Have Courage! Take Risks!: Two new books challenge priests and everyone.

Night Conversations with Cardinal Martiniby Cardinal Carlo M. Martini

Paulist Press. 136p $15.95

Notes From the Undergroundby Donald Cozzens

Orbis Books. 212p $20

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Part of the excitement in those daily homilies Pope Francis has been delivering is that here is the pope saying things many of us have been saying to one another but have seldom if ever heard from the pulpit or read in the diocesan press. On June 20th the pope urged Jesuit journalists to attack hypocrites—intellectuals without talent, ethicists without goodness, bearers of mere museum beauty—wherever found.

I grew up in Trenton, N.J., sitting next to my father, editorial writer for the Trenton Times, at Mass while the pastor, who seems never to have prepared a sermon, snarled against the secular press, as if those words were obscene. And today some blame “threats” to the church on the press. Two days later Francis turned his words toward bishops who consider themselves “princes.” He warned against surrender to “spiritual worldliness,” settling into the comfortable life.

I read these words a week after returning from retreat, where I had read two superb books for priests: Night Conversations With Cardinal Martini: The Relevance of the Church for Tomorrow (Paulist Press. 136p $15.95), dialogues with Georg Sporschill, S.J., in Jerusalem in 2007, and Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journey of a Secular Priest, by the Rev. Donald Cozzens (Orbis. 210p $20). Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, born in 1927, a Jesuit and longtime bishop of Milan, considered for the papacy during the previous election, had foreseen his recent death from Parkinson’s disease and gave several very frank interviews, with the hope that those who loved and admired him during his life would act on the ideas they had discussed.

A few days before he died, he told Father Sporschill that “the church is 200 years behind the times.” Why don’t we rouse ourselves, are we afraid? “The church is tired in affluent Europe and America. Our culture has grown old, our churches are big, our religious houses are empty, the bureaucracy of our churches is growing out of proportion, our liturgies and our vestments are pompous. Yet maybe these things express what we’ve become today.” He urged the pope and bishops to find 12 unconventional people to take on leadership roles, people close to the poor who can galvanize young people to take charge.

The young, he said, had to train for church leadership the same way he and others had trained to climb mountains. They must enter foreign cultures, learn languages, stay fit with both sports and prayer. Cardinal Martini knows and loves young people well, having led thousands in Bible discussions in his cathedral; but he knows their weaknesses too. He worries about “the ones who are trapped in affluence, who are dependent on computers,” and those who are bored, turn to drugs and sit alone in front of the television, who have never been invited to join a community. Some get involved in good works but “lack the courage to make a life decision.” What would he say to them? “Have courage! Take risks! Risk your life!

Both Cardinal Martini and Father Cozzens hold friendship at the center of their lives. Cozzens, a popular author for priests, now a professor at John Carroll University, recalls that he had “power” for a while as diocesan vicar for clergy and seminary rector, and he remembers advice from a fellow priest-psychologist who reminded him that the clergy had two major repressions: sexual desire and ambition. Those who angle for a position must always play it safe. This, he says, “chips away at the priest’s integrity, at his soul.” Most of the hierarchy and priesthood, he says, are not power-hungry men. Still, it is a constant temptation.

All of us will be saved from this destructive pride, he writes early in the book, by intimacy and transcendence; married or single, young or old, we need a few people in our lives with whom we can be “soulmates.” Each of us must have a person or persons for whom we would lay down our lives. And one gains the strength to live celibacy by nourishing this friendship with spiritual reading and prayer.

Cozzens says, “I count myself among those faithful hanging on and hoping for signs of renewal.” And he demonstrates his faith by imagining some reforms emerging from his experience: the pope adds four women to the college of cardinals; a secret committee of theologians and canon lawyers studies the celibacy requirement and concludes it should be required only of those who prayerfully determine that they have this “special gift from God”; the Vatican sponsors an international symposium of moral theologians to review the church’s theology on sexuality.

Father Cozzens pulls it all together with a reading from Carlo Maria Martini’s interview about the church being out of date. “Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”

Correction: In the Bookings published on Feb 13, the prize-winning biography of Henry Luce was attributed to Douglas Brinkley. The author was Alan Brinkley.

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