Thursday, October 15, 2009

Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning by Kerry Kennedy

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author, Kerry Kennedy, is one of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s daughters. She describes her own faith journey as a Catholic Christian in the book’s preface. I was moved by several portions of her autobiographical narrative, including the description of her reaction to the news of her own father’s death:

I ran into my room, buried my head in my pillow, and instinctively began to pray. For my father and mother. For our family. And then I remember clearly, praying, ‘God, don’t let them kill the man who killed Daddy.’

Preventing vengeance is a mainstay of the Catholic faith, even to an eight-year old.

Kerry Kennedy has compiled profiles of thirty-seven other Catholic Christians. In so doing, she has chosen a real cross-section. There are famous people and many who are not in the public eye. There are people who fall to the left on the political spectrum and others who fall to the right. There are lay people, clergy and religious. There are practicing Catholics (of various degrees of devotion), and those who have drifted away from the church or affirmatively embraced other faiths.

From a spiritual perspective, some of the profiles are frankly more interesting than others. I found the narratives describing the spiritual journeys of Bill O’Reilly and Dan Aykoyd, for example, to both fall flat. O’Reilly describes his childhood “cat-and-mouse game” with the nuns who taught him, and the fact that he considered the priesthood for “maybe ten minutes.” In explaining what Catholicism has meant to him, Aykroyd describes raiding an abandoned Catholic orphanage of religious art to decorate his apartment as a young man, and the reactions of the Ottawa narcotics police who later raided the home.

Nonetheless, many of the other profiles were much more compelling. I found Donna Brazile’s narrative of growing up as an African American Catholic in the Deep South (before and after integration of the churches) to be fascinating, as was her reaction to learning that she was not eligible for the priesthood. I also found her personal description of her continued faith and its influence on her life’s work to be inspiring. Martin Sheen’s description of his slow but passionate return to his Catholic Christian faith was very moving as well. Similarly, I was even encouraged by Peggy Noonan’s own return to her Catholic roots, and the influence her renewed faith has had on her life.

I was also fascinated by the profile on Robert Drinan, with whom I was not previously familiar. He died in 2007, and appears to have been quite a Renaissance man: a lawyer, priest and a progressive congressman. I was equally impressed by the profile on Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick who stated:

You can’t be an authentic Catholic unless you’re committed to the right to life. And this right is more than just being born. It involves the right to grow, to be educated, to have a family, to exercise your dignity, to work for a living, and to make a contribution to society. You can’t forget about people once they are born.

Romans 12:19 (Amplified Bible)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for [God's] wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay (requite), says the Lord.

James 2: 1,15-16 (Worldwide English)

My brothers, you believe in our Lord, the wonderful Jesus Christ. So you must not think one man is better than another.

Perhaps a brother or a sister needs clothes and has no food. Perhaps one of you says to them, `God bless you. Be warm. Eat all you want.' But what good is that if you do not give them what they need for their bodies?

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