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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Sun and Moon over Assisi: A Personal Encounter With Francis and Clare by Gerard Thomas Straub (St Anthony Messenger Press) One of the more fulsome accounts of the life of Francis and Claire and the meaning of their mission told as travelogue and confessional by an ex-television producer turned novelist. It is an inspiring account of the Saint’s message as it guided the inward journey of a apostate back into the living mystery of his faith.

As St. Francis is a man for all Ages, This book can be read on so many levels. As a straightforward biography of Sts. Francis and Clare it offers a modern no nonsense rendering of the lives of Assisi's greatest progeny. The chapters on Francis and Clare have a spiritual depth that would enhance the formation and understanding of any inquirer into the lives and spirituality of these two great saints.

Straub's honesty and openness in describing his own personal journey from being an atheist to a believer with a special evangelical vocation, the insightful musings of his Pilgrim's Diary, the history of the churches of Assisi all add up to a tour de force. I believe this book will have a great appeal to the general reader in addition to those with a special love for Franciscan and spiritual themes.

Certain parts of the book radiate incandescently. The rule of synergy states that the "whole is greater than the sum of it's parts." And yet, there are so many "parts" in this book that seem to stand alone in excellence at least equal to the power and depth of the whole. The treatment of Francis' timeless elegy to his God's creations, The Canticle of the Creatures, is truly inspired. The poem's majesty is wonderfully underscored by Staub's personal reflections and those the of other writers are quoted in praise and awe of St. Francis' spiritually poetic genius. In closing his reflection on the canticle with Fr. Eloi Leclerc's The Language of the Soul's Night, Straub poignantly illustrates how St. Francis was as relevant in elevating souls in the rawest and most dire moments of the twentieth century as he was in the past and, most assuredly, will be in the future.

A specific charism of the Franciscan is to be able to shed the layers of meaningless diversions, vanities and preoccupations that restrict us from either confronting or exposing the truths and essential realities of our lives. Straub is able, in the most literary and articulate fashion, to expose his spiritual (human) doubts and shortcomings as he grapples with the profound search for meaning in his life. His "inner life" is shared with the reader in the most intimate terms without apology or embarrassment. I felt privileged to become a part of Straub's journey and reveled in the awareness of how much we humans have in common with each other

 The Prayer of Saint Francis: A Message of Peace for the World Today by Leonardo Boff (Orbis Books) Boff provides demystification of the Prayer of Saint Francis while showing how deeply reflective of scripture and the universal longings of humankind for recognition of our innate dignity.

 Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis of Assisi in an Age of Anxiety by Richard Rohr (St Anthony Messenger Press) Richard Rohr is a modern prophet calling us to change our ways. Rohr paints a critical picture of the prevailing thought, culture and attitudes of the present-day west—which he calls “The Postmodern Opportunity”—including our cultural biases, our embrace of victimhood, our often fearful attitudes toward one another and toward the Church and religion in general. Rohr offers hope in introducing the Franciscan path of transformation, the “new way of being that would change the face of history.”

Rohr describes how following Saint Francis’ way to forgiveness and love, and “owning the darkness,” can bring us out of the postmodern pit in which we find ourselves.

Chapter One: The Postmodern Opportunity
Chapter Two: Beyond Victimhood
Chapter Three: Great Awakenings
Chapter Four: Transformation
Chapter Five: The Cosmic Egg of Meaning
Chapter Six: Getting a Whole New Head
Chapter Seven: Francis of Assisi: Showing the Way Toward Reconstruction
Chapter Eight: What is Your Window on Reality?
Chapter Nine: The Great Chain of Being
Chapter Ten: The Power of Forgiveness
Chapter Eleven: Limits are Good Teachers
Chapter Twelve: Living With Darkness
Chapter Thirteen: Modern Models of Reconstruction

BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON: The Life and Stories of St. Francis by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Peter Malone ($16.95, hardcover, 80 pages, reading level: ages 9-12; Little Brown, ISBN: 0316564664)

In this attractive volume, Mayo tells the legend of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The son of a wealthy merchant, Francis renounced his hopes for chivalrous heroism and life of ease to live simply as Christ had lived, praying and helping others. Besides the story of Francis’ life, the book also includes three long tales and five short ones related to the saint. The volume ends with a poem written and set to music by St. Francis, "The Canticle of Brother Sun," and an account of what happened after his death as his becoming recognized as a Saint It is a highly readable and aesthetically appealing portrait of St. Francis well worth owning.

