Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Going “Intentional”

Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

Sherry A Weddell, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 256pp, £10.50.

I am very happy to recommend this book to any Catholic, lay or ordained, interested in the new evangelisation.

In chapter one, Weddell lays out her stall: that the era of tribal Catholicism is now dead. Over 70 per cent of Catholics do not practise their faith, although these figures reflect the US and the situation is surely worse here in the UK. Older priests fondly believe that the young who leave the Church will one day return, yet surveys show they do not. More than half of the “lapsed” no longer identify themselves as Catholic and, interestingly, many ex-Catholics convert to other religions and to evangelicalism. They do so not because they reject Church teachings, nor because they are angry about the abuse crisis or a difficult marriage issue, but because, research shows, their spiritual needs are not met.

I can thoroughly recommend this book. It is one of the most important books of pastoral theology to be published these last years. 

More worrying, Weddell argues, is that a staggering 40 per cent of practising Catholics do not have a personal relationship with God. Whereas evangelicals insist on a personal decision for Christ, many Catholics are sacramentalised but not evangelised. They do not believe in a personal God with whom they can have a life-changing relationship. They are not “intentional disciples”. In any parish, she says, the number of such disciples is often a mere 5 per cent, despite all the catechesis, preaching, sacraments and Masses attended. This suggests a disconnection: that people can talk about the “Church”, or Church teachings, even the sacraments, but not about Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and what it means to be a disciple. For many, this is a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” area of their faith.

In the following chapters, Weddell explores the collaboration between clergy and laity in Christ’s three-fold mission of sanctifying, teaching and shepherding. She stresses the need for everyone to rediscover their sense of vocation, that Christ has called them personally to be His disciple, and that He has enriched them with charisms for the benefit of the Church and her mission. Catholics tend to sit back and let the sacraments do it all, yet the sacraments are not magic (chapter four). A person must be helped intentionally to desire the grace they offer.

Evangelisation should not begin with catechesis: there is a pre-evangelisation stage that leads to the proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the death and resurrection of Christ and what this means for us. Weddell identifies five thresholds of conversion leading to commitment. First, a sense of trust in the messenger must be aroused (chapter five), and then curiosity, itself comprising three stages (chapter six). This leads to openness, Weddell offering some useful strategies (chapter seven). By then, a person will actively be seeking faith (chapter eight) and will soon be ready to make an act of commitment to become a disciple of the Lord (chapter nine).

In the last chapters, Weddell turns her attention to the parish and how it might become an evangelistic community. The aim should be to “double in five [years]” the number of intentional disciples (chapter nine). People have to be helped to talk about what the love of God means for them, and Weddell proposes five levels of “threshold conversation” that can open this up. She discusses the life of Christ and what the kerygma means (chapter 10) and how a thorough evaluation of the charisms God has given needs to be undertaken so that people can find their niche (chapter 11). Finally, the foundation is always prayer and we ought to expect conversions, particularly if we change priorities (chapter 12).

Sherry Weddell belongs to the Catherine of Siena Institute ( in Los Angeles. She has over 15 years of personal experience working with priests and people across the US. This summer she has been invited to the Diocese of Portsmouth to conduct the Called & Gifted Programme: one-to-one interviews to help people articulate their relationship with God and discover the gifts they have been given for the Church’s mission (more information on the institute’s website).

I can thoroughly recommend this book. It is one of the most important books of pastoral theology to be published these last years. Weddell offers numerous practical strategies and many new lines of thinking to help address the present crisis. Yes, it is American and the British reader will need to make the necessary transpositions. But its basic message and direction in my view are sound. It is a helpful contribution to that evangelisation, “new in its ardour, new in its methods and new in its expression”, that Pope John Paul II called for.

Bishop Philip Egan


Why We Must Evangelise

Will many be saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and its Implications for the New Evangelisation.

Ralph Martin, Wm B Eerdmans, 316pp, $17.28, available via Amazon.

