political divisions become more bitter, centred on identity groups. Sacks draws on moral philosophers, the Scriptures and Jewish theological traditions, the traditional place of the family and small community units in Judaism chimes with the notion of subsidiarity in Catholic teaching and our own teaching about the family.

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Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church

Austen Ivereigh 
ISBN: 978-1250119384 
Henry Holt and Company 2019 
Hardback 416 pp £23.99 
Pastoral Review bookshop £21.60 

Despite his worldwide renown and popularity, there are Catholics today who are openly critical of Pope Francis. This is ironic, given that some of his most vociferous critics were those who, during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, insisted that loyalty to the papal magisterium was the sine qua non of Catholic orthodoxy. Such critics have dismissed the present pope as a heretic, even going so far as to question the legitimacy of his election. Where does this extraordinary animus come from? Austen Ivereigh is in no doubt that it stems from deep opposition to the first Jesuit pope’s efforts to transform the Church’s priorities from power and tradition towards engaging humanity with God’s mercy.

Wounded Shepherd is the sequel to Ivereigh’s acclaimed 2013 biography of Pope Francis, The Great Reformer. The new book covers Francis’ tumultuous first six years, exploring the major challenges and achievements of his papacy. Through battles with corrupt Vatican bankers and dysfunctional prelates, the Argentine pontiff has endeavoured to reshape the Church so as to evangelise the modern world.

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The Two Popes

Netflix 2019
125 minutes

Some years ago I joked with a friend of mine, saying, ‘They really ought to make a film about Pope Francis, just so that Jonathan Pryce can play him.’ What I had said in jest became a reality last year, when director Fernando Meirelles transformed Anthony McCarten’s stage play, The Pope, into a film.

Pryce makes a perfect Bergoglio; not only does he possess facial features almost identical to the character he plays – the original reason for my little quip – but he also manages to capture the very essence of his being. At one moment, a warm smile conveys deep love and affection, at the next, we glimpse something of the seriousness with which he approaches life’s many and often complicated situations. Arriving at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence just south of Rome, Bergoglio chatters away casually with one of the gardeners about the culinary delights of oregano. Five minutes later he is frantically dissecting some the Church’s most controversial theological and moral issues, passionately putting forward his intellectual views to the Holy Father. As you might expect, they disagree on everything.

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The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Church 

Christopher Lamb 
ISBN: 978-1626983618 
Orbis 2020
Paperback 176pp £19.99 
Pastoral Review bookshop £16.00 

For readers who are already aware of the niche world of Vatican gossip and politicised Church drama, largely played out on Twitter timelines, and those for whom it is a new subject, The Outsider perceptively chronicles Pope Francis’ papacy through the lens of the criticisms levelled against him.

Between the revelations of sordid cover-ups, malicious rumour-mongering and outright calculated plotting, The Outsider reads, at times, like a script for a Catholic episode of Panorama. 

Central to this narrative is the pope, painted by Lamb as a silent pillar of strength, standing firmly above his detractors on the moral high ground. However, from his modest living arrangements to his interactions with prisoners, refugees and children, it is also clear that Pope Francis’ feet are firmly on the ground. He is undeniably a man of the people – and it is this, The Outsider suggests, which is what divides opinion so greatly.  

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