Each People of God volume offers a compelling and honest narrative of the life of an important twentieth or twenty-first century Catholic. Some living and some now deceased, each of these women and men has known challenges and weaknesses familiar to most of us but responded to them in ways that call us to our own forms of heroism. Each offers a credible and concrete witness of faith, hope, and love to people of our own day.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
Jean Vanier With more to come!
The canonization of Pope John XXIII and the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II call for a fresh look at this remarkable man. Now highly regarded Vatican II historian Massimo Faggioli offers a rich and insightful portrait. His sources include the complete edition of the private diaries of the future John XXIII, published recently in ten volumes, much of which is unavailable in English. Faggioli's use of this treasure of personal notes of the future pope means this biography offers a more complete and nuanced understanding of Angelo Roncalli than is available anywhere else in English at this time. The result is both unforgettable and inspiring.
Massimo Faggioli is assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has written extensively on modern Church history and on Vatican II. He is the author of Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Paulist, 2012) and True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press 2012).
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Q&A with Massimo Faggioli, author of John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy
You used some interesting sources in preparing this book. Tell us about them.
The newly available sources used for this biography are the 6,000-plus pages of private journals of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) that have been published in Italian in the last ten years: journals that he kept from the time he was a seminarian right up to the last few days before his death. Other sources are the diplomatic reports and letters between Roncalli and the Roman Curia while he was a papal diplomat in Bulgaria. They have been declassified only recently, given the norms of the Vatican Secret Archives for the availability of the documents related to the twentieth century.
As a result of these sources, what will this book have that readers can’t get in other biographies of Pope John?
They offer a better sense of what happened in Roncalli's life between 1881 and 1958, when he was elected pope, and then in the beginning of his pontificate as well. The story is very similar to what happened to Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his life until his election as Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, and his first few months. They have much in common: coming from poor families and the emphasis on the poor church, a difficult period in their relationship with the Roman Curia and the institutional church, the election in advanced age after the pontificates of more institutional popes, the pastoral touch as bishops, etc.
Tell me about one of your favorite moments in the life of Angelo Roncalli.
When he was taking care of wounded soldiers in a field hospital during the First World War, he had the occasion to meet and serve Catholic soldiers, but also Protestant, atheist, and Muslim soldiers. It was an extraordinary experience for an average priest in the first half of the twentieth century. Also very interesting is when he was totally neglected and forgotten by the Roman Curia during his time in Bulgaria. At one point, in a letter to the Curia, he writes something like: “You have not given me instructions, nor have you replied to my letter and requests. At this point, I would welcome even a scolding if it came from you.”
John XXIII is much revered by many people. But he was human, too. What might you say would be among his weaknesses or shortcomings?
He knew that he was perceived as “too good” and occasionally as somewhat naive. But he learned from his experience, and as a bishop he was able to avoid situations when his availability could have been used and taken advantage of by others. But what is striking is that when he was young he aspired to spiritual perfection: a turning point in his spiritual life happens when he is around twenty years old. His spiritual life became less idealized and more concrete and merciful, with himself and others.
Certainly the calling of the Second Vatican Council was a decision that had huge consequences in the life of the church. Since that one looms so large, it might be easy to neglect others. What would you want us to remember, apart from the council, as a major contribution of John XXIII to Catholic life or teaching?
I think it was the rediscovery of the fact that the papacy is also a pastoral ministry—something we take for granted now. He did that because his view of the Church always included the priority of the pastoral dimension of theology. As Hannah Arendt said, John XXIII “represented” the idea that you can be a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, live your whole life in the church and for the church, and be a good Christian because of that. Roncalli was always good at “taking from” his adversaries or those skeptical of the church every possible piece of evidence to the contrary.
Source: Catholic News Service
Faggioli has produced the first biography in English based largely on the recently completed edition of Roncalli's extensive diaries. He is able therefore to trace the external events in Roncalli's life in a newly reliable way but, more important, also to reveal the pope's internal journey from a naive peasant boy into one of the world's most respected and beloved leaders. He does this with keen insight and with an admirable economy of words. The book's title, Medicine of Mercy, captures the essence of Pope John's legacy, revivified today by Pope Francis.