This book comes loaded with praise from a large number of prominent churchmen – among them Cardinals Timothy Dolan, Francis George, Donald Wuerl and Peter Turkson. It has also attracted considerable controversy, particularly in the United States. The topic it addresses is one of the most important facing the Church as she struggles to make a reality of the “New Evangelisation” now spoken of for several decades. It deserves to be read by every priest and theologically interested lay person.

The author divides his work into four sections. The first, which is fundamental to the rest, is a close study of chapter 16 of Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Chapter 16 states, first, how those who have not yet come to explicit faith in Christ are related in various ways to the Catholic Church. It goes on to deal with the question of their possible salvation.

As is fairly well known, the text is clear about God’s universal salvific will and teaches that “those who, for no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ” and even those “who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” nevertheless “may achieve eternal salvation”. However, Martin goes on to stress the importance of the concluding three sentences of Lumen Gentium 16 which, being fundamental to his argument, are worth quoting in full:

But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served the world rather than the Creator (cf Rom 1:21, 25). Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair. Hence to procure the glory of God and the salvation of all these, the Church, mindful of the Lord’s command to ‘preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:16) takes zealous care to foster the missions.

These three sentences, argues Martin, qualify what has gone before by clearly teaching (a) that the salvation of non-believers is far from certain and (b) that it is concern for their salvation which drives the missionary activity of the Church. But he believes that this teaching has been neglected, distorted or even contradicted by most of the preaching and catechesis which has taken place since Vatican II. Seeking reasons for this, he points the finger of blame at two theologians who, more than any others, have dominated Catholic theology in the post-conciliar period: Karl Rahner SJ and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Martin begins with Rahner and in particular his doctrine of the “anonymous Christian” who, while with no explicit faith, “accepts himself completely” and finds salvation through that acceptance. This theory has, of course, already come in for some very severe criticism, not least from Balthasar (most fiercely in The Moment of Christian Witness). Interestingly, Martin actually defends Rahner against some aspects of Balthasar’s attack (a little too generously, to my mind), but this makes his own criticisms all the more telling.

He accepts that Rahner was well-motivated by pastoral concerns but ultimately condemns the theory of “anonymous Christianity”, and the extremely optimistic view of human nature on which it is founded, as fundamentally unscriptural. Martin himself devotes considerable space to a comprehensive exegesis of the texts cited by Lumen Gentium 16 – especially St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – and demonstrates how, according to these texts, the situation of non-believers can only be considered as precarious.

But Rahner, as Martin points out, gave insufficient weight either to Scripture or to traditional Church teaching. Martin also asks some telling questions about Rahner’s remarkably optimistic vision of human nature – an optimism all the more astonishing since, as Martin notes, he spent almost his entire priestly life (1932–84) first under Nazi rule and then, after the Second World War, with half of Germany under Soviet Communism. For a thinker so driven by the concerns of “modern man”, Rahner often appears to have been singularly blind to the true nature of modernity.

Lastly, in expounding the teaching of Lumen Gentium 16 Rahner systematically excluded any reference to the concluding three sentences, which speak of the work of the Evil One and the necessity of missionary activity. On the contrary, by portraying what he claimed to be the council’s “optimism concerning salvation…[as] one of the most noteworthy results of the Second Vatican council” and a clear break with the past, he provided a textbook example of the “hermeneutic of rupture” later to be condemned by Pope Benedict XVI.

Martin is more scathing about Balthasar. Indeed, the very title of Martin’s book is a sort of riposte to Balthasar’s Dare we hope that all be saved? Balthasar, of course, concluded that we could indeed hope that all human beings be saved – and indeed that it was our Christian duty to do so. It is against this position that Martin now takes up the cudgels.

Balthasar was far more concerned to base his theology upon Scripture and Tradition than was Rahner, and he was aware that the Gospels contain many passages where Our Lord himself implies not only that all may not necessarily be saved but that many won’t be. His response was to claim that these passages are not prophecies but rather warnings challenging us to amend our sinful ways.

Martin sees this as an untenable exegesis. Others would argue that Balthasar’s interpretation remains within the bounds of orthodoxy. But to the extent that he wanted this interpretation to be the only acceptable one, he certainly overstepped the mark.

