July Journal, Sixth Sunday after Trinity

This last week I’ve been attending the St. Joseph of Arimathea Seminary (SJATC) residential summer session weekday noon Masses, in Berkeley, at our St. Joseph’s Chapel, open to the public. Each Mass is celebrated by a different priest, and yet the liturgies are the same. The result is a colorful, fascinating, and enriching experience of the Holy Eucharist.

The long wooden benches are lined up against the side walls, as in a chancel where the seminarians sing facing one another in monastic fashion, as in the old abbeys. The acoustics in this barrel-vaulted space are excellent, allowing for chanting, singing of the Mass, and thundering organ.

The sun slants in through clerestory windows high above and there are moments when the crucifix is lightened as the sun travels through the skies. The tiled floor gleams and shimmers, reflecting the movement around the altar and the kneeling of the worshipers. Abp. Robert Morse (1923-2015) of blessed memory oversaw the building of this chapel on the corner of Bowditch and Durant in the 1970’s and was wise, considering all the turmoil then, and now today, not to have street level windows. Those church windows that were street-level in those days were often destroyed by rioters, and the parishes forced to rebuild.

While the chapel was designed as a chancel without a nave that would seat a congregation, even so, a small parish assembles here on Sundays, and we often set up folding chairs, turning the choir space into a small nave. But it is good to see the chancel return to its original purpose, even if only for two weeks.

And so we sang praises to God all week and received His Real Presence, again and again, in the consecrated elements of bread and wine, to fortify our souls, our minds, our bodies. Daily Mass draws you deeper into Our Lord’s love, His compassion for his people, and opens your eyes to those around you in a new way. The Mass says, “He in us and we in Him.” And so it is, and is compounded each day, so that by the end of the week, we have been enriched beyond measure.

On the weekend between the two weeks, today, the clergy and seminarians are assigned various churches in the Bay Area to assist in the Holy Liturgy. When our Bp. Ashman is here he often confirms at St. Peter’s Parish, Oakland, our sister parish in the East Bay. And so I attended St. Peter’s today, and witnessed the glorious descent of the Holy Spirit upon the confirmand, the joyous hymns, the majestic processions, all a part of reaching for the Eternal on Earth, reaching for the resurrection of Christ and thus, of our own bodies and souls.

In our parishes of traditional Anglicans (Anglican Province of Christ the King) we face the altar, and we honor Our Lord with music that transcends time, going back to St. Ambrose of the fourth century. Our hymnal is a poetic treasury of history, a history of the love of God expressed in song.

I stepped out of the week, down the steps of St. Peter’s, a bit giddy, not on wine, but on the love of Christ for us, that our Creator has blessed us so abundantly with His own Presence, His own Holy Spirit, so that one day we will appear before the throne of God the Father, in judgment, defended by Our Lord Jesus. One day we will be together again, all those who went before us and after us, bound by the love of God, gathered together at the river that runs by the throne. I’m hoping for a place in the heavenly choir or at least near them to hear them sing. But I’ll be happy just being there. It will be magnificent.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to another week of noon Holy Eucharists at St. Joseph’s.

For videos of the processional and recessional of the St. Peter’s Confirmation today, please visit our Facebook page, St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel.

July Journal: Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Our university chapel near UC Berkeley, St. Joseph’s, on the corner of Durant and Bowditch, is looking forward to hosting two weeks of our Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) Seminary Summer Session, beginning tomorrow. One of the students had already arrived and helped us out with this morning’s liturgy.

With the exaggerated pandemic scare, the annual residential summer session for this online program was cancelled, and we have not had a summer session since 2019, so it is with particular joy that we look forward to assembling in person once again.

While I don’t attend the classes due to other commitments, I try and go to the weekday noon Mass, open to the public at 12:15, as often as possible. To see the seminarians and deacons and priests and bishops sing the liturgy together is richly rewarding. Some of the students are testing their vocations and haven’t decided whether God is calling them to this form of discipleship. Some are middle aged, retired from secular careers. Some are young. But all enter the vaulted domed chapel knowing it is sacred ground.

We have a history with the chapel going back to 1974 when the first shovel entered the ground to build this unique church. 1976 is the date of the consecration to St. Joseph of Arimathea, the Apostle to England. Scripture tells us he is the rich man who gave his tomb for the body of Christ. He helped bury him. Legend tells us that he received the Holy Grail from Christ, the cup of the Last Supper before his death. As a tin merchant he traveled to the southern coast of France, worked his way up to the Channel and into the marshy coast of England. He planted his staff where he chose to evangelize, Glastonbury, and the staff flowered. There are other marvel-ous tales about St. Joseph, and today you can see the outline of a cathedral in the tall grasses.

