As winter winds down — or, in some parts, persists mercilessly — Catholics may be in the mood for some reading that will boost their spirits.
The Register this week recommends three books that might do the trick: a family-based defense of marriage, an examination of the sacrificial aspects of the Mass, and a story of a faith-filled little girl facing death.
Feminism and the Law of Unintended Consequences
BY BRIAN WELTER
While Elizabeth Fox-Genovese spends most of her time in Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die discussing the history of marriage and why it’s good for society, she also skillfully uncovers the philosophical roots and spiritual ramifications of the unraveling of marriage as a norm in society.
Fox-Genovese should know, given her career in the feminist, left-wing dominated academic world. Fox-Genovese, who died in 2007, was a late convert to Catholicism, which she discovered after tiring of feminist hyper-individualism. In Marriage, she opposes the “complacency and self-satisfaction” that she saw at the root of the culture of death.
She does not advocate a return to the situation where husbands ruled the roost. She advocates for authentic community based on true respect for others. The current context of rights as entitlements threatens human relations by reducing them to contractual obligations that individuals can leave at any moment. Such a view reduces the family to an ever-changing collection of individuals using the family for their own good.
No true family community or culture can thus develop, as family groupings are always changing and appearing and disappearing from existence as individuals come and go from these structures. Mirroring Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no society,” Fox-Genovese warns that “Our unprecedented privileging of the individual has reduced the ties that bind us to society to a mere fiction — and a contested fiction at that.”
Fox-Genovese uncovers the roots to this problem in the feminist belief that all human relations subordinate women. Feminists therefore “end by attacking all binding ties as obstacles to women’s liberation.”
Feminists have enjoyed short-term gains for their constituency in the form of almost nonexistent sexual morality and the acceptance of careerism and gross individualism. Religion has also been changed, to where people now make demands of religion rather than the opposite. The churches have failed, for whatever reason, to stem or even try to stem the tide towards unencumbered individualism and the resulting “social disintegration.”
More importantly, women’s sexual freedom has come at a tremendous cost to real relationships — and has benefited only a certain kind of man. First, abortion rights remove children from the concern of men. Second, “the sexual liberation of women has realized men’s most predatory sexual fantasies.”
Most importantly, Marriage traces the close but unintentional relationship between the feminist movement and Wild West capitalism. Making all human relations contractual, as feminists have aimed to do, plays into the hands of big business by leading to the “commodification of personal relations.”
Feminism’s rejection of community offers large corporations their dream of access to atomized, unconnected individuals who can move anywhere in the world. Unencumbered labor is a great achievement of big business, and the corporations themselves didn’t even directly bring this about. This law of unintended consequences actually leads to a dramatic loss in personal power, as people become beholden to these corporate behemoths. Previously, the family acted as insurance against the control of big business by offering people a safety net against joblessness and an alternative, more deeply connected cultural world.
“Throughout the globe,” Fox-Genovese writes, “multinational corporations are drawing people out of traditional families and communities, binding some individuals to the prospects of new possibilities, while condemning their kin to the dustbins of the cities or the dustbowls of the villages.”
She then puts her finger on the new, awesome power of corporations that have built an almost totalitarian capitalist society, aided by feminism’s destruction of marriage and the family: “The greatest — and most awesome — power of the global economy lies in its ability to touch everything. In this respect, it acts as the ultimate solvent of the bonds that shape and guarantee our humanity — our intrinsic worth and dignity as persons.”
In other words, despite all the cultural and social destruction that feminists have done in the name of women’s empowerment, feminism has actually lost to the corporations.
Fox-Genovese urges her readers again and again to realize that the family is the best hope humans have and the “last best ground for resistance” against oppression. Feminists, in other words, are dead wrong.
Marriage takes a large overview of the post-’60s Kulturkampf and echoes Pope John Paul II, who believed that communism and savage capitalism were two sides of the same materialist, individualist culture-of-death coin: Feminism on the left and unrestrained capitalism on the right are different constellations of the same thinking. Feminists, Fox-Genovese believes, have completely missed this reality.
This excellent book digs into the roots and history of marriage and the troubles we are experiencing now, even as it discusses the unintended consequences of selfishness and an unloving ideology.
Brian Welter writes from
Burnaby, British Columbia.
BY JOHN GRONDELSKI
Two errors have bedeviled Eucharistic theology in the post-Vatican II era: a loss of understanding and appreciation of the Real Presence and an emphasis on the sacrament as meal to the lost understanding of its sacrificial nature. The Mass as Sacrifice wants to remedy the latter error.
Father Collins, a New York archdiocesan priest, has assembled this little book of reflections, with quotations from the writings of the saints and from magisterial documents, to refocus attention on the Mass as sacrifice.
Two chapters discuss the theology of sacrifice. Chapter One examines sacrifice in the Old and New Testaments. Chapter Two examines it in the Tradition and magisterium, from the Church Fathers through Vatican II (with a bias towards the last century, which takes up almost half that chapter). Chapter Three studies the Roman Canon (the First Eucharistic Prayer) at length, highlighting the sacrifice-rich language in its text. That chapter is supplemented by the text of the Roman Canon, arranged in parallel columns using the Latin and current International Commission on English in the Liturgy texts, the latter of which Collins criticizes. Cardinal Edward Egan’s foreward prefaces the whole book.
