Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Author:
Terry Haney, Tammy McNair, Kate Smirnoff, Mary Ambrose


Book Reviews by Title:
Catholicism at the Crossroads
How the Laity Can Save the Church by Paul Lakeland (April 2009)
Protecting the Gift:  Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker (April 2009)

What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley, S.J. (March 2009)
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker (April 2009)|
Pope John XXIII by Thomas Cahill (June 2009)

Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church by Paul Lakeland. The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007. 164 pp. St. Bernardine's Call No. 262.15 LAK  
Reviewed by Terry Haney  (April 2009)

 Lakeland is clearly an advocate for change in the Church.  He states that “this book is written for adult Catholics who want an adult church that can both sustain their adult faith” and also to be faithful to what the bishops promulgated in Vatican II.

He believes that Vatican II has provided a substantial base for the laity to use in spiritual growth, and is a basis for them to become far more active in supporting further growth in the U.S. Catholic Church.  He is uncomfortable with Church hierarchy in bringing about renewed lay spiritual growth and in particular in the lack of hierarchical accountability. He feels that the sacrament of baptism is the foundation of the mission for all Christians.  The laity and the clergy are all equal in baptism and as laity we have a right as well as a responsibility to ensure continued spiritual growth.

He lays out a ten step approach toward a “more adult church”.  The steps present a broad outline of ”what” needs to be done to further and fully implement the results that the bishops intended for Vatican II.  Some of the points he discusses in his approach:

The church needs to make a more concerted effort to help the poor and suffering.
The laity and the clergy need to become better educated in the history of the Catholic tradition.
Lay participation needs to be improved in the processes of how pastors and bishops are selected, and in how parishes are managed.
The role of women in the church needs to be greatly expanded.

There needs to be renewed attention to the sacrament of Baptism as the basis for understanding of all ministries in the church.

Lakeland devotes a full chapter to the sex abuse scandal, a chapter to the laity, episcopal leadership and the mission of the church. Two of the chapters discuss the approach to accountability both for the laity and also the lack of accountability on the part of the church hierarchy above the parish level, and especially in Rome.

There is an extensive bibliography after each of the ten chapters. 
Lakeland holds the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.  His previous book The Liberation of the Laity:  In Search of an Accountable Church won first place for theology in the Catholic Press Associations 2005 Awards


Protecting the Gift:  Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker.  Dell Publishing, 2000.  352 pp.  St Bernardine's Call No. NF 649 BEC
 Reviewed by Tammy McNair (April 2009)

 According to the National Crime Information Center, over 800,000 children were reported missing in one year alone.  The US Department of Justice reports that of those children kidnapped:  49% were kidnapped by a relative, 27% were kidnapped by an acquaintance, and 24% by strangers.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has stated that around 6% of those stranger cases result in an ugly outcome.  Research also indicates that children who are not educated on safety issues, are the most likely to become victims.  While the subject matter can be terrifying, de Becker asserts that in order to fully protect their children, parents must educate themselves on this uncomfortable subject. 

 This follow-up to The Gift of Fear is a “must read” for all parents, grandparents or caretakers of children. Protecting the Gift revisits some of the same self-preserving and safety techniques, this time addressing the particular needs of children and how parents can help them navigate an uncertain world with confidence and not fear.  De Becker proposes a unique way to train children in regard to “Stranger Danger” that flies in the face of convention, but when utilized can save lives.  He also proposes his “Test of Twelve” – a series of questions to help predict if a child is properly equipped to handle his or her safety issues on their own if they are ever alone.

 This book addresses some of the common fears that parents have about the safety of their children, including recommendations for dealing with babysitters / nannies (big shock, he recommends thorough pre-employment checks).  In turn, de Becker describes techniques for children and young adults (as well as their parents) to harness and embrace their God given defense systems (fear and intuition) and helps them understand the common ploys that pedophiles and others with nefarious intent will try to use against them.


The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.  Dell Publishing, 1999.  384 pp.  St Bernardine's Call No. NF 364 BEC
Reviewed by Tammy McNair (April 2009)

 With the current economic situation of our nation, crime is on the rise.  As such, we all need to be more aware of our surroundings and do what we can to avoid becoming a statistic.  In his book, The Gift of Fear, security consultant Gavin de Becker, explains that we all have a primitive built in structure that serves as our early warning system for danger.

