USC Book Club 2011

2011 Reviews

December 2011:

Seeking the Truth of Things: confessions of a (catholic) philosopher

By Al Gini

Review: While certainly not a textbook, Seeking the Truth of Things introduces some of the world’s greatest thinkers and philosophical concepts. Telling stories on the ground rather than from the fabled ivory tower, Al Gini invites the reader to explore deep questions of meaning without the Philosophy 101 prerequisite.

Gini insists that he is a small “c” catholic philosopher, because he wants to be “open to understanding and appreciating all philosophies—not just defending one,” but in each idea explored, it’s clear that he’s guided by the notion that “although human beings are unique individuals, we are communal creatures in need of one another”—a big “C” Catholic principle as well.

—Meghan Murphy-Gill, Associate Editor, U.S. Catholic

ACTA Publications says: Al Gini is a philosopher who writes for real people about things they actually care about: the meaning of work, moral courage, choice, sin, laughter, and leisure. In Seeking the Truth of Things, he explores his lifelong quest for wisdom.

Paperback: $14.95

Available at book stores or from ACTA Publications: 800-397-2282 or shop online at

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

General Book Club guidelines

November 2011:

Focolare: Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States

By Thomas Masters and Amy Uelmen

Review: What does it mean to live a “spirituality of unity”? Thomas Masters and Amy Uelmen suggest the best answer lies not in detailed explanation, but in experience. In Focolare they share the stories of a diverse group of people—beginning with Chiara Lubich and those who first joined her during the bombardment of Trent, Italy in World War II, and followed by American children, young adults, married couples, single women and men, women religious, priests, and bishops, who are all part of the Focolare movement.

Although the stories are as diverse as the individuals, they are also profoundly alike. Each has been transformed by an encounter with Christ and his prayer “that they all may be one.” This is an excellent introduction to the Focolare movement as well as a wonderful resource for reflecting on our own experiences of spirituality and community.

—Rev. John Molyneux, C.M.F., Editor, U.S. Catholic

New City Press says: Everything is renewed: politics and art, school and religion, private life and entertainment. Everything.” With straightforward explanation and engaging personal stories, this book presents the background and life of a movement of the Spirit that has touched thousands of Americans.

Paperback: $16.95

Available at book stores or from New City Press: 800-462-5980 or shop online at

Order now from New City Press.

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

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October 2011:

Streams of Contentment: Lessons I Learned on My Uncle’s Farm

By Robert J. Wicks

Review: The word contentment in the title may not be strong enough to shoulder all of the wise and helpful insights that Robert Wicks has stuffed into this small book. “Life is simpler than we make it,” he says at the outset. Then in 15 brief chapters and a month of five-minutes-a-day reflections, he demonstrates, through stories and self-deprecating humor, how to focus on what’s really important.

Some of his advice is refreshingly counterintuitive: “Stop thinking you are grateful,” “Beware the tyranny of hope.” With abundant common sense, Wicks declares that the true and profound countercultural risk today is “to appreciate who and what is already there in my life.”

—Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, Senior Editor, U.S. Catholic

Ave Maria Press says: In 15 poignant, sometimes humorous, and always instructive lessons, Wicks builds on the insights first developed in Riding the Dragon to demonstrate how contentment is found through simplicity, gratitude, and compassion.

Hardcover: $22.95

Available at book stores or from Ave Maria Press: 800-282-1865 or shop online at

Order now from Ave Maria Press.

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

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September 2011:

The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life

By Joan Chittister

Review: In her new book, The Monastery of the Heart, Erie Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister not only adapts the almost 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict and the lessons she herself has learned in her own monastery to life in the 21st century, along with her community she is attempting to launch a whole new monastically inspired movement for today’s seekers.

The “monasteries without walls” that this book aims to inspire (and which the Erie Benedictine Sisters have since initiated and are accompanying at are “not designed to take people out of the arena of normal human relationships,” writes Chittister, “but to leaven them with a Benedictine view of life.” Regardless of whether the reader wants to join this intriguing “new movement for a new world,” Chittister’s book is a powerful invitation to reflect on, reorient, and live our lives in a more meaningful way.

—Meinrad Scherer-Emunds, Executive Editor, U.S. Catholic

BlueBridge says: Joan Chittister’s powerful spiritual guide is anchored in the ancient Rule of Benedict, but attempts to redefine it for seekers today and invites us to become within ourselves monastics of the heart.

Hardcover: $19.95

Available  at book stores or from BlueBridge: 800-888-4741.

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

General Book Club guidelines

August 2011:

Where the Hell is God?

