By John Gillman, PhD
The Best of Being Catholic. By Kathy Coffey, Orbis Publications, Maryknoll, NY, 2012. Paperback, 192 pp. $15.30.
In the introduction, Kathy Coffey lays out her two-basket theory of the Catholic Church: one holds all that is good and wonderful; the other contains “what sickens and unnerves us,” including the oppressive hierarchical drive for power and control, the silencing of the most creative theologians, and the fixation on sexual issues. Not oblivious to the “widespread depression in churchland” occasioned by the latter, Coffey highlights the treasures in the former. Each of the brief 24 chapters, many of them previously published separately, concludes with testimonials, called a Catholic Chorus, from those who engaged the author’s interview question: What do you like best about being Catholic?
A refreshing book to pick up and ponder after a tough day in ministry, the reader may well find his or her soul refreshed and spirit renewed. Organized in three parts – the beliefs we cherish, the seasons we celebrate, and the company we keep – the narrative is an easy read with its informal, often folksy style.
I was particularly drawn to the cast of characters Coffey puts before us, ranging from the first canonized saint from Australia, Sister Mary Mackillop, who was excommunicated by her bishop for blowing the whistle on a priest for abusing a boy, to Sister Mary Luke Tobin, a courageous and outspoken leader who always looked for points of hope.
Along the way we run into Julian of Norwich, St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas, Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Elizabeth Johnson, Richard Rohr, and Joan Chittister, to name a few. We hear about the unwavering commitment and martyrdom of “Amazon warrior” Sister Dorothy Stang, who advocated for the poor and the environment in Brazil. On a personal level, I enjoyed hearing about the author’s appreciation for the insight and humor of Sister Kate Dooley, noted theologian, whom I came to know as a fellow graduate student at the University of Louvain.
It was good to be reminded of Karl Rahner’s insight: “Every single human being is an event of the absolute, radical, free self-communication of God” (p. 155). One misstep that I noticed was the author’s assertion that Spanish is the language of over half of the U.S. Catholic Church – not yet, but soon. For NACC members, it would be enlightening to have a discussion around the author’s question, adapted for our association: What do you like best about being a Catholic chaplain?
John Gillman is an NACC and ACPE supervisor at The VITAS Urban CPE Program of Southern California in San Diego.