John O'Malley, SJ, Georgetown University
Professor Faggioli's readable account of the humble journey of Pope St. John XXIII shows what a gift to the church Roncalli was: A man of simple devotion to the liturgy and to Scripture, a man who heard and saw the signs of the times, a man whose style and substance paved the way for Pope Francis. Roncalli's motto was "obedience and peace." Faggioli shows how the saint's unwavering obedience brought him peace in very difficult circumstances and taught him that peace on earth is possible in obedient devotion to the reign of God.
Terrence W. Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology, Fordham University
Massimo Faggioli's superb new biography is the best short introduction to John XXIII around. Concise, well-researched and beautifully written, it is the perfect invitation to come to know the remarkable saint who invited some fresh air into the Catholic church.
James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints
John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy is healing balm for the soul. This fine book sets forth the surprising twists and turns of a son of an Italian farmer whose "north star" always was responding with compassion and obedience to the real needs of people. Even his 20 years in "exile" in diplomatic posts in Bulgaria and Turkey became nourishment for his spiritual life. Pope John's story can lead us into our own deep listening to the Spirit among us and to imitating his consequent response to jettison fear and spread Jesus' word of inclusive joyous mercy. This can be world changing action for our time too.
Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director NETWORK, Washington, DC
Faggioli has delved deeply into his subject and come away with a sensitive understanding of St. John XXIII as a man of his times and as an icon owned, in a sense, by the wider world. Writing this book has obviously been a labor of love for its author—one of the finest historians of modern Catholicism and one of the sharpest interpreters of the Catholicism in the today's world.”
James McCartin, Center on Religion and Culture, Fordham University
Thomas Merton was the
consummate post-modern holy
one: flawed, anti-institutional, a
voice for the voiceless. But he was
also a classical traditionalist:
centered, obedient, in search of
stability. He was a religious thinker
of remarkable insight, a social
commentator of courage and
conviction, and a writer of startling
Michael W. Higgins recounts
the life of this insatiable wanderer.
He explores the various layers of
influence and evolution in Merton’s
thought and spirituality. This book
tells the remarkable story of a life
that remains to be understood from
its beginnings and long after its
Michael W. Higgins is Vice-President for Mission and Catholic Identity at
Sacred Heart University, Past President of St. Jerome’s University in Ontario
and St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, a columnist, editor, radio
documentarist, and television commentator. He is the author and co-author
of numerous books, including bestsellers Power and Peril: The Catholic
Church at the Crossroads; Stalking the Holy: In Pursuit of Saint-Making;
and Genius Born of Anguish—the Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen.
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Q&A with Michael W. Higgins, author of Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Thomas Merton is a fascinating fellow. What about him, his personality, or ministry is most interesting to you, as a Christian and a writer?
Merton’s expansiveness and inclusivity of mind, his intellectual resilience and openness, and his spiritually inquiring nature have always had real appeal to me. I first read Merton as a high school student, then as a seminarian, as a lay graduate student, and then finally as a scholar. He has been a life companion, as it were. His appeal, to me at least, is seemingly inexhaustible.
Are there any questions you have about him, his personality, his life, that remain unanswered, questions to which we may never know the answer?
Merton’s often melancholy childhood is a major shaper of the adult man and there are still things we only dimly see. Although we have most of his writing available, and the special treasure of his re-issued and re-mastered monastic conferences, the very early Merton remains a bit elusive.
It is perhaps true to say that Merton is viewed by some in the church today with some suspicion, either as too fallible or as a threat to orthodoxy. Your thoughts on that?
Merton was a rich amalgam of the orthodox with the unconventional, the cautious with the temerarious. He was a prober of the spirit and the imagination and, as a consequence, a threat to those of a more settled mind. He was fully engaged with and loyal to the Catholic and monastic traditions and because of these anchors capable of exploring new territory with a liberating fearlessness. Narrowly conservative religious figures had little truck with his thinking and his monastic modality.
