Dec 16, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Two books offer information, encouragement on priesthood today


 

NATIONAL

Reviewed by Mitch Finley
Catholic News Service

The Assault on Priesthood: A Biblical and Theological Rejoinder by Lawrence B. Porter. Wipf and Stock (Eugene, Ore., 2013). 366 pp., $34. Letters to My Brothers: Words of Hope and Challenge for Priests by Stephen J. Rossetti. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2013), 180 pp., $15.99.


Father Lawrence B. Porter, author of The Assault on Priesthood, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and a professor in the department of systematic theology in the Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J. In this reviewer's opinion, Father Porter's book should be required reading in all seminaries. All priests and laity who would be better informed about the theology of the ordained priesthood should read this book as well.

Following an introduction in which he lays a solid scriptural and historical foundation, Father Porter responds to challenges to what he calls "the concept and institution of priesthood in the Catholic Church" since the Protestant Reformation and, more recently, from within the Catholic Church itself. He then discusses various images of the priesthood as a way of recovering an understanding of the priesthood that is, simultaneously, biblically and theologically responsible.

As he develops his theological discussion, Father Porter follows a path with which neither exceptionally conservative nor exceptionally liberal Catholics will be entirely happy. Instead, he develops a theology of priesthood that stiff-arms theological ideologies of both the left and the right.

In language that both educated laity and clergy will find enlightening, The Assault on Priesthood proposes a theology of priesthood that learns from the history of religions, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the early church. Father Porter also helps the reader to see how inadequate translations of relevant documents of the Second Vatican Council led to understandings of priesthood that have served the church inadequately in the decades since the council.

This book deserves a wide readership. No matter who you are, no matter if you are Catholic or Protestant, and no matter what your vocation may be, read this book. Of course, in particular if you are a bishop, priest or seminarian, read this book.

In Letters to My Brothers, Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti looks at the priesthood from an entirely different angle. In his introduction to this compact, warm, encouraging collection of letters to his fellow American priests, he recalls a recent statement of Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington that a "tsunami of secularism (is) sweeping across our land."

Msgr. Rossetti wrote the letters in his book, he explains, because it can be particularly painful for priests to live during a time when "entire populations" distance themselves from God. The author writes, he says, "to help prepare (priests) for the trials ahead."

The reader may agree with Cardinal Wuerl's bleak assessment. Or the reader may prefer to take that assessment with a few grains of salt. Regardless, Msgr. Rossetti's letters, while they seem to presume, even encourage, a siege mentality in the American Catholic Church, also do priests the great favor of encouraging them to be men of prayer, and he takes seriously the many challenges with which today's priests must contend.

Letters to My Brothers is a book that will provide priests with some of the affirmation and encouragement that they often do not get enough of today from those they dedicate themselves to serving. Get your parish priest a copy; he'll appreciate it.

  • Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including The Seeker's Guide to Being Catholic (Wipf and Stock).Visit ww.mitchandkathyfinley.com.