Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Doing Virtuous Business

By Theodore Malloch, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Theodore Malloch excels at his perspective that people should buck up, quit their whining, and get back to work.

But not so quick. He is not a heartless conservative businessman, but rightly shows how this is good for people. Entitlement and resentment, the foundations of the feminist-welfare dependency state we now have in western countries, hurt most those with the entitlements and resentments.

Faith is the way for people to lift themselves up again. Malloch calls out anti-capitalist liberal crusaders who frame capitalism is very negative terms and call businessmen greedy and money-hungry. He shows that faith and business are not mutually exclusive. In fact, faith is essential to running a company.

Malloch's many anecdotes clarify his beliefs. He centers much of his argument on the virtues, such as honesty. Acting honestly will aid a company by forming close, loyal relationships with customers and other businesses. Dishonest businesses eventually face the fallout of their immoral ways.

He calls business leaders to live their religion and morality at work, even citing the example of a Southern Baptist-owned restaurant that closes on Sundays, yet remains profitable and continues to expand. He argues that such a business plan allows the employees regeneration time, so they can better serve customers on Monday.

Profit is not the most important thing in a business. Living the vision, virtues, and values of the company are more important, and these will bring profit as well, Malloch argues effectively.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Priests? Answers Guided by the Teaching of Benedict XVI

By Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, 204 pages, Sceptor Publishers.

The priest acts "in persona Christi." This heavy responsibility has many related issues that Cardinal Cordes investigates. He emphasizes the Christ-centered nature of the priesthood. Christ makes the priest; the ordained man does nothing of his own accord.

The "power" of the priesthood, a sacramental power, is bestowed at ordination and is the power of Christ. With this cultic view of the priesthood, Cordes opposes the sociological view of pastoral ministry he has seen in the Church since Vatican II.

In the sociological practice, pastoral teams and pastoral areas consist "of priests, pastoral assistants, and other laity. The result is administration according to a sociological model. The delegation of pastoral care to 'experts' reduces the chance of arousing or promoting faith among the community through personal contacts, personal witness, and greater trust. "

This sidelines the importance of the sacraments and emphasizes the therapeutic aspect of Christian life, according to Cordes, who argues strongly for greater emphasis on the sacramental role of priests without putting these men on a pedestal and thus placing a barrier between them and the laity.

Rather than psychological or counseling roles, the priest above all, through his sacramental office and his close relationship to Christ, works for the spiritual welfare of the parishioners. Cordes repeatedly stresses the evangelical character of the priest through this special means. While Vatican II called for evangelization by all Christians, laity included, priests nonetheless play a special part in the spreading of the Gospel.

Priests are part of the hierarchy. While Cordes avoids reducing "the Church" to the ordained and consecrated, he nonetheless values the importance of hierarchy and its hardworking members. All religious life has at its base authority.

He writes, for instance: "That theology exists at all is only by virtue of the fact that its truths are able to break into the closed circle of our own thought."

Theology, like the priesthood itself, plays a spiritual rather than therapeutic or psychological role in our lives. This spiritual role demands that the priest have a special relationship with Christ. The priest is above all a man of Christ, totally consecrated to the Lord.

Again, Cordes rejects a sociological view of organizations or leadership, and emphasizes the spiritual nature of the priesthood: "Being a presbyter receives its decisive quality not in the activities he performs as part of his ministry, but in the priest's subordination to Christ."

When we remember this Christocentric nature of the priesthood, we avoid a "utilitarian" view of priests whereby they are merely functionaries carrying out a canonical task such as marrying a couple according to Church law. When we keep in mind the sacramental dimension of the priest's work, the full sacramental meaning of marriage is clear. The priest is not just used as part of a nice, postcard wedding.

The Christocentric notion of the priesthood also emphasizes that it is Christ, and not the community, that creates priests. The ordained man is anchored firstly in Christ, not the community. Cordes, not surprisingly, therefore also rejects a utilitarian relationship between the priest and Christ.

The ordained man is a priest in his very being, and not simply because he has a parish function to undertake.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Putting Down Roots: Father Joseph Muzquiz and the Growth of Opus Dei

By John F. Coverdale, 152 pages, Scepter Publishers.

While the author is a bit too idealistic, Putting Down Roots does highlight the importance of bold initiative to evangelism, as exemplified in the work and personality of Father Joseph Muzquiz. Opus Dei's growth in America and Europe was the work of individuals who had committed themselves to God. They let the Holy Spirit work through them, and had absolute confidence in their endeavors.