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth. What is most important to remind ourselves about him? What have we forgotten that we shouldn’t?
Indeed, we are on the cusp of the centenary of his birth and this is a propitious moment for a comprehensive reappraisal of his life and thought. The recovery of Merton as one of U.S. Catholicism’s premier public intellectuals is critical in a time of great flux, heightened anticipation, and uncertainty in the universal church in general and in the U.S. church in particular. Having said that, it is Merton’s intellectual and spiritual extraterritoriality that is most appealing: born and educated in part in France, further educated and resident in England, finally schooled and at home in America, but with a readership that crosses the continents, Merton ultimately was a gyrovague or “wandering monk,” but in the good sense of that word.
You have spent much of your writing life in biographical projects. Why do you suppose you are drawn to that sort of work?
A distinguished visiting professor at my undergraduate university taught me in my final year. It was a course on the aesthetes and decadents of the turn of the century and included the likes of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and John Gray. I recall him saying at one point that each of us had the ability to write one book: our autobiography. Obvious in a way, but illuminating. I have yet to do that, but like that teacher I have spent a goodly deal of my professional life writing the lives of others and suspect that at the end of this decades-long apprenticeship I might have something interesting to say about me. Not very likely though, since the subjects of my biographies already reveal me to me.
Source: Loyola Productions, Inc.
In Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary Michael Higgins, who is recognized internationally for his writing on Merton, shows himself to be a master of the art of biography. With acumen and balance he focuses vividly on exactly those issues which a reader of Merton ought to be aware of and to understand.
Ross Labrie, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Michael Higgins has painted an exuberant, broad-brushed portrait of the "startling and unusual" life of a twentieth century spiritual master and visionary. This book is perfect for those new to Thomas Merton, but also provides a well-acquainted reader the pleasure of being reintroduced to the significant highlights of Merton's legacy by Higgins' fast-paced, critically insightful and always chiseled prose.
Jonathan Montaldo, editor, A Year with Thomas Merton
In this carefully-crafted biographical account of Thomas Merton, the faithful visionary, Michael Higgins combines his scholarly erudition with a palpable enthusiasm for his subject to produce an engaging text that will be well-received by Merton devotees while being simultaneously meaningful to those new to the life and trials of Merton as radical recluse and life-long pilgrim. Indeed, Higgins' unfolding of a troubled soul on a personal quest will speak very pointedly to generations of those in search of inner peace and personal fulfillment in our turbulent world. Faithful Visionary is dramatic reminder of the timeless wisdom of Augustine's assertion that "our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee."
Douglas Letson, President Emeritus of St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario
With the charm of a storyteller, the skill of a fine writer, and the wisdom of a seasoned scholar, Michael Higgins spins a narrative of an exceptional monk's life and work from conversations, journals, and letters. Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary offers the reader an opportunity to observe how one person sought and discovered an authentic life in Christ that embraced all humanity and addressed the social issues facing the modern world. With the centenary celebration of Merton's birth approaching, this is a timely publication beneficial to both scholars and laypersons.
Professor David Joseph Belcastro, President of the International Thomas Merton Society, Co-Editor of The Merton Annual
Thomas Merton was a wise, complex, playful, and at times, paradoxical poet-monk. As a public intellectual grounded in Catholic history and theology and accustomed to clarity, Michael W. Higgins lucidly charts Merton's life from his birth in France to his death in Thailand. Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary admirably envelopes the shifts and swerves in Merton's layered life in a warm and welcoming conversation.