 You can climb up to Glastonbury Tor and see the surrounding countryside. I wrote about Glastonbury and St. Joseph in my third novel of a pilgrimage trilogy, Inheritance (OakTara 2009). We have visited many times and been entranced with the sacredness of the place even today. The book cover is the view from the Tor.

And so our little chapel in Berkeley is an Anglican chapel seeking to evangelize the West all over again, since in many ways it has lost it’s compass. Speech is cancelled. Parents are branded terrorists. Churches are set on fire. Civil civilization seems a thing of the past, and now even the past is cancelled to create a new truth, a new “narrative,” an indoctrination of our young.

I have read and am told by a brave and honest pediatrician I respect that children are being torn from their families, programmed in woke schools, essentially setting the children against their parents. When the parents object the parents are branded domestic terrorists. She has offered her own expertise in testifying, should these parents go to court to defend their rights. She is Dr. Monique Robles and her recent post about being a medical expert witness can be found on her blog.

Our culture has reached a new low. As an early Baby Boomer (born 1947) I recall the riots in the Bay Area in the sixties. This is far worse. For the Woke have swallowed our institutions of freedom: free and fair elections, a free press, an honest academia, an impartial judiciary, equality under the law, respect for police and other enforcement, the teaching of the past to understand the present, particularly in terms of national history and pride in country, and borders defining our nation.

And so it was with a deep sigh of thankfulness that I listened this morning to our priest speak of St. Peter and how Our Lord formed him into a true and strong and faithful apostle, one that would bear the Great Commission (Go into all the lands…). We know it took some forming, this fisherman who was told to catch a different kind of fish. We know the stories of Peter, and there are many in Scripture, how Christ tested his faith and his stamina, again and again, until he was forged in the fire of God’s love. He had a big heart, and this heart became sanctified with this forging. Our seminary seeks to do the same, forging priests who can bear their times, teach to their times, sanctify their times, the age to which they are called. The chapel welcomes others as well, parishioners, worshipers of all ages, some students for a short time come to us, some local residents attend, yearning to touch the holy.

We are small in numbers compared with the mainline churches, but the smallness keeps us humble, and one could say, more intimate and endearing. We know we are needed, every one of us, in this great mission, this co-mission, to spread the net of love over our land and bring in souls to sanctify. For Peter did this, our priest said today, he spread his net of love, and the net keeps growing, held firmly by Our Lord and his people.

Welcome, St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Seminary! Welcome to St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel.

APCK Seminary Summer Session, July 18-29, 2022

Weekday liturgies open to the public: Morning Prayer, 9:00 a.m.; Noon Mass, 12:15 p.m.; Evensong, 5:15 p.m. All welcome.

Life Lived Fully

Reaching for the Resurrection, A Pastoral Bioethics: Essays on Loneliness, Aloneness, Euthanasia, Meaning, Anorexia, Brain Death, Conversion, and the Death and Resurrection of Christ by Francis Etheredge (St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, 2022) 145 pp.

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland

Francis Etheredge begins by considering his title: “We are reaching for the resurrection because, in all humility, we are in front of human freedom and the mystery of God’s dialogue with us in His word and in our prayers… the dialogue that leads to life, whether life lived fully here (cf. Jn 10:10) or the fullness of eternal life” (14). And so we enter the conversation as well, listening and learning.

Human freedom allows suffering, and yet God is with us in that freedom and in those sufferings. So we reach for Christ in His sufferings, for they not only inform our sufferings, giving them meaning and purpose, but transform them, allowing transcendence. By realizing that even our death informs our life, we reach with “outstretched gratitude” to meet the Lord of Life. Celebrating life, we look forward to seeing those who have gone before, and “accompanied by our guardian angel we come into the presence of the all enflaming God” (22).

Most of us have been touched by suffering. Francis Etheredge helps us reason our way through the woods of who and what we are as human beings, created by a loving God. The author knows suffering too, in the past without meaning and purpose, at one time suicidal. God reached for him and touched him through a picture of Christ’s Holy Face (the shroud of Turin) and later through Christ’s crucifix. In time, he began to see how faith and reason, religion and science, were complementary to one another, indeed, elucidated one another. His conversion to Christianity was a resurrection to new life, and he entered the mystery of God’s dialogue with us, in His word and our prayers. He invites us to do the same, to enter the mystery of life and of suffering.

