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The Difference God Makes by Fr. McCloskey

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2012/08/16 at 9:11 AM

The Difference God Makes

by Francis Cardinal George – published by Crossroad Publishing Company

A Book Review by Father John McCloskey

Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago has written an astonishingly perceptive book that is the best history of the Catholic Church in the Unites States from a theological point of view. In addition, it shows American Catholics not only to how to deepen their faith but also how to integrate it into their lives as citizens. The book is entitled The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion and Culture (The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York).

Cardinal George, a native of Chicago and currently president of the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is drawing near the age of 75 when he will be required to submit his resignation as head of the Archdiocese of Chicago. With this book, he takes his place with Orestes Brownson, John Courtney Murray, and Richard John Neuhaus as one of the outstanding intellectuals and theologians in history of the American Church. What sets him apart from the others, however, is his active and demanding pastorship of more than 2.3 million Catholics. In addition, he holds leadership positions in Rome with the religious Congregation he belongs to, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. At the same time, he is deeply engaged with intellectual life at its highest international level. Perhaps only Pope Benedict XVI can rival him in this regard. What struck me in reading George’s book was his reasonableness in striving to understand and articulate clearly and charitably opposing arguments. Rather than being a polemicist, George attempts to reconcile and win over with charity those who he thinks have erred in interpreting what the Second Vatican Council really meant.

The book itself is divided into three parts: 1. The Church’s Mission: Universal Communion, 2. The Church’s Life: Hierarchical Communion and 3. The Church’s Goal: Communion with God. Individual chapters deal with topics as diverse as the laity and priesthood; discussions with Judaism, Islam, and what is left of Protestantism; and worship and the liturgy (clearly one of Pope Benedict’s highest priorities, if not the highest priority of his pontificate). What I think will most interest his American readers are the first three chapters of Part One, devoted to Evangelizing American Culture, Sowing the Gospel on American Soil, and Making All Things New: Notes on a New Apologetic. George does a masterful job of analyzing the varied currents of American religions and their impact on our nation’s culture: individualism, emotionalism, and success seen as salvation flowing from both Calvinistic and Lutheran influences.

For Cardinal George, the answer to the problems confronting the Catholic Church in America is communio–communion, or as the Second Vatican Council succinctly puts it, making the “the sincere gift of self.” This phrase was used more often by Pope John Paul the Great more than any other from the Second Vatican Council. It encompasses putting family and friends above the individual, living for others and not for one’s own interests, pleasures, or achievements.

George writes:

The deepest truth that Catholics proclaim is that of ‘communio.’ All things and all people are ordered to God and ordered to love to one another. This truth informs everything we say about political, social, and economic and cultural realms. If we surrender this truth–either through ideological compromise or even out of concern for civility—we succumb to the culture of death.

George is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but rather positive and hopeful. He clearly believes that Christ and His Church provide answers that can assure relative happiness in this life and everlasting happiness in the next. As he puts it, “The Church finds herself in social, economic, and political structures that are increasingly universal. In such as a situation the Catholic Church is an agent of transformation that is, paradoxically, completely at home.” This book should not be relegated to every Catholic’s bookshelf but rather should be in their hands or on their Kindles or Ipods.

In the 1950s Notre Dame graduates were asked whether they considered themselves Catholics first or Americans first. The majority identified themselves as Americans first! Right there one could have foreseen the long purgatory of the American Church from 1965 to 2005 that we have suffered. Happily the new evangelization foreseen by Pope John Paul II is taking hold in our country, and pretty rapidly. The best is ahead, even if it involves bearing heroic witness and martyrdom. Cardinal George’s The Difference God Makes and Archbishop Chaput’s recent book Render Unto Caesar (Random House) show that the leadership of the Church in America is ready to make the case to both Catholic and non-Catholic Americans that this is indeed a “Catholic Moment” for our country and the world.

First appeared on Catholic Exchange in December, 2009

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