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Book review: “An Irrepressible Hope: Notes from Chicago Catholics,” edited by Claire Bushey

There is a great deal of yearning in the newly published “An Irrepressible Hope: Notes from Chicago Catholics.”

And some bitterness, too. But that is to be expected.

Edited by Claire Bushey and published by ACTA, this book is a collection of 33 essays that, on one level, serves as a sort of primer for the next archbishop of Chicago.

The idea for the book was sparked earlier this year when Cardinal Francis George turned 75 and submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XIV. It was, as George said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “formula almost,” a requirement under Vatican rules.

As the Cardinal indicated, the resignation wasn’t something the Pope was likely to act on for at least two years. But George’s new health concerns — a recurrence of cancer in August — may accelerate the process.

A mirror

On a deeper level, though, the 84-page book has a much broader audience — all Chicago-area Catholics and, indeed, all American Catholics.

The book is a mirror in which the people who make up the church can see themselves. And, maybe, through seeing themselves, they will be able to understand themselves a bit better and have a better sense of how to live out their faith in the 21st century world.

I’m one of the essayists so this review isn’t exactly objective. Yet, I suspect anyone reading this book — even the bitter parts — would come away from it with a sense of the passionate love that the writers have for their faith and for the people with whom they share that belief.

He “ate” the gospel

Msgr. Jack Egan (center)
For instance, Robert Ludwig, a theologian and university professor, writes about Msgr. Jack Egan who was a force for social justice within the archdiocese for much of the 20th century up to his death in 2001.

Jack Egan was a people’s priest and, some in Chicago say, the “people’s bishop.” He lived Vatican II before it ever happened, believing in and empowering the laity as full disciples; performing Catholic social teaching in specific projects to support workers’ rights, racial equality, economic justice and women in the church; befriending and collaborating with religious leaders from all denominations and traditions; and speaking with courage and prophetic eloquence to bishops….

Jack really got the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the line, he must have eaten it.

I knew Jack fairly well myself, and couldn’t help but imagine, as I read Ludwig’s essay, how wonderful it would be for the Chicago archdiocese and for the city and metropolitan area as well to have a new archbishop with Jack’s skills, insights and deep compassion.

A vision of unity

The same sort of ecumenical framework is at the core of the essay by Allen Stryczek who, like me, is a parishioner at St. Gertrude church in the Edgewater neighborhood. With its visionary language and perspective, it reads, in a way, as if it were lifted from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel.

I believe that God wants Chicago to be united in the love of God. I hope and pray that the Catholic church will play a major role in a widespread unifying return to holiness in our urban area…

The Holy Spirit is mightily at work touching hearts and lives so that “igniters” will encourage strong believers — whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or perhaps other faith traditions as well — to share their love of God.

Yearning for change

From the Jefferson Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Far Northwest Side, sixth-grader Mairi Glynn, an altar server and choir member, writes about her shock at an earlier age — eight — to learn that women could not become priests.

This angered her, but didn’t embitter her. Indeed, she writes:

I am going to be twelve soon. I’m still really upset that women can’t do more in the church. Last year during religious education class I found out the reason a woman can’t be a priest or a bishop is because an earlier pope made an edict. Jesus didn’t say it…

If girls couldn’t be altar servers, but now they can, we can still make progress. There are priests who think women could be priests and bishops and cardinals. I think change is going to come someday. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Maybe the best way to think about hope is as a yearning. If I yearn for something, I’m pulled toward it. Pulled forward. Pulled along. Almost against my will.

I like the title “An Irrepressible Hope.”

Recognizing the depth of feeling that is expressed in the faith of these writers, the book could just as well be called “An Irrepressible Yearning.”

Patrick T. Reardon

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