For while freedom allows sin, and sin causes suffering, there is hope: “God created everything out of nothing so He can make a new beginning for the sinner” (36). God enters our humanity, our very flesh, because he is Creator of all, for “as He is true God and true man He is… the living intersection of all relationships: both with God and with the whole of creation” (65) (italics mine).

And so we see that both physical and mental illness is often caused by a lack of meaning and purpose. Yet when we reach for Christ, we can live life fully with meaningful purpose. We embrace life, all human life created by Him and loved by Him, from life in the womb to life in Eternity. Physical death becomes part of the great arc of life, another kind of living in another time and space, what we are meant to become.

I came of age in the mid ‘sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area, when the cult of self, drugs, and sex entered mainstream culture, a culture divided by Vietnam War protests and UC Berkeley riots. So-called science and well-intended feminism gave us the birth control pill which led to the celebration of promiscuity and the disintegration of the family. As women, we were told to be thin, indeed social-pressured to be thin, which led to anorexia, the anti-life starving of women and girls. We were objectified, told to have multiple partners with meaningless hookups. We were mere flesh to be used and to use others. Feminism gave men a gift some cherish today, easy sex and legal abortion and no responsibility. We were told motherhood was for simpletons and careers for the bright ones with purpose. This cult of lies spanned decades to the present day, erasing God, mocking authority, celebrating deviancy, and raising generations of loners who express despair by shooting innocents in churches, temples, schools, theaters, and parades. Our cities have become scenes of riots and burnings.

As I write this, the demonic belly of this amoral cult of death seems obvious, as if I could trace the path of destruction leading to today’s anarchy. But many Christians, myself included, didn’t see the red flags along the way. Etheredge notes that Pope St. Paul VI warned us in 1968 in Humanae Vitae, addressing birth control and its mortal and moral significance to our culture. Looking back, how right he was, and looking back, many of us wish they had been Catholics and avoided the health risks attendant upon hormones and invasive surgery. We watched the culture slip away through books, movies, music, the fine arts, all reflecting and encouraging the cult of self and nihilistic materialism, and pronouncing the death of meaning, goodness, truth, and beauty. How can we return to a culture of life amidst the scientific advances that threaten life?

In this volume of bioethics for today, Etheredge calls for scientists to reclaim their consciences, for “the law in us by nature commands whatever conserves human life and opposes death” (149). He asks, “where is the judgment of others about his [the scientist’s] conduct?” (52). He warns that “society imperils itself as it departs from the heart of morality: that good is to be pursued and evil avoided… so the law in us by nature commands whatever conserves human life and opposes death” (187).

He questions what doctors call “brain death,” even when a heartbeat is present. We must consider the good of the whole person: physical, mental, spiritual. And what is the scientific definition of life? Life begins, Etheredge affirms, at the moment of fertilization, and this moment of conception entails the unfolding of the whole human person, and all that this means. For we must protect that life, if we are listening to our consciences, our natural moral law.

Insightfully, the author writes that we are a people of relationship. In fact, we were conceived in relationship to our parents and to God who has ensouled us: “Thus, the human loss, whether through miscarriage or abortion, is a suffering in an existing relationship; and, therefore, death entails relationship, just as life does” (64). And we recall that Christ is the living intersection of all relationships.

Conversion is another resurrection, for we are called to live life fully. Our penitence requires a change of heart, for if our suffering is to be purposeful and meaningful, it must be joined to the Cross to be resurrected with Christ. And a change of heart must be “expressed in a change in behaviour” (70). We must sin no more.

Francis Etheredge recounts how he learned to reach for the resurrection, to change, and this account as well as his professional credentials gives authenticity to these beautifully written meditations on the mystery of freedom and God’s dialogue with us in His word and our prayers. Even so, he warns that “it is not automatic that the door of Christ’s suffering opens so that we begin to discover the significance of our own suffering too; indeed, it has taken many years of listening to His word and understanding that it both uncovers who we are and who He is” (78).

The seven chapters and epilogue weave similar themes together to create a work that is good, true, and beautiful, a seamless robe of many colors. This is the way with truth. It is reaffirmed again and again in varying accounts of human life. And the truth of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, and what that means for us in this dialogue of love, answer profound questions we ignore to our peril.

Highly recommended for book discussion groups, schools, and parishes.

Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of 11, 3 of whom are in heaven, is author of 13 books on Amazon. He holds a BA Div, an MA in Catholic Theology, a PGC in Biblical Studies, a PGC in Higher Education, and an MA in Marriage and Family. Visit him at LinkedIn and En Route Books and Media.  