J.S. Porter, author of The Thomas Merton Poems and Thomas Merton: Hermit at the Heart of Things
In Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary, Michael W. Higgins presents a lively biographical dialogue that is rich, and deep, and instantly engaging. Higgins reminds us that we rarely know even those people who may be familiar to us. In these pages, Higgins removes any superficial image of Merton to present a restless seeker, someone who could never fit easily into a formulaic biographical box. This Merton is complex, remarkably gifted, and deeply human because of his vulnerabilities. The gift of this short biography is the way Michael W. Higgins filters decades of scholarly material about Merton and effortlessly guides readers right to the heart of the matter: Thomas Merton himself, that truly faithful visionary and, through his books, a generous friend to all his readers.
Kevin Burns, writer and producer, Ottawa
Thomas Merton is the most significant spiritual writer of the twentieth century. His writings are already classics that will have influence well into the twenty-first century and beyond. Michael Higgins captures not only the significance of Merton's life but also his spirit. Thomas Merton was a literary genius and so is Michael Higgins. Merton comes alive in the pages of this beautifully written book that you will find both informative and inspiring.
Anthony Ciorra, PhD, Assistant Vice President for Mission and Catholic identity and Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut
Michael Higgins' eloquent and lively voice shines in this new lay readers' biography of Thomas Merton, giving novices and scholars a fine summary of Merton's life, including the complexity and irony of its many fascinating episodes. Higgins' animated style and its orator's rhetoric make this volume readable in one sitting, with much to ponder beyond its pages. Once again, Higgins has given us a compelling entrance to Merton which is valuable for its breadth and intriguing for the connections and interpretations it offers in situating Merton in the constellation of political, religious and spiritual thought of which he was an integral part in twentieth century America. Higgins calls on the years of study he has given to Merton in order to give us this accessible and concise account of American's hermit-monk at the center of his culture's history.
Lynn R. Szabo, Professor of English, Trinity Western University, Vancouver
With the cause for his beatification
reportedly moving along rapidly
now at the Vatican, this biography
of a people’s saint traces the events
leading up to the assassination of
Archbishop Oscar Romero at a
chapel altar in San Salvador and
the reverberations of that day in El
Salvador and beyond.
This in-depth look at
Archbishop Romero, the pastordefender
of the poor and great
witness of the faith, offers a prism
through which to view a Catholic
understanding of liberation and
how to be a church of the poor, for
the poor, as Pope Francis calls us
Kevin Clarke is senior editor and chief correspondent at America and its
web site, americamagazine.org, where he contributes podcasts, video
reports, news reports, and features. He is the former editor of Salt of the
Earth magazine and former senior editor, columnist, and web content
manager for U.S. Catholic magazine and uscatholic.org.
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Q&A with Kevin Clarke, author of Oscar Romero: Love Must Win Out
What’s the most interesting thing you have learned about Archbishop Romero that you didn’t know when you started the project?
I'd say one of the most interesting things I have learned is what a fierce culture warrior Romero had been up to his appointment as bishop of Santiago de María, where he began to confront some of the military's oppressive acts up close. I knew that Romero had been considered conservative in his past and somewhat "off the bus" in terms of Vatican II and Medellín, but I did not know how deep he was in the trenches fighting against the priests who were pushing for pastoral and theological change in the church in Central America. I was also very moved to hear him discussing his personal fears as he took bolder steps to confront the Salvadoran military and economic elite in the last years of his life. He knew he was putting himself in harm's way, and it filled him with fear sometimes. I guess we all have our ideas of what "heroic" looks like in the wild. To read eyewitness accounts of the terrible physical fear he had to confront almost daily may offer a rare glimpse of what real heroism looks like. He was afraid of suffering, frightened of violence, worried about what might happen to him. But in the end he found the courage, not to overcome his fears, but to live with them and do the work he knew he had to do despite them. It only cost him his life.
How is this book different from other resources on Romero?
I am a good storyteller, and this is a great story. I am going to stick to the story. I hope what I can do is tell his story plainly, engagingly. I think this Romero book could be a good base for deeper exploration of the historical and spiritual themes that intersect in the life of Oscar Romero.
Do you have a favorite moment in the life of Oscar Romero?