 Using scenarios from real life cases, this book helps the reader to focus on, channel and understand the language of fear, while learning to tune out extraneous factors.  Do you ever wonder about the little twinge at the back of your neck, when you are returning to your car in the parking lot?  Does the next door neighbor give you a strange feeling that you just can’t put your finger on?  How about that nagging feeling about your new nanny?  By recounting personal accounts from victims of violence (spousal, workplace violence, pedophiles, sexual offenders, etc.), de Becker provides the reader with a practical and common sense approach to spotting danger and taking action before it’s too late.

 By learning how to recognize these “survival signals”, the reader is empowered and educated in how choices made in a dangerous situation can and will impact the outcome of the encounter.  De Becker breaks down his components of predicting behavior and encourages the reader to listen to their own intuition and to shoulder some responsibility for their own safety.

 I highly recommend this book for those interested in learning how to avoid becoming a victim and how to better protect themselves and their loved ones.


What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley, S.J.  Belknap/Harvard Univ. Press.  2008. 400 pp. $29.95  
ISBN  9780674031692  St. Bernardine's Library Call No.  262.52 O’M
Reviewed by:  Kate Smirnoff (Mar. 2009)

 O’Malley’s book is an eminently readable, in spots even a page-turner, account of what the title describes.  He sets the stage for the council in two introductory chapters placing the council in the context, not only of Trent and Vatican I, but of all the church’s 19 ecumenical councils. This background provides an understanding of how different Vatican II was as to attendees, the tenor of its documents and the three principles which seem to be at its heart aggiornamento (John XXIII ‘opening of the windows’), ressourcement (return to sources and church Fathers), and O’Malley’s third category: development of doctrine.  He helps the reader to further understand the issues-under-the-issues:  how the church will cope with change, the relationship of the center to the rest of the church, and particularly the style or format of the documents with which the council was to meet the church and the world.

 We are led through the calling of the council and the impact of the differences in modus operandi of John XXIII (hands off) and Paul VI (interfering almost constantly, and especially at the last moment prior to publication of a document).  There were no hard and fast rules on how the council was to be conducted: who and when bishops would be allowed to speak, how documents would be prepared and voted upon, what transpired in the inter-sessions, and what kind of a majority would be sufficient for the council to approve a particular schema.  Early on there developed a desire for consensus and thus the corridor discussions and meetings, schema and counter-schema that developed and the dialogue between the bishops evolved with that goal in mind.  One gets the feel of the atmosphere as not unlike that in the operation of the U.S. senate and house of representatives, the importance of a few leaders on both sides speaking out and influencing outcomes.  O’Malley eschews the labels liberal and conservative and prefers the non-judgmental majority/minority designations and makes the reader aware of the modifications in wording and presentation which occurred to ensure acceptance by a large majority of the bishops.

 Heartily recommended.  Now into reading the documents themselves!

Pope John XXIII by Thomas Cahill. A Lipper/Viking Book, 20022. 241 pp.

 Reviewed by Mary Ambrose

Thomas Cahill’s life of Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, is a delight because of the nature of the man it describes. Cahill opens with an encapsulated version of the history of the Church with its triumphs and its faults.  With this background, he shows how the short career of John was remarkable.

Cahill describes John’s personality: full of good peasant common sense, social, genial, a hard worker with the heart of a pastor, and a lover of ideas.  He was well respected and loved both by heads of state and the poor among whom he labored. Cahill concisely outlines social movements of the day from Catholic Action to Fascism and Communism.

The author depicts the events leading up to Vatican II. “With peasant craftiness” John managed the old-line Cardinals in the Vatican and brought the newer theologians into the conversation. Cahill also celebrates John’s encyclical Pacem in Terris depicting John’s four great themes as truth, justice, love, and freedom. He maintains that these were not the themes of the papacy before John emphasized them.

 “After John” briefly discusses further developments in the Church and the papacy, some positive but some negating John’s legacy. The author discusses the personalities of Pope Paul and Pope John Paul II as much as what they did or didn’t do. In the epilogue, Cahill emphasizes, in what is perhaps the theme of the book, that the papacy is an invention of the Church, evolving throughout history and evolving still.

So much of the background and even the events of John’s life are quite surprising. If you are looking for a concise book about good Pope John XXIII, I recommend this one. 


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