Selling All is the second volume of Schneiders' projected three-volume series on Roman Catholic religious life. As such, its primary audience is the members of the religious orders it describes, particularly members of active communities of sisters in North America and Western Europe. Others who might also find it interesting would be Catholic laypeople who want to understand the manifold and obvious changes that these religious orders have experienced since Vatican II - especially those who, having read or heard contentions in the conservative Catholic media that "change-oriented" orders are in danger of imminent demise precisely because of the actions they have taken in the past 35 years, may wonder why the orders continue on such a supposedly self-destructive path. Selling All provides the clearest and most lucid exposition I have seen of the opportunities and pitfalls in the lifestyle of contemporary religious orders, and of the path that has led them to where they are today.
In my opinion, Selling All is an even better book than Schneiders' first volume, Finding the Treasure. I would strongly recommend its use as a text and a starting point for reflection and discussion in every novitiate and formation program. The book's first section, on discernment and commitment, would be especially useful for this audience. In it, Schneiders discusses what considerations are involved in discerning a religious vocation to a particular congregation or order, and what the call to community implies for those who join it. Both candidates and their directors will profit from the chapter on formation and incorporation: why it is necessary, even for entrants in their thirties and forties, and what the essential elements of a formation program are. Throughout, Schneiders does not mince words, either in describing the defects of the former, pre-Vatican II formation program and why the changes were necessary, or in outlining the aspects of present programs that are less than satisfactory.
I would strongly recommend the second and third sections of the book to all members and leaders of Roman Catholic religious orders. It would be especially useful as background reading and as a template for discussion in the year or so immediately preceding an order's Chapter meetings. In the second sections, Schneiders discusses celibacy as the basic foundational vow for religious, as a different (and more highly valued) reality for women than for men, and as a spiritual template or metaphor in Judeo-Christian writing throughout the centuries. In the last two chapters of this section, Schneiders gives a particularly cogent and clear-eyed outline of the relation between celibacy and family, and between celibacy and home. In both of these chapters, she raises important issues - all too often unaddressed in contemporary religious orders - of the promise and danger of the vow for both the individual member and the larger congregation.
This discussion leads naturally to Schneiders' third section on religious community. After giving the biblical and theological foundations of common life in Chapter 8, Schneiders devotes a chapter to the implications of that lifestyle for the individual member, and another chapter to the implications for the order itself. Each chapter, again, pulls no punches in outlining both the advantages and the challenges of the monastic and the ministerial forms of religious community. These chapters, like the rest ofthe book, benefit enormously from Schneiders' habit of dividing each chapter into clearly-marked sections and subsections, which assist the reader in keeping track of her argument.
Normally, in writing a book review, I attempt to outline both its strengths and its weaknesses. In the case of Selling All, however, I find myself somewhat at a loss, for I cannot think of any weaknesses to cite. I really like this work, and I highly recommend it.