Diarmuid O’MURCHU, MSC. The Meaning and Practice of Faith. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2014. Pp. 130. $16.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-081-5.
Thomas McDERMOTT, OP. Filled With All the Fullness of God, an Introduction to Catholic Spirituality, 2013. Pp. 110. NY: Bloomsbury T&T Clark. $22.75pb. ISBN 978-0-5673-4197-6. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141
O’Murchu states in his conclusion , “Undoubtedly some readers will find these ideas bombastic, far-fetched, and alien to all sense of credulity” (130). If one reads his book on its own, a good number of readers would agree and likewise concur with at least a significant degree of incredulity. However, when read with McDermott’s text, one might come to a more nuanced, though similarly problematic, conclusion with regard to both texts.
First, however, one must recognize that both authors clearly achieve their unstated but clearly apparent goals. Fr. McDermott offers a well-written classical overview of Catholic spirituality. He employs insights from primarily Western patristic authors, with occasional reference to the Eastern Fathers. Likewise, he draws on the rich heritage of the Dominican tradition, particularly that of Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Sienna. Finally, he incorporates the work of later spiritual authorities like Thérèse of Lisieux, Francis de Sales, and C.S. Lewis while noting other Twentieth Century writers.
In this regard McDermott stands in sharp contrast to Fr. O’Murchu who fills his pages with almost every notable post-Modern, post-liberal, and even post-Christian perspective. To this he adds other notable Christian and Catholic thinkers like Ilia Delio, Elizabeth Johnson, Leonardo Boff, John Haught, and Thomas Berry. While this reviewer read O’Murchu first, the order of reading probably would not affect the conclusion.
O’Murchu recognizes a significant dilemma. The “adult faith” about which he writes represents less than ten percent of the Christian faithful. And, as he recognizes, the Christian, particularly the Catholic faith, finds its life and growth in the South (and the East). As he appreciates, the Churches of South America, Africa, and Asia tend to reflect a rather traditional piety, including a clerically dominated church, as well as thought processes unrelated to the “new cosmology.” He observes a similar experience with the Pentecostal churches, which he correlates with an appreciation of the “Great Spirit” of indigenous peoples.
Here one finds incredulity. It is difficult to believe that Pentecostal Christians would appreciate the correlation. The Pentecostal traditions of first, emerging, and developing countries exemplify a tendency toward biblical literalism, a traditional theology of atonement, and the various theological claims which O’Murchu identifies as patriarchal, sexist, imperialist, and Western. The author identifies the contrast not as a contradiction, but as the paradoxical work of the Spirit. However, precisely here, one finds the benefit of reading both texts. This reviewer proposes to look positively at the paradox of the two texts.
Like it or not, one needs to recognize the growth of traditional Catholicism in the United States, Canada and Europe. Saint John Paul II has a hold on the religious imagination and practice of many Catholics born in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. McDermott’s text would appeal to the intellectually inclined of this age group, as well as some older Catholics who feel left behind by the Second Vatican Council. O’Murchu’s text would appeal to the intellectually stimulated Vatican II Catholics who feel betrayed by post-Conciliar developments particularly under the leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
One needs to appreciate the paradox of the authors in both strength and weakness. McDermott’s strength lies in his rich description of a rich history. The limitations of his text find expression in O’Murchu’s appreciation that many spiritual seekers find the tradition to be empty. On the other hand, O’Murchu brings Christian faith to dialogue with modern science as well as the contemporary economic, social, and political concerns of the West. He seeks to engage of post-Modern and post-liberal world. However, one must question the perspective that the divinity of Jesus is of little concern to adult faith; a point which O’Murchu does not even question. McDermott reminds the seeker that adult Christian faith holds a certain faith in Christ.
McDermott puts forth the classical Catholic tradition of spirituality with little attention to, or with a simple dismissal of contemporary questions. O’Murchu puts forth all of the contemporary questions and challenges while rendering a dismissal of the tradition. The authentic seeker should look to both perspectives with the kind of critical analysis that would have enriched both texts. While appreciating the “good value” offered by these authors, those seeking a fuller adult communion with the Holy should embrace the paradox of the search and keep exploring.