Martin also examines the different ways in which Balthasar used the word “hope”. When speaking of universal salvation sometimes he used it in quite a weak sense – much in the way an Englishman might hope for a fine day (without any firm conviction that it will come to pass). In this “weak” sense, Martin concedes, “there can be no objection to ‘hoping’ that all who have not already been condemned to hell, be saved. … Indeed, we should all have this hope.” However, in other places Balthasar used “hope” in a very different, much stronger sense, akin to theological hope; in these instances the word was used to denote a supernatural reality which assures us that, even if human beings appear to reject God, he will nevertheless find a way to save them in the end (even in Hell).

Balthasar bases this conviction partly on his own interpretation of some of the more speculative writings of the Church Fathers, and crucially upon the revelations allegedly made to his friend Adrienne von Speyr. To this Martin responds that well-qualified authorities dispute Balthasar’s patristic interpretations, and that Speyr’s private revelations have never been given any authority by the Church (and indeed contradict the Church’s received understanding). He concludes that Balthasar, no less than Rahner, has been guilty of fostering a belief in the likelihood of universal salvation which has no basis in the official teaching of the Magisterium.

Martin concludes by examining the effect this “false optimism” has had upon the Church’s missionary activity and the New Evangelisation. Soberly reflecting on the collapse of the Catholic missions after Vatican II, and the failure of the New Evangelisation to recover the lost ground, he concludes that, while the faithful have often been reminded of the duty of evangelising, the motivation for so doing has remained obscure. Sloppy preaching and weak catechesis must of course take much of the blame for this, but even magisterial documents (in Martin’s view) have been found wanting. Modern popes, notably Paul VI and John Paul II, have exhorted Catholics to evangelise, but have failed to give convincing reasons why this is necessary.

They have stressed obedience to the Lord’s command “Go, and teach all nations” but have been shy of stating the conviction of Scripture and Tradition, up to and including Vatican II, that unless they hear the Gospel and enter the Church, many will remain slaves of the devil, the flesh and the world, and may never attain the eternal life Christ won for them upon the Cross. Martin draws towards his conclusion with some stirring words:

What motivated the Apostles and the whole history of Christian missions was knowing from divine revelation that the human race is lost, eternally lost without Christ, and even though it is possible for people to be saved, under certain very stringent conditions, without explicit faith and baptism, very often this is not actually the case. Therefore it is urgent that the Gospel be preached.

Not everyone will agree with everything that is written in this book, but everyone concerned for the good of the Church ought to engage with its arguments, for they touch on something fundamental in the life of the Church and its mission to the world today.

Richard Whinder

Losers in the Sexual Revolution

Women, Sex and the Church, a case for Catholic Teaching.

Edited by Erika Bachiochi, Pauline Books & Media, 251pp, £6.75.

The book comprises eight chapters, each by a different author, presenting a series of well-reasoned and documented discussions on the following themes: the difference and complementarity of the sexes, abortion, premarital sex, marriage, contraception, infertility treatment, male priesthood and the tensions between family and work life. The authors draw on a variety of sources (Catholic and non-Catholic) to show why the Church is right to teach what she does, and what the consequences have been for society when these teachings have been ignored.

Cassandra Hough, in chapter three, demonstrates the physical and emotional pitfalls for women of premarital sex. Jennifer Roback Morse (chapter four) shows why the Church is right about marriage: sociological data confirms that married people are happier, healthier and better off financially; the “outcomes” for their children are also “far better”.

Angela Franks (chapter five) underlines the absurdity of contraception: “Contraception must be the only case in which a person takes a pill solely to thwart the natural purpose of a bodily system”; and her description of what a contracepting culture looks like – “more divorce, more unwed parenthood, more abuse, more abortion, less commitment, less trust, less love” – rings all too true. Franks points out that children are good for marriage; having children is what teaches us selflessness. She advocates use of natural family planning as a way of placing the couple “in a deliberate, and joint vocational discernment of God’s loving will”.

