David Matzko MCCARTHY. Sharing God's Good Company: A Theology of the Communion of Saints. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. pp. 174. $28.00 paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6709-4.
Reviewed by Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, , MO 64110

David McCarthy, a professor of Catholic social teaching at Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland, believes that the real value of the saints for Christians today is not in their stories but in their ability to “connect us to a metaphysical landscape of relationships” (166). McCarthy’s focus is not on hagiography per se, but rather on the ability of saints to help us meet our need for social bonds with the metaphysical world. Our longing to be in kinship with God makes the saints important to us today.

For McCarthy, writings about the saints have often gone awry, whether from the modern or the postmodern perspective.  From the modern perspective, the saints are essentially their stories.  The postmodern emphasis, on the other hand, is not so much on the stories but rather on the storytellers and interpreters.  McCarthy believes both approaches miss the point.  For McCarthy, our desire to be near the saints is a social desire, a “longing to be in good company with God” (9).  The saints provide those lines of communication that connect us to God. 

McCarthy's approach is to look at various saints and modern writers who have written about the saints.  He underscores the difficulty of grouping saints together based on specific characteristics.  For example, some saints might be moral examples, but many were not.  Some were martyrs, some not.  Some made significant sacrifices, some were rather ordinary.  He calls for a “participatory realism” in which we identify and involve ourselves in the landscape populated by the saints, especially in the ordinary events of life. The saints help us see the “possibilities of the good and holy in the world” (78).

Sharing God’s Good Company puts “weighty modern questions on the backs of saints” (7). For example, we moderns want to know about images, miracles, and relics. McCarthy acknowledges that the miracles of saints challenge scientific materialism but believes that God is always active in creation and that miracles point to an “embodiment of grace” (112). Physical objects like relics, and holy locations like shrines, are intertwined in social relationships, connecting the saints and pilgrims to a “spatial and visual field” (5).

Ultimately, McCarthy succeeds in asking modern questions about the saints but also contextualizing them for their time and for ours.  Sharing God’s Good Company is rooted in a theological framework that removes the saints from simply individuals who inspire us to companions who connect us to a “metaphysical landscape of relationships” (166).