By Olga M. Segura (Orbis Books, 2021)
Living out our faith should not always be comfortable. If we are truly following Christ, then we will sometimes feel out of place, embarrassed, and deeply insecure.
This is one of the most enduring takeaways from Olga M. Segura’s new book, Birth of a Movement—at least to me as a white Catholic reading her words. If we are to truly challenge the world’s injustices and work toward the Beloved Community that privileges the world’s most vulnerable—as Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis, and the Black Lives Matter movement all teach—then we must be willing to decenter our own experiences and sit in the discomfort that comes with remaking the world.
This book serves as a necessary conversation starter for the Catholic Church’s engagement in racial justice and anti-oppression work amid its legacy of racism and white supremacy. Segura provides a historical overview of the Black Lives Matter movement and deftly connects it with Catholic social teaching—including Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) and liberation theology. Her accessible writing style, connections to her personal experience, and concrete ideas for how the church can better engage in racial justice make this book an important read for Catholics no matter where they are in their anti-oppression work.
Segura paints the picture of a church that gives a voice to those who are often not listened to—young people, Black and brown Catholics, and women—and describes what it would look like if Catholicism prioritized the gifts these groups bring to the table. Underlying her entire book is an important question: Who gets to tell the story of our faith? As long as the answer is the male, mostly white church hierarchy, the church will never be able to create what Segura calls a “more Christ-centered, liberated world.”
By Ethel Rohan (Dzanc Books, 2021)
Ethel Rohan’s new short story collection, In the Event of Contact, begins with a dedication: “For survivors.” Taken with the collection’s title, the dedication serves as a request to readers to proceed with compassion as well as an encouragement to anyone put through life’s wringer. The characters who populate Rohan’s stories, mostly Irish citizens living in their homeland or transplanted to the United States or England, come from a variety of backgrounds and generations, but each carries a heartbreaking vulnerability.
A Dublin-born writer now living in California, Rohan deeply embeds compassion into her work. Her moving 2017 novel, The Weight of Him (St. Martin’s Press), tells the story of an obese father who commits to change after losing a son to suicide. What starts as a somewhat ill-conceived weight loss campaign gives way to a journey through grief and regret to renewed love for community, family, and self.
In her newest work, each story’s narrator has indeed survived something: the loss of a family member or childhood friend, an abusive relationship, a strained marriage, or a sacrificed dream. In one of my favorites, “The Great Blue Open,” a mother who is long used to being taken for granted suffers a health scare that prompts her to finally act on her heart’s desire. (Hint: It has to do with her childhood hero, Amelia Earhart.) In the tearjerker “F Is for Something,” an elderly priest on the verge of being placed in a nursing home struggles with the consequences of memory loss and desperately seeks one last soul to save, some kind of Hail Mary miracle that might keep him from losing his parish and vocation.
Rohan is not a religious writer, but her work is imbued with the empathy of faith, with pain and heartbreak but not cynicism or despair. Her stories of hard-won resilience are welcome reading in these challenging times.
By C. T. Vivian with Steve Fiffer (NewSouth Books, 2021)
This memoir of civil rights activist C. T. Vivian describes his early life and activism, including his work with figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.
By Pope Francis (Paulist Press, 2021)
Through reflections from the apostolic letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart) along with images of St. Joseph, Pope Francis seeks to “increase our love for this great saint.”
By Bill Cain, S.J. (Orbis Books, 2021)
Written by an award-winning screenwriter and with a foreword by Father Greg Boyle, this book provides a first-person retelling of Jesus’ childhood and ministry and offers a new lens through which to understand the gospel.
This article also appears in the June 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 6, page 39). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.