By Richard Leonard, S.J.
Foreword by James Martin, S.J.

Review: An earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Japan, a child stricken with leukemia: What kind of God would allow such things? Jesuit priest Richard Leonard’s own experience of family tragedy forced him to ask that question. He never discovered the “right” answer, but he knows a bad one when he sees it, and he explores seven of them.

Beginning with the assertion of his first chapter, “God is not out to get us,” Leonard walks us through difficult terrain, both theological and personal, as he explores the interaction of divine will and human suffering, and lets neither God nor humanity off the hook for the pain of our world.

—Bryan Cones, Managing Editor, U.S. Catholic

Paulist Press says: Where the Hell is God? explores how believers can make sense of their Christian faith when confronted with tragedy and suffering.

“One of the best books you will ever read on the spiritual life.” —James Martin, S.J.

Paperback: $17

Available  at book stores or from Paulist Press: 800-218-1903 or shop online at

Order now from Paulist Press.

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

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July 2011:

Waking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us

By Paula D’Arcy

Review: I was distracted when I started to read Waking Up to This Day. I struggled to focus on the words. But soon Paula D’Arcy’s easy prose brought me in and calmed my racing mind. Appropriately, D’Arcy aims to show her readers how to be in the present moment and focus on what is really important in life with this book.

D’Arcy does so through stories and wisdom from a variety of sources. She writes about universal themes, speaking to all who have ever confronted tragedy, change, an unexpected detour, or some other challenge. And her concise chapters not only remind you what matters but also leave you ample time to appreciate it.

—Megan Sweas, Associate Editor, U.S. Catholic

Orbis Books says: Inspiring insights on being awake and aware in good times and bad, and on realizing the grace and goodness that is already ours.

Paperback: $17

Available  at book stores or from Orbis Books: 800-258-5838 or shop online at

General Book Club guidelines

June 2011:

A History of the Popes:From Peter to the Present

By John W. O’Malley, S.J.

Review: “He would have been an ideal pope if he had had the slightest interest in religion,” wrote a 17th-century historian of one of the preceding century’s popes. With a twinkle in his eye, eminent church historian John W. O’Malley, S.J. walks the reader through this dizzying roster: Popes with mistresses and multiple children, who nevertheless lived exemplary lives once they were elected. One pope who had the body of his predecessor dug up, placed on a throne in his robes, and put on trial for various crimes. Popes who condemned kneeling at Mass or the separation of church and state. Popes who stood down communism and popes imprisoned for years on end.

In this whirlwind tour of the corridors of church power, O’Malley also takes care to highlight the saintly figures of various eras who had far more influence on the faith than many popes had.

—Cathy O’Connell-Cahill, Senior Editor, U.S. Catholic

Sheed & Ward says: A History of the Popes tells the story of hte oldest living institution in the Western world—the papacy. From its origins in St. Peter, Jesus’ chief disciple, through Pope Benedict XVI today, the popes have been key players in virtually all of the great dramas of the western world in the last 2,000 years. Rather than describe each pope one by one, the book focuses on the popes that shaped pivotal moments in both church and world history.

Paperback: $18.95

Available  at book stores or from Sheed & Ward (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group): 800-462-6420 or shop online.

General Book Club guidelines

May 2011:

Fifteen Faces of God: A Quest to Know God Through the Parables of Jesus

By Michael Manning

Review: In Fifteen Faces of God, Father Michael Manning contends that the parables are a rich showcase of Jesus’ creative way to show us the “faces of the Father.” In 15 chapters he chooses parables that speak most clearly to him of Jesus’ desire to tell us of God.

A skilled interpreter oft he parables, Manning’s engaging commentary challenged me to see the parables—and God—in new ways. Perhaps more importantly though, the prayers for reflection and the questions for discussion—firmly rooted in today’s reality—helped me slow down and reflect on Gods self-revelation in my own life. This book is a great resource for individual or group theological reflection.

—Father John Molyneux, C.M.F., Editor,  U.S. Catholic

Doubleday Religion says: Fifteen Faces of God is a close and profound look at 15 of the parables taught by Christ to his followers in the New Testament. Unpacking them, manning explores the power and importance of listening, loving, celebrating, giving, forgiving, trusting, and risking, among other characteristics that define the personality of God.

Hardcover: $18

Available at book stores or from Doubleday Religion: 800-733-3000 or shop online.

General Book Club guidelines

April 2011:

The Long Yearning’s End: Stories of Sacrament and Incarnation

By Patrick Hannon

Review: Many a spiritual author writes about finding God in the ordinary rhythm of daily life. Few, however, do so with the ease and lack of pretense of The Long Year’s End. Reading Patrick Hannon’s natural prose is like sitting at the table after dinner, talking quietly with an old friend.