Brave, adventurous souls worked wonders as Opus Dei religious houses were planted in American cities such as Chicago , Boston , and New York . Opus Dei's American director, Father Joseph Muzquiz, repeatedly financed the purchase of enormous, university-area houses with almost no money. Perpetually stretched too thin, they were Catholic cowboys often living on nothing but hope and prayer.

Thus Coverdale notes, Muzquiz "was impatient with delays and with any tendency to just go on momentum. He had the mind of an entrepreneur who would rather act immediately than wait until everything was in place."

Father Muzquiz, the first priest ordained by Opus Dei, succeeded most of all because of his deep faith and prayer life, which gave him wisdom, strength, and endurance through constantly challenging times. Though too heavy on the details, Coverdale paints a good picture of the spirituality and personality of Father Muzquiz, who never stood still and carried a light, gracious attitude and smile on his face, no matter how tired.

As with many great priests who emphasized the confessional, people describe him as non-judgmental, fully attentive to the person at hand, and exemplary in following Christ.

Coverdale discusses Opus Dei spirituality in depth, as he notes Father Muzquiz lived the Prelature's charism more faithfully than almost anyone. He kindly, patiently corrected even small defects in a person, as he followed the Opus Dei dictum, "the spirit of the Work is in the specifics."

The author repeatedly notes that Father Muzquiz had a "supernatural outlook" that served him and those around him well in the early days when he and Opus Dei in America were growing quickly but lacked financial security.

This outlook also helped when an aggressive person or impossible situation seemed to be spoiling his plans. His great faith in God led him to believe that such people and events actually played a part in his work. Rather than fighting directly, he used his love and humility to work things through.

The author paints a rosy picture here, and readers don't get sufficient sense of the real failures of the movement in its early days in America or when Father Muzquiz returned to Europe to build the organization there.

Readers do get a sense of his pastoral gifts, as he built bridges between rich and poor in class-ridden southern Spain and when he traveled out of his way to meet with local village priests.

As in his days in America when reaching out to university students, he strove to build a family spirit even amidst the isolation of these priests. This care for each individual made deep impressions on people and drew many into Opus Dei.

Putting Down Roots gives the impression that without Father Muzquiz Opus Dei would be a shadow of itself today in America and Europe .

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Constant Prayer

By Robert Benson, Thomas Nelson.

Bensen talks a lot about himself, and very little, if any, about Christ. "God" is sufficiently vague to be anything higher. The author claims that he doesn't want to get into theological mudslinging, but without Christ, and with "God" being so bland, who is he praying to?

So Bensen inadvertently portrays prayer as part of Christian individualistic narcissism. He shows how the American church has become a hothouse, a training ground, for self-absorbed baby-boomers and their children and maybe their children's children.

"I theology," the "theology of me": Prayer is discussed in terms of how I can pray, and in terms of how prayer affects me psychologically. One paragraph has "I" in every sentence, sometimes twice. Ten times in that one paragraph. Not uncommon in this book.

Another paragraph has the following expressions: "I spent"; "we spent"; "I finished"; "I am still"; "I can"; "I am not"; "than I was before I began"; "but I am still". This is a gem of a paragraph, with one sentence containing four "I"s alone.

This is ridiculous, Christless theology. Christ is found nowhere in this bewildering book. It's a book on prayer within the Christian tradition, but the author talks about himself (a whole lot), and everything / everyone else in his life that affects him, like his neighbors or friends.

This leads to a lot of boring nonsense: "One block north, two blocks west, and another block north gets me down Twelfth Avenue..." Who cares.

The church in America is in big trouble.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Am Hutterite

By Mary-Ann Kirby, 245 pages, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Kirby contrasts the often cold, materialistic, competitive mainstream Canadian society with the warmth, humor, and deep communal feeling of a Hutterite community, where duty, humble service to others, and family life testify to their Christian vocation.

A product of the Protestant Reformation, the Hutterites, a German speaking people who believe in adult baptism and strong biblical precepts, came to North America in the nineteenth-century after centuries of persecution in Europe . They quickly prospered in Canada and America 's West, setting up colonies from Manitoba to Alberta

Kirby tells the story of her father's alienation with communal living, and the sometimes stubborn leadership he endured. Yet she reminisces with fondness, mixing fictional dialogues with informed commentary. The Hutterites' close living requires a sense of humor more than anything, something the author shows quite well, to the amusement of the reader.