FRANCIS OF ASSISI: Early Documents : The Saint edited by Francis Works, Regis J. Armstrong and, J. A. Wayne Hellmann ($49.00, hardcover, 744 pages Vol. 1; New City Press; ISBN: 1565481119) PAPERBACK EDITION ISBN: 1565481100

This first volume of a projected 3 volume edition of documents pertaining to the life and order of Saint Francis will easily become the source for all followers of Christ through the inspiration of this timeless saint. It provides the best translations and most recent scholarship on the life and times of the saint.

FRANCIS OF ASSISSI: EARLY DOCUMENTS. VOL. II, THE FOUNDER. Edited by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F. M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., William J. Short, O.F.M. ($49.00, hardcover, Pp. 832 [+11 maps], New City Press, ISBN: 1565481135) PAPERBACK

The second in a projected three-volume series, this well-crafted tome brings together the early sources on Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), arguably one of the most popular saints among Christians and non-Christians alike, shedding light on his role as religious founder. The writings of Francis himself were collected in the first volume, as were the earliest lives of Francis and some liturgical documents. The editors represent the three branches of traditional Franciscanism, and together offer what are as far as I can tell all of the primary sources dealing with the first years of the Order, along with introductions and copious notes. While much of the material is repetitious, what emerges is a portrait of Francis from several different perspectives, not all of them flattering.

The documents collected here represent that period of time in the life of the Order when the followers of Francis were trying to determine how to live the life that he had left them. They show various attempts to interpret his wishes for his followers. Even the different biographies were written with a view toward advancing one or another interpretation of the Franciscan Rule.

Presented in roughly chronological order, the documents show the developing views on Francis and his legacy. The first, The Beginning or Founding of the Order, treats of the development from a group of companions informally gathered around him to the beginnings of what would become the Order of Saint Francis.

The Assisi Compilation, dated 1244-1269, collects personal reminiscences of Francis, and offers a multi-faceted portrait.

In introducing the legends and sermons by Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, the editors show how Bonaventure used the information at his disposal to a certain extent to his own ends. They note that Bonaventure's portrait of Francis became normative for a time, but was later contested.

What results is a fascinating collection of documents illustrating the influence of this great man, and the struggles his followers went through in their attempts to interpret his rule in changing circumstances.

Scripture quotations are put in italics, and the reference supplied in the margin. I did note one mistake: On p. 168, the reference is given as Rv. 4:12, a verse that does not exist. Surely the reference is to one of Paul's epistles.

The editors have critically examined the documents, and indicate where one is dependent on another. The footnotes make reference to varying interpretations of certain passages, and relate the works to earlier Christian writings.

An appendix has eleven maps, some showing the geographical or political features of the area, and two showing Assisi at the time of Francis.

While the critical apparatus make this work especially valuable for scholars, all those interested in Francis of Assisi or the history of Christianity at the time will appreciate having all of these text gathered into a convenient volume.

The Beginning or the Founding of the Order and the Deeds of those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion
The Legend of the Three Companions
The Assisi Compilation
The Remembrance of the Desire of the Soul by Thomas of Celano
The Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano
An Umbrian Choir Legend
A Letter on the Passing of Saint Francis Attributed to Elias of Assisi
The Legends and Sermons about Saint Francis by Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
Related Documents

FRANCIS OF ASSISI’S CANTICLE OF THE CREATURES: A Modern Spiritual Path by Paul Marshall Allen, Joan Deris Allen ($18.95, Continuum Pub Group; ISBN: 0826408761) The Allens provide a link from the traditional spirituality of St. Francis to the postmodern critique that gives rise to the animal rights movement. Both perspectives are deepened thereby, showing just how profoundly radical the ever fresh spirituality is of the Franciscan tradition.

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