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, freedom, and the sanctity of human life. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020), set east of UC Berkeley about a Jewish holocaust survivor who becomes a Christian hermit living in the sandstone caves of Mount Diablo and preaching from the mountainside.

Come, Let Us Reason Together

The Awakening of Jennifer Van Arsdale: A Political Fable For Our Time, by George C. Leef (New York-Nashville: Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press, 2022, 265 pp.) 

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland 

With the silencing of civil debate, many have called for a cultural renewal in the arts. For decades, perhaps half a century, film and fiction have slid into an amoral universe, reinforced by today’s silencing speech and encouraging violence. Perhaps we could converse through storytelling. Perhaps it would be more civil. Perhaps we would listen to one another.

We, who share traditional values, have tried to keep our families and faith communities intact, following our Judeo-Christian ethos and informed conscience. We have watched our world slip down the slope of nihilism, materialism, and self, to the present day. It may be too little too late, this concern for our culture, but a few of us are bravely offering an alternative, if folks wake up in time.

My own seven novels published over the last fifteen years deal with these foundational themes of faith, family, and freedom, the bedrock of our American founding (and the West) and still of vital importance to our survival. The stories, to make a difference, must be set in the present or close future or in a parallel universe to the present. They must warn, educate, and inform. They must be novels of ideas that can be debated respectfully. In a sense I am harkening to Dickens and Dostoevsky, to C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen, but with stories debating today’s crises of conscience and moral law. Melanie Phillips (The Legacy), Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go), P.D. James (Children of Men), and George Orwell (1984) have written such novels, warning us. We need more.

Thus, it is with thanksgiving that I read George C. Leef’s first novel, The Awakening of Jennifer Van Arsdale, A Political Fable For Our Time. The title tells us there is a message. Fables do this, call for our attention. The Woke need to be awakened, for they are sleeping through the reality they are creating, as they burn down civilization and turn the Western world to ash. They, perhaps, do not know what they are doing. Perhaps they are simply pawns in a greater game of evil, or simply totalitarianism.

George Leef’s plot is simple. Progressive journalist Jennifer Van Arsdale interviews retired progressive American President Farnsworth for a biography. All goes well the first day, and they are in friendly agreement with Farnsworth’s policies that were remaking America. But walking through Laguna Beach at the end of her day, Jen is accosted by thugs. Saved by a neighborhood peacekeeper and introduced to others in his circle, she listens to opinions regarding these policies and their devastating effect on local communities. Slightly shaken by these reports, Jen returns to Washington D.C. and interviews a handful of sources by phone, people who knew Farnsworth in the past. Jen is awakening to reality.

But what to do? How can she write this biography? She is, after all, under contract.

The interviews take up most of the novel, and these conversations are handled well by the author, with varying issues raised and backstories rendering believable characters. Each person adds to the picture and to Jen’s awakening.

Two of the conversations are with descendants of immigrants from Poland and Russia, who would not recognize the America they thought was a refuge of freedom and opportunity. They had fled from tyranny – silencing and imprisonment, gulags and forced labor, torture and executions. Was America heading there?

Through these interviews we see the state of the country today, the looting and high crime and homelessness, the censoring and the absence of debate, the criminalizing of language as “hate” speech, the politicized judiciary, the unequal rule of law, the use of impeachment to further power, the “bread and circuses” to sooth the populace, and much more. We see how Stalin’s head of security, Beria, said, “‘Give me the man, and I will find you the crime’” (215).

Would that more novelists step up to the challenge and contribute a few awakening works of fiction. Would that more producers filmed such stories to educate and inform. There are beginnings, and there are signs of this happening, but more must heed the call to write novels of ideas. We are at the end of the day, living in the “remains” of civil civilization, as Ishiguro lamented in The Remains of the Day. It’s time to tell a tale like George Leef’s The Awakening of Jennifer Arnsdale and wake up America.

Will there be a sequel? What happens next? Perhaps George Leef will write one. In the meantime, wake up, America. Please read this book and produce the movie.

Highly recommended for book discussion groups and classroom debate.

George Leef is Director of Editorial Content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He holds a BA from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin and a law degree from Duke. He was a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and director of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until the Pope Center became an independent entity in 2003. Previously he taught economics, law, and logic at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. He has contributed to many journals. This is his first novel.

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, and freedom. Her most recent novels, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020) and The Fire Trail (eLectio, 2016), set in the present in the UC Berkeley area, consider cancel culture and academic freedom.

