November 2022: Book Reviews


Reviewer: Mary Adamson
Bryanstown, Drogheda



John Sullivan
Veritas Publications, 2022
978 1 80097 026 7 • pp 257

Sometimes a book appears at just the right time in our lives – a key moment when we have reached a crossroads and need some support in discerning a way forward. John Sullivan’s latest work, Lights for the Pathnot only captures the current zeitgeist of the church in Ireland but also provides a sound, scholarly treatise which will inspire educators, both lay and clerical, as they grapple with the challenges of renewal, reform and new hope envisioned by the Bishops when embarking on the synodal pathway. Whilst the stark opening sentence ‘The path that Catholic educators walk is a challenging one’ confronts this reality, the author’s underlying message is that the essence of Catholicism is dynamic transformation where we continually strive to live the gospel in order to experience life to the fullest.

     August 2022 saw the eagerly awaited publication of the Synodal Pathway’s National Synthesis Report – the culmination of extensive consultation with hundreds of thousands of the laity on a parish and diocesan level. Clearly, our church is in transition as the importance of visible structures is superseded by an invitation to listen to one another and, via a dynamic open-ended process, come to grasp the reality of the Risen Christ’s presence today. Key issues and concerns identified by the nationwide participants, however, suggest a worrying disconnect between elements of Catholic life experienced in today’s Ireland and the gospel-based values we profess to live by. Many respondents felt that the radical teachings that Jesus proclaimed in seminal parables such as the Good Shepherd who searched for the one lost sheep and the loving father who welcomed home the Prodigal Son do not always find full expression in people’s lived experience in the Catholic church.

     Speaking at the launch of the Synthesis report Dr Nicola Brady emphasised that ‘… important questions have been set out for deeper reflection and pastoral action at every level of church life and there will be many more opportunities for people to get involved and help shape the process’. Nevertheless, these very laudable aspirations need to be grounded in practical considerations. It seems to me that many respondents, in offering their sincere and heartfelt comments and suggestions, appear to be speaking from an outsider objective point of view rather than from an insider ‘people of God’ standpoint. Therefore, it is commendable that the report puts a particular emphasis on encouraging catechetical accompaniment at parish level for young people and their parents. Unquestionably, a radical, intergenerational, integrated faith community-focused approach to Catholic education at diocesan and parish levels is called for.

    At this critical juncture in our faith odyssey, the recently published Lights for the Path introduces a range of inspiring influential figures from the Catholic tradition who, across the centuries, have illuminated how Christians responded to the world they lived in. In unpacking the life stories, the wisdom and philosophies of these eminent Catholic thinkers, the author seeks to provide an introduction to major witnesses from the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition who can provide inspiration and guidance to Catholic educators today (p.14). The pulse of change in our world is a constant and Sullivan skilfully demonstrates how the legacy of remarkable people like Maximus the Confessor, Hildegard of Bingen, Bonaventure, Edith Stein, Elizabeth Jennings, Paolo Freire, Etienne Gilson, Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong continues to inspire to this day.

     As I read this stimulating book, I began to glimpse the outlines of a renewed vision for future renewal and regeneration. Grounded in historical research and totally relevant to contemporary concerns, the primary focus of Lights for the Path is on revitalising Catholic education. The author invites us to explore the rich tradition of Catholic thought developed over centuries and which is here expertly presented as a pathway to address some of the brokenness and discontent evident in today’s church. At the outset, John Sullivan acknowledges that the road ahead may be hard and he is fully aware of the inadequacies, the sometimes weak cognitive grasp of Catholicism among some educators (p.21), the entrenched positions and other societal challenges facing the people of God.

     However, in his accomplished exposition of the deep and nourishing roots of our Christian educational heritage, he provides a rich and thoroughly researched resource which may be tapped in order to stimulate fresh shoots of faith and spiritual vibrancy. The ‘lights’ displayed endurance, perseverance and unflagging trust in God in the face of opposition and many trials. They were committed to the long haul, regardless of immediate or tangible outcomes. As parishes and dioceses begin to assimilate the findings of the Synthesis report and set out on the difficult path of renewal and reform, this book could well prove to be an indispensable companion and ultimately a hope-suffused guiding ‘light’ for us all.

Reviewer: Mary Adamson, Intercom, November 2022

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Empowering Edmund Rice’s Vision Today

Edited by Aidan Donaldson and Denis Gleeson
Veritas Publications, 2022
ISBN 9781800970281
pp. 246 • €24.99/stg£22.50

During his funeral homily for the late Queen Elizabeth II the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby memorably remarked; People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten. The words apply well to the story and vision of Edmund Rice who two centuries ago looked out his window, saw people in dire poverty and was moved to action in the service of the poor and marginalised. A new book which Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, describes as engaging and inspiring and ‘having the potential to transform lives’ offers nineteen essays from the pens of a diverse range of contributors who, inspired by the Gospel message have similarly responded to the needs of the excluded and the poor. Peter McVerry, Una Agnew and John McCourt are just a few of the authors assembled by the editors Aidan Donaldson and Denis Gleeson in order to move and encourage the commitment to serve others.

     In his foreword to the publication Jim Deeds recalls sitting in a classroom in Belfast in 1983 as a first year Grammar School boy in St Mary’s CBS and looking at the painting of an old man which hung in his classroom and who seemed to be looking out the window on a war torn and impoverished city. The old man, Edmund Rice, was to have a profound influence on Jim’s life as he later went on to become an inspiring poet, author, pastoral worker and retreat giver. This passionate and engaging collection of essays deserves the widest possible audience. Each chapter concludes with a series of reflections and questions making it suitable for group as well as personal reading. It’s royalties are unsurprisingly perhaps directed to an orphanage and Maternal Health Support Programme in Zambia and Kenya respectively.

Reviewer: Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, Intercom, November 2022