I think he was at his best on the night of the killing of Rutilio Grande and the days that followed. It was a pivotal moment that required steadfast leadership and grand gestures, and he quickly provided both with his decision to approve the one nationwide Mass the Sunday following Grande's murder and his refusal to be deterred from it. He came to himself that night; he rejoined the people fully and he never left them again. And of course so many of his homilies were (and I won't say just “prophetic”) powerful prophecies about what was to come in Central America. As much as they remain deeply moving, they are chilling now in retrospect. Another "if only we had listened" to add to a sorry pile in human history.
Is it true that the killing of Rutilio Grande was as momentous for Romero as we have sometimes heard? How did it change him and, on the other hand, how did his outlook and ministry remain consistent after the killing?
There is no doubt that the long day and night of the killing and the celebration of the life of Rutilio Grande effected an acceleration in his thinking and a new boldness and steadfastness in his public pronouncements. He had been full of indecision before that shooting, but the ghastliness of it was enough to convince him to trust his instincts and take a stand. At the same time I wonder if too much is made of "Rutilio's miracle" in terms of it being a moment of conversion. Romero did not need any lessons in the suffering of the poor; he had been around and among poverty his whole life.
One criticism of Archbishop Romero is that his ministry became too enmeshed in politics. “He was too political.” How, in your opinion, do we sort out what is politics and what is simply living our faith in concrete circumstances of the world we find ourselves in?
This is a source of confusion in just about all societies, but it was especially pointed—and dangerous—in a socio-economic system as dysfunctional as El Salvador's at that time. It is not a political belief that a society should maintain a minimum respect for the sanctity of life and the innate dignity of every human being, but it inevitably becomes a political gesture to articulate that belief out loud in the civic commons where dialogue takes place and change can be initiated. In a culture as warped by inequity and indifference as El Salvador was, to make any moral demand that threatened the status quo was "political." As many learned at the cost of their lives, studying the Bible in such a culture was "political." Do what Romero did: read Scripture, study the teaching of the church, follow your heart, run your race, and let others deride you as "political." And don't kid yourself that more mature and more affluent liberal democracies don't suffer from the same destructive tendencies that were so obvious in El Salvador.
Source: Rome Reports
A superb short introduction to the life of one of the great prophets of the 20th century. Kevin Clarke's beautifully written and solidly researched biography of Archbishop Romero is an inspiring introduction to the life of a man who gave everything-including his life-for the poor, for the church and for God. Highly recommended.
This in-depth look at Sr. Megan Rice, the octogenarian religious sister and anti-nuclear weapons activist, highlights the life and work of a bold modern-day advocate for peace. She was convicted for her role in carrying out what the New York Times called "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex." After breaking into a nuclear weapons facility, Rice's only comment at trial was "I regret I didn't do this 70 years ago."
Sr. Megan's faith in a world that can transform its resources into sustainable, alternative methods doesn't end with her own future behind prison walls. Her cause is great and her hope is even greater.
Dennis Coday is editor of National Catholic Reporter. He is the author of numerous articles and blogs for the NCR website.
Paperback, 120 pp., 5 3⁄8 x 8 1⁄4, $12.95
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FrancisBishop of RomeSecond EditionMichael Collins
In Francis: Bishop of Rome, Fr. Michael Collins introduced readers to the Pope who has grabbed the attention and the spiritual imaginations of Catholics and others around the world. Now, in this second edition, Collins takes account of the most important events and development of his remarkable pontificate. With a focus on compassion, Francis has challenged world leaders to be more attentive to the poor, begun important reforms of the Curia and the Vatican Bank, and called for an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss pastoral challenges that face modern families. This new edition offers readers a concise and engaging portrait of a remarkable spiritual leader.
Michael Collins is a priest for the Archdiocese of Dublin, where he has served in a number of parishes. He has written or co-authored a number of books, including Benedict XVI: Successor to Peter, John Paul II: The Path to Sainthood, and The Story of Christianity. He recently edited The Illustrated Bible.
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This discussion guide is coming soon
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