An Expanding Universe: New Review by Francis Etheredge of Inheritance, a Novel

Inheritance (A Novel), by Christine Sunderland, Waterford, VA 20197: OakTara Publications, 2009, 290 pages and additional notes.

Reviewed by Francis Etheredge

“The gentleness of truth” (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 1)

Will this book get a hearing? When the volume is turned up, what happens to that ‘still small voice’ of God (1 Kings, 19: 12) which, nevertheless, is striving to be heard? What happens to the gentleness of truth that has its own power of persuasion and passion for life?

It is truly outrageous what can happen to a woman. There are unforgettably graphic images of a woman suffering from a crude attempt at an abortion; and, in a sense, these are rightly unforgettable. We do not want our sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, nieces, friends or indeed any woman to go through this! But why, in view of the graphic nature of what happens to a woman, is there no perception of what is happening to the child? A clump of cells is not a child. From conception, which means a beginning, an embryonic person increasingly makes visible the boy or girl from present from the first instant of fertilization; but then the person goes on unfolding as he or she discovers interests, talents and the ongoing relationships which, already, have spread from the immediate family to doctors and nurses and well-wishers. If the world could see what happens in an abortion would it cry out? In 1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights included the right to life – but only Germany has enacted a law embodying this protection in the 1990 “Embryo Protection Act”. Where and when will the gentle truth of conception being an irrevocable beginning get a hearing?

“Taking the time to ‘be with child‘”

As we will see in this, the third book on pilgrimage, we discover that the whole trilogy is like an expanding universe: the characters travel from a specific starting point and, as a kind of law of love, they are turned inside out; indeed, maybe it is in the nature of a journey into God and His Church that our reason for seeking God turns into a reason to help others. In other words, taking the three books as a whole, there is a wonderful expansion of the central characters who, as they are drawn into the drama of life, engage more and more with the needs of the most vulnerable people that they meet.

Christine Sunderland is sparing when it comes to detailing what suffering people have gone through – but gone through suffering they have and, indeed, are still going through suffering, for it always has an aftermath, which is very much a part of the book’s account of what suffering is. So the tragic loss of Madeleine’s daughter and her own inability to conceive a child with Jack, is transformed in the course of the trilogy’s exploration of the needs of a wide range of how children can be helped.

On the other hand, she does give us a multifaceted point of view, going from person to person, situation to situation, giving a variety of experiences, opening all the while the hope that help helps what we are going through to go beyond the pain to the purpose which makes the pain blossom. We need the presence of others, just as we need the help of God, to turn us into life when the temptation is all too present to end it.

There is, too, a liturgical structure to the book wherein what we experience turns out to be a lived, liturgical passage through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This “entering” into the life of Christ is as real for us as it was for Christ; however, just as His suffering took man, male and female, into His heart, so sharing our suffering with Him enables us to take to heart what is happening to others. Indeed, like breathing, unless we pray, our expanding universe is going to contract; but, if we pray, there is the possibility that our expansion, even if it is slowed, will continue.

“Vulnerability”

At the same time, however, as the books progress, we hear the heart-rending stories of a number of people, some of whom hide, as it were, the hurt and suffering they have been through. Others, however, open their hearts and make known what has happened in their lives and, by implication, how God has helped them to love. A Christian monk, in the hope of helping prisoners with whom, briefly, he shares a cell, opens his heart to them and tells of what he went through in his childhood. The whole scene is beautiful, one of many, but this is particularly due to the fact that the two men to whom he speaks, respond so well:

The burly one laid his thick hand on Cristoforo’s shoulder. The lad tapped the friar’s arm. Cristoforo’s tears fell onto the cement floor [of their cell] as he wept, he sensed he had fallen into a pool of love, a pool that would wash him clean. (p. 282).