“It can be said ... that the reality of the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic Prayers has been seriously downplayed or undermined in various ways, both by some theologians, liturgists, priests and even some bishops. [Theologian] John H. McKenna writes ... ‘Perhaps nowhere in the realm of sacramental theology has the phrase ‘fighting words’ been more fitting than in the case of Eucharist and sacrifice.’ Pope John Paul II lamented this same fact ... saying: ‘at times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet.’”
This excerpt gives readers a sense of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, Father Collins is unafraid of identifying the issues and culling a wide range of sources in support of his argument. On the other hand, Father Collins sometimes likes to string texts together: The book sometimes reads like a seminary term paper. A little better editing would have enhanced it. Father Collins should also provide more historical context: Given the thoroughgoing diatribe that the Protestant Reformation conducted against the Mass as sacrifice, it’s just not enough to present the Council of Trent’s teaching with the laconic comment, “In 1547 the discussions at Trent . . . began. Written to respond to the heresies of the Reformation . . . the chapters [of the council’s documents] . . . provide a great synthesis.”
The book would also be improved if Father Collins had commented on the sacrificial elements in the other approved Eucharistic Prayers.
Father Collins’ reflections on the Roman Canon show the importance of the principle lex orandi, lex credendi (how we pray expresses what we believe). How many people know why we mention Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek in that prayer? How many know that the vast majority of saints explicitly mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer are martyrs? Father Collins tells us why — and what this all has to do with sacrifice. His spiritual reflections are valuable.
Understanding the Mass as sacrifice has been neglected in American catechesis for so long that this double-barreled presentation of Tradition convincingly shows what’s painfully missing in many contemporary discussions of Eucharistic theology. Short and compact, the book is a quick read dealing with an important subject.
John M. Grondelski writes
from Bern, Switzerland.
The Little Carmelite
BY CARLOS BRICENO
It is a brief life, one that usually never gets talked about beyond family and friends: young girl gets serious illness; friends and family rally behind her; girl courageously fights to live; in the end, the girl dies too young.
But what makes one particular French girl’s life so compelling and worth telling were the ways her deep faith and love for God impacted so many people during, and after, the course of her illness.
In Audrey: The True Story of One Child’s Heroic Journey of Faith, Gloria Conde traces the life of a young French girl from when she was born in 1983 until she dies at the age of 8 after battling leukemia.
Even as a young child, Audrey was remarkable in her depth of faith and the spiritual life. Once, after the family moved into a new apartment, Audrey decided that it was “missing the most important thing.” So, soon, she had drawn, cut out and taped paper crucifixes to the walls in every room of the apartment. It was not uncommon to see her on her knees, praying. She even learned at a young age to spiritually adopt a priest and pray for vocations.
What her parents were discovering, the author noted, was that an “authentic love story” was growing between Audrey and Jesus. And because of it, her parents respected what the child said. For instance, because Audrey asked that grace be said before the meals, that practice was instituted and followed.
“Audrey’s soul had this richness of contrasts, and it made her a marvelous creature,” wrote Conde. “Her joy was overflowing but not superficial. ... From a young age, she knew how to distinguish between good and evil. … Her needle pointed north (to God), as stubborn and firm as Nature herself. Without a doubt, this interior light was a gratuitous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. …”
When she was 7, she became ill with leukemia. She saw it as a reminder from God that she should be “a good Carmelite.” Her illness inspired many others to pray, including her school friends and their families saying the Rosary, which led to many homes welcoming prayer. Even as she battled the illness, she offered up her sufferings for others, including praying for vocations.
Although the book contains many moving anecdotes and scenes from Audrey’s life, it suffers a bit from being a bit long. The author had great material to work with, based on interviews, but just including the most powerful of anecdotes, as opposed to repeating the same point with different ones, would have helped the book be even more powerful than it is.
One of the valuable lessons of the book is clearly made: For every prayer others were saying for her, they were receiving God in their lives, helping “to heal and cleanse (their) deep wounds,” Conde wrote.
When the book comes to its inevitable conclusion, the reader is left not with sadness but with joy that such a beautiful soul and inspirational life had been revealed. And part of that joy comes from knowing that several of Audrey’s prayers came true, such as one for her uncle, who decided to return to the seminary.
In the years since, others have felt Audrey’s intercession, and the best way to explain the power of prayer is best expressed in what someone told Audrey’s father: “We are not the ones who choose the saints. It is they who choose us.”
Carlos Briceno writes from
Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die
By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2008
225 pages, $25
To order: isibooks.org
The Mass as Sacrifice: Theological Reflections on the Sacrificial Elements of the Mass
By Rev. James B. Collins III
St. Pauls Editions, 2008
78 pages, $12.95
To order: stpauls.us
Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church
By Russell Shaw
Ignatius Press, 2008
160 pages, $13.95
To order: ignatius.com