Teresa Rhodes MCGEE: Jim's Last Summer: Lessons on Living from a Dying Priest. Orbis Books, 2002. Pp. 149. $15 pb. ISBN 1-57075-420-9.
Reviewed by James DALLEN, Gonzaga University, SPOKANE, WA 99258

Death's approach can be an experience of grace. It was that for Jim Lenihan, a 72-year-old Maryknoll missioner with terminal cancer, and also for Teresa McGee, a writer who had worked with him years earlier and then accompanied him as he prepared for his last journey.

The book chronicles his "growing pains" in a family with a background of alcoholism and depression, in the Merchant Marines in World War II, in his missionary work in Africa, in his recovery from alcoholism, and in the final letting go of dying. Both diseases, alcoholism and lung cancer, provided him with the opportunity to grow up by giving up the illusion of being in control and thereby to be of greater service to others. In particular, his experience offered his biographer with an opportunity to deal with her own depression and rheumatoid arthritis and to present his story.

Recovery, conversion, ministry, and relationships are presented here as ways in which the Paschal Mystery surfaced in his life and, through him, in the lives of others. The vulnerability of learning to lose and let go without denial or pretense accompanied his experience of the presence of God's love in his recovery from alcoholism and in his dying. That brought his biographer to the recognition that the fear of being human is at the root of most of our problems and that if being human was good enough for God, then it is surely such for us as well. Letting go of confidence and control and living through losses accepts the vulnerability that is the human experience of God's mercy and love.

One might wonder why the book was written and published (as well as why it was not more carefully proofread). These are familiar insights. They are unremarkable and ordinary, yes, but they are also important lessons on living. The book is a reminder that, to those who are able to receive it, the ordinary is charged with the wonder of God's love.

This book can be seen and ordered directly here (click)


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