Margaret A. FARLEY, Changing the Questions. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2015. pp. 352, $30.00. ISBN: 978-1-8028-62698-128-7 (pbk.). Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, University Heights, OH 44118
It is difficult to review any collection of essays, particularly one as rich as this one. Even the introduction spans over twenty-five pages! Drawing from the author’s work of forty years, the book purpose is to introduce the author’s vast corpus to nascent scholars as well as to a general audience−perhaps lured to her writings by the notoriety of the excellent Just Love. It demonstrates the roots of her ideas, their development, and application to concrete issues
Notable if not brand new is Farley’s discussion of feminist thinking. She outlines more clearly than most the dichotomies and congruences of feminist thought with traditional ways of thinking. Often tangled feminist themes are sorted into understandable categories with clarity but not judgement. Human experience and emotion are important. Justice and care are not at war. They are both essential to consideration of moral questions.
There are two sections of the book that merit particular attention. The first is the short series of homilies for Holy Week, delivered over several years. Here the author reveals a depth of spirituality not always relevant in academic writing. At least one of her comments, from a 1985 homily, would prove to be prophetic: “[D]ignity is sustained with and by integrity . . . humiliations cannot destroy us if we remember who we are. . . .”
The second is comprised of two articles, previously unpublished in their current form, which deal with end-of-life issues. In the first Farley does an exhaustive analysis of what she calls “the ‘large’ questions surrounding human freedom in relation to death and to life.” These include the meaning and teleology of personhood as it relates to the non-absolute value of life. This selection is primarily philosophical. The second more practical essay examines the concrete values in conflict when one is faced with difficult choices: to allow natural death or to continue intervention with life-sustaining treatments. The author broadens the discussion from the common either-or thinking that so often impedes good decisions to a multivalent consideration. These two selections should be read−no, venerated−by anyone in pastoral care in a medical setting. While exquisitely sensitive to differing positions both within and outside of Catholic thinking, Farley develops a blueprint for thinking about complicated situations. She does not provide answers. Rather she offers tools. As she notes, answers are proper to concrete situations not to general principles.
Anyone familiar with the author’s work will recognize her thorough and sound methodological thinking. Her measured prose leaves no loose ends; it is woven into a tapestry of fine detail. Her good analysis enriches the reader. It provokes questions and dialogue with the author’s conclusions.Her friends might describe the author as a person of delicate stature. This book shows her rather to be a giant among contemporary thinkers. It would serve as a must read in the undergraduate or graduate classroom and in the office of a pastoral care team. Brava, Margaret!