Her excellent descriptions of individual Hutterites sound like something from Dickens or the Harry Potter series: "Ona had a round face with a prominent nose, which was a useful tool, considering her vocation. She was an excellent cook, and her ample body supported the notion that she enjoyed her work."

Despite the lack of modern entertainment, including radios, TVs, the Internet, and magazines, the colonists live rich lives, full of eating, drinking, working, daily church attendance, and constant visiting:

"With seven beautiful daughters who attracted their fair share of interest from eligible Buben (young men), Sana Basel's house was always a gathering place, filled with young people who would convene every evening to socialize and sing," she writes.

Aside from a few loners, most of the colonists love to do their daily tasks in the company of others, which according to Kirby, gives the people a richer, deeper personality.

Although her father eventually took them away from the colony, she clearly reveled in community living as a youngster. She contrasts the "relaxed, lighthearted, and social time" where people would often receive "a good-natured ribbing" around the Hutterite mealtable with "the awkward silences at mealtimes in English homes."

The author portrays herself as a perpetual misfit once the family left the colony, but as a perfect fixture when she had lived on the colony. Whenever she visited, she shared her former community's wistfulness for the past unity.

I Am Hutterite's strength is the author's lack of bitterness and mature, matter-of-fact story-telling. The Hutterites believe, she notes, that harsh discipline, including corporal punishment, builds character. Kirby's own mature character shows itself in her lack of bitterness or victim-feeling. The reader begins to respect the Hutterite system as much as she does.

The book is much more critical of mainstream Canadian society, where cold individualism seems to have won the day. Kirby's lively, humorous writing helps readers see how much our individualism and sense of entitlement have cost us, to the detriment of communal and family living.

Upon leaving the colony, she is surprised to see that her first bus driver is an isolated old man with bell's palsey: "On the colony, he would have had his meals brought to him three times a day, enjoyed long afternoon naps, and had his floors washed every Saturday. He certainly would not have been driving children to school on treacherous, muddy roads."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Full of Grace: Miraculous Stories of Healing and Conversion through Mary's Intercession

By Christine Watkins, 203 pages, Ave Maria Press.

At Medjugorje, God heals people of drug abuse, family violence, debilitating guilt, lack of faith, and other ailments of secularism. The Yugoslav town is an island of deep religious piety.

Watkins portrays the power of healing and grace through the stories of 6 heroes of the faith. Rather than being models for their martyrdom or extreme religious activity, they are heroes because they experienced the terribly sinful lifestyle of America , foremost promiscuity and substance abuse. They stole, lied, cheated, and were well on the road to destroying their families.

The Father's persistent intervention, through the Blessed Virgin Mary at Medjugorje, radically changed and healed them, though not without complications and setbacks. Mother Mary never gave up on them, and kept offering them grace.

Much of the book focuses on the psychological or cultural issues of modern society, such as the radical freedom and individuality that often pulls people into drug use and pre-marital sex.

Each individual portrayed was for a long time deeply aware of the psychological issues. Some of them went for untold hours of counseling. Yet they couldn't change. Counseling and the latest therapies or New Age solutions only made matters worse.

They needed a theological solution, particularly the need to understand the gravity of their sins. Once they changed focus, from the psychological to the theological outlook on human behavior, they were able to realize the extent of their bad behavior.

Some stories in Full of Grace highlight the satanic meaning of certain acts:

"'The Church doesn't just make this stuff up, you know,' he said. 'You lost God's protection when you lost your virginity, and you opened yourself up to the demonic realm. With every person you slept with, more demons entered your soul. And you also hurt the souls of those you were with.'"

While the stories have happy endings, led by God's undying love for His children, many of the smaller details can seem shocking to readers used to a psychological viewpoint. Watkins is quick to point out that these people are not evil, and in many cases, with their addictions, they are sick. Addictions and other destructive behavior are diseases or mental illness.

But Watkins also does readers a service by refusing to let these people off the hook. They committed evil acts. They have no shortcuts to forgiveness and God's grace. They have to go through the pain of acknowledging the evil nature of their acts and asking forgiveness from God and those they offended.

Psychological and theological awareness of one's behavior are, then, 2 different things, though both play a necessary role in the journey.

The key player in the journeys of all these people is God. Repeatedly, Mary leads each sinful individual to Christ and forgiveness. While it would have been much easier to have avoided the sins in the first place, no sinful act can erase God's abiding love.

The Father, often through the Blessed Virgin Mary at Medjugorje, keeps calling these people back home.