Marvin L. Krier MICH, The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching. Rev. ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011. pp. ix + 261. $22.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-945-1. Reviewed by John SNIEGOCKI, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207-4442
After an introduction and an initial chapter on following Christ in a consumer culture, the remaining seven chapters of the book are organized around the seven main themes of CST as identified by the US Catholic bishops – care for God’s creation, human dignity, the call to family, community, and participation, the option for the poor, rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, and solidarity. Each chapter explores one of more specific ethical issues. For example, the chapter on solidarity explores issues of war, peace, and nonviolence; the chapter on human dignity explores topics such as abortion, the death penalty, and sex trafficking; the chapter on rights includes discussion of racism. While the choice to organize the book according to the US bishops’ themes does not necessarily lead to the clearest presentation of the material (e.g. it seems somewhat random why certain issues are discussed in one chapter rather than another), the content is nonetheless very compelling.
Contained in each chapter are stories of people impacted by the issues under discussion, insights from the Bible and Christian tradition, social analysis, and examples of “saints” who have responded constructively to the issues. Among the exemplars from the Christian tradition who are discussed are official saints such as Francis of Assisi, Martin de Porres, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, contemporary figures such as Dorothy Stang, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, George Higgins, and Cesar Chavez, and others less known, including people that Mich has come to know through the Catholic Worker movement in Rochester, NY. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a few discussion questions.
Overall, the book is an excellent resource for undergraduates and general readers and is highly recommended. At the same time, there are several ways that the text could have been even further strengthened or could be supplemented for classroom use. For example, while the title speaks of the “spirituality” of CST, the book contains relatively little explicit discussion of spiritual practice. At the very end of the book, Mich, quoting William Shannon, highlights the need for “that contemplative awareness that enables us…to see the oneness we share with all God’s people – indeed with the whole of God’s creation.” (229) More attention to the types of spiritual practice that can foster this awareness would be very valuable. Also, while the book provides powerful anecdotal illustrations of many of the issues that it discusses, a deeper synthetic overview of the depth and scope of current crises that our world faces would be helpful. And, finally, more concrete suggestions concerning “what we can do” in responding to the various issues discussed would further aid in classroom use, enabling students to better connect the book and the vision of CST to their own lives.