Each of the seven sacraments provides the chapter heading for a trinity of short personal stories that feel familiar, as if they’re our won: waiting for the city pool to open summer mornings, being small and getting lost in a busy place, and working as a teenager at McDonalds. Despite the subtitle, “Stories of Sacrament and Incarnation,” these sacramental accounts are only subtly so; Hannon does not hit the reader over the head with the message that we can find God in the everyday of our personal lives. The discovery of the sacred is up to us.

—Meghan Murphy-Gill, Assistant Editor, U.S. Catholic

ACTA Publications says: In his third collection of tales about God’s grace in everyday life, Patrick Hannon uses the seven sacraments to demonstrate God’s presence in work, family, nursing homes, and ballparks.

Hardcover: $17.95
Paperback: $12.95

Available at book stores or from ACTA Publications: 800-397-2282 or shop online at

Suggested discussion questions from ACTA Publications

General Book Club guidelines

March 2011:

Holding God in My Hands: Personal Encounters with the Divine

By Paul Wilkes

Review: Faithful readers may remember what to me was one of the most moving recent U.S. Catholic stories. In “On Call,” Paul Wilkes, one of today’s best Catholic writers, reflected on his experiences as a hospital eucharistic minister. Wilkes has now expanded those reflections into a wonderful book about what he calls the “serious business” of bringing God in the holy Eucharist to the sick and dying in a hospital.

Following Wilkes on his weekly volunteer rounds, the reader can’t help but be touched by these profound encounters with human suffering, vulnerability, courage, and faith, as well as by the mystery of the healing comfort, grace, love, and redemption available to us all in the divine real presence.

—Meinrad Scherer-Emunds, Executive Editor, U.S. Catholic

Liguori Publications says: Personal stories examining the power of the Eucharist to impart healing grace, spiritual strength, and peace to communicants and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Hardcover: $19.99

Available at book stores or from Liguori Publications: 800-325-9521 or shop online.

Suggested discussion questions from Liguori Publications

General Book Club guidelines

February 2011:

Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed

By Brother David Steindl-Rast

Review: Though many see the Apostles’ Creed as a dry summary of Christian faith, the reflections of Brother David reveal it as a profound prayer arising from the mystery of human faith. Asking of each passage of the creed, “What does this really mean?”; “How do we know this is so?”; and “Why make such a point of this?” he makes a compelling case for the enduring value of Christian faith in a way that is also profoundly open to other religious traditions.

Indeed, Deeper than Words is an invitation to seek the mystery behind the words. “God is the faithfulness at the heart of all things,” he writes, “faith is our response to that faithfulness, and the one word expression of that faith is Amen.” Amen to that.

—Bryan Cones, Managing Editor, U.S. Catholic

Doubleday Religion says: Reverently examining the Apostles’ Creed line by line, Brother David Steindl-Rast finds that its heart is a universal and timeless guide to the fullness of life.

Paperback: $12

Available at book stores or from Doubleday Religion: 800-733-3000 or shop online.

Order now from Doubleday Religion.

General Book Club guidelines

January 2011:

Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25¢ at a time

By Jane Knuth

Review: Jane Knuth brings you into the Kalamazoo, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and introduces you to her “Thrift Store Saints,” but her book is more than hagiography and feel-good stories. The saints in this book—shoppers as well as volunteers and donors—are real and troubled. Knuth is just an ordinary person, too, with a desire for order and cleanliness that cannot be met in a thrift store. Her own hesitations and preconceptions make the book both approachable and inspiring.

Thrift Store Saints is an ideal book to read in a group. It will provoke discussion about poverty and perceptions of the poor, spirituality, the purpose of service, and priorities in our lives and our church. A word of warning: This book might inspire you to service as well.

—Megan Sweas, Associate Editor, U.S. Catholic

Loyola Press says: What happens when a middle-class, suburban, church-going woman reluctantly volunteers to work at a gritty, inner-city thrift store? Discover the surprising answer in Thrift Store Saints!

Paperback: $13.95

Available at book stores or from Loyola Press: 800-621-1008 or shop online.

General Book Club guidelines

The U.S. Catholic Book Club is a collaborative project of U.S. Catholic magazine and the Catholic Book Publishers Association. The titles featured in the U.S. Catholic Book Club are selected each month by the magazine’s editors from submissions by participating book publishers. The publisher provides a paid advertising in U.S. Catholic magazine for the featured book.