Elizabeth Schiltz (chapter eight) looks at the tensions between family and work, an increasingly difficult issue for many families today when, as Erika Bachiochi says, “the financial power of the two-income family has driven up the price of all life’s necessities”.

The book is expertly introduced and concluded by the editor, Bachiochi. She points out that the biggest losers in the sexual revolution have been poor women and children, and that decoupling sex from procreation has resulted in a casualness to sex and a devaluing of motherhood that is bad for us all. Adhering to the teachings of the Church may not be easy, but it is undoubtedly what is best for ourselves, our families and society. This is not a light read but an extremely informative and inspiring one, which will leave you better equipped to counter the attitudes and arguments of secular culture.

Hayley Tomlinson

Understanding the Mass

The Eucharist – A Bible Study Guide for Catholics. 

Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 112pp, £6.99.

The book is devised so that it can be used individually or by a small group, the latter being the more obvious intended use, thus affording an opportunity for both scriptural and liturgical catechesis. There are six chapters, or sessions, which would afford an effective part of a parish catechetical programme across the pastoral year.

Clear instructions are given throughout the book enabling the reader or participant to research and cross-reference relevant scriptural texts and to consider these in light of the teaching tradition of the Church. In this way the overall theme moves chapter by chapter from the liturgical actions of the Old Testament to the present day liturgical practice of the Church.

Where clarity of theological meaning is perhaps required, the author gives this in a highlighted boxed text and additionally provides a small amount of space for personal note making; each chapter closes with two or three questions to stimulate discussion and personal reflection.

In terms of a catechetical programme, there is perhaps too much material to be digested during the 45 minutes to an hour that’s usual in a pastoral setting. However, this should not discourage personal reading and the suggested research.

Initially, Fr Pacwa guides the readers or participants through the Temple liturgy and encourages them to use the Sacred Scriptures, looking up key texts associated with the theme of the particular chapter. He then connects the Old Testament liturgy to the liturgical action of the Mass to demonstrate that the Mass and its rubric are not “plucked out of the air” but rather are a part of the plan and provision through which God had prefigured the Holy Eucharist for us in the Old Testament.

For example, in the first chapter he talks of the Levitical High Priest performing the liturgy correctly and not being put to death for failing to do so. This is compared with paragraph 22:3 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963): “Not even the priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.’

The detailed connections the author makes between the actions of Christ in Holy Week, leading up to his Last Supper, Passion and Resurrection, and the actions of the Levitical High Priest certainly leave the reader animated by the depth of the material, which on occasion requires a second reading.

As one moves into the second session the connection between the Old Testament language of sacrifice and the words of the institution narrative of the Last Supper are opened up to give greater clarity to the sacrificial action of the Mass.

The third session outlines the place of lambs as beast of sacrifice. It looks at the sacrifice of Abraham and the Passover in Egypt and shows how that  Passover is perpetuated by Our Lord, who is identified by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God”, and by St John the Evangelist as the triumphant Lamb of the heavenly banquet in the Book of Revelation.

The fourth session looks at the profound significance of the words “Eat my Body, drink my Blood” and connects the multiplication of the loaves and fish and the “I am” sayings of Jesus with God’s feeding of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. It also highlights the similarity in the responses of the people, first towards God through Moses and then towards Jesus as described in the sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel. In this session Fr Pacwa outlines the different kind of responses which an individual, both in the historical presence of our Lord and in the here and now of our lives, might make, provoking the reader to a greater generosity of mind and heart.

The fifth session demonstrates the clear connections between the Old Testament Passover meal, the Last Supper of Jesus and the celebration of the Mass.

The sixth and final session, which is entitled “Christ’s Priesthood and the Eucharist”, examines the letter to the Hebrews, touches upon the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 and explores the meaning of the New and Eternal Covenant, which is Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist.

In conclusion, Fr Pacwa’s book should provoke any priest to ponder what it is he is doing in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and it should be a great help to the laity in understanding the abiding presence of Our Lord in the action of the Mass and in Eucharistic adoration.

Ian Vane

Faith Magazine

July - August 2014