The author, Christine Sunderland, then, expresses both development and imperfections in her central characters, increasing their credibility while, in addition, there are surprising changes of heart and, in a sense, there is no one too rich or too poor to be helped and to be helpful. So we move in a very plausible world even if, sometimes, it seems as if the power of a hardened heart is overwhelming, like a reckless driver racing up onto the pavement and through people’s lives as if indifferent to the possibility of their injury or death, all the while pushing forward a personality that seems to be as psychologically brutal what is both denied and unaddressed is serious. What is more, what takes over is a kind of protective pride – not of people’s vulnerability but of the very image that it is possible to project: the image of being untouched by personal suffering, all the while engaged in a “cause” and a social position that somehow signifies the opposite.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes, 3)

At different times, however, the people whose lives we particularly share, albeit for a while, pass through a variety of “moments”, which includes breaking down, where breaking down is more about being remoulded than disintegrating. The reader shares this experience, powerfully, being moved to tears; indeed, for some of us, who swore ourselves to silence as we suffered growing up, this is a trembling experience of accepting a vulnerability we once rejected. But maybe this is the point: that we cannot be humanized by what we experience if we do not let it undo the proud demeanour which is really a kind of armour; but what, in the end, are we defending ourselves from – for there is either suffering or suffering! There is the suffering that shuts us off from others, like strangling the desire to say what we are going through or there is the suffering which enables us to share the suffering of others and to “be with them”.

“An inheritance entails history”

Throughout the three novels, there are various accounts of the history of Christianity in each country which serves a variety of functions, rooting the reader in specific sites and their spiritual significance, giving credibility to the title of history professor – but also situating Christianity in its local and global dimensions. At the same time as there is a variety of denominational “passages” that the characters come from and go through, there remains a question in the mind of the reader: Why do the main characters “stop”, as it were, at Anglo-Catholicism when, gradually, they have come upon a Catholic inheritance that yet remains, to a degree, distant and unassimilated? Thus the reader has the impression of an ongoing journey that, in a hidden way, is diverted from reaching its goal. So, in one sense, there could be a late sequel to this trilogy where, both by going back to the origins of Christianity – the central characters would go forward to Rome. Will Christine Sunderland write that sequel or does the reader, from whatever denomination he or she comes, or none, determine that there is a home beyond the guest house, as it were, in the presence of which we constantly live but which, as yet, the threshold is a step too far.

So I hope you begin at the beginning, both with the trilogy on pilgrimage – but also with the recognition of the reality of your own life; and, therefore, I encourage you to identify with one of the main characters and to journey with them moving across, as it were, if another character opens up another aspect of your life. But, just as we are dynamic, moving in a variety of directions to go forward, so is God leading a history that is yet to be fully inherited – either here or in eternity.

Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of 11, 3 of whom are in heaven, author of 13 books on Amazon, particularly, The ABCQ of Conceiving Conception, Conception: An Icon of the Beginning, and Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration  (all En Route Books and Media).

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning novels about family, faith, freedom, and the sanctity of human life. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020) set in the San Francisco Bay Area.

THE FIRE TRIAL and ANGEL MOUNTAIN: Reviews by Francis Etheredge Posted

I am pleased to announce that the Homiletic and Pastoral Review has published Francis Etheredge’s reviews of my recent novels, The Fire Trail (eLectio, 2016) and Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock/Resource, 2020) in May and July, respectively.

My review of The Prayerful Kiss by Francis Etheredge is now on the HPR site as well in the July Book Reviews listing.

Also, on LinkedIn, click here for a most encouraging introduction to my work by Francis Etheredge, so appreciated! Thank you, Francis, and thank you, David Meconi, SJ, of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, America’s foremost pastoral publication. Since 1900. Highly recommended; browse the many articles and reviews in this excellent publication.

June Journal, Second Sunday after Trinity

Trinity is the long green growing season, the season of life. Our parish altars are draped in green, and our clergy are vested in green, changed only for saints and martyrs and other special feast days. It is fitting, although way beyond due, that the lives of a generation of unborn babies have been saved, will enter our world of oxygen, breathe their first breaths, cry their first cries, and begin their greening, their growing outside the womb. Earlier, they grew inside, fed not by oxygen but by their mother’s life. And now, they are allowed to breathe the air of our world, to live. Already, in just two days, thousands of lives have been saved.

This was a great course reversal for our nation and for the world we influence. This has been a victory for all humanity. And it must be added that this recent Supreme Court ruling did not stop abortion entirely, but bravely allowed we, the people, to decide, state by state, with our vote. For nearly fifty years we have lived with the monstrosity of the Roe v. Wade decision that said there was a right to abortion. It has been a great shame and stain upon our nation, and the violence condoned and even celebrated over these years has only encouraged more violence. For if the least of our people, the most innocent, are not protected, no one is protected.

We have seen this violence grow year by year since 1973. Those lucky enough to be chosen to be born in these years have grown up with the culture telling them that life has no meaning. They grew up, these chosen ones, surrounded by death, listening to the creed of self that silenced other creeds, other speech. This creed of self shouted through screens, from rooftops and public squares, hate expressed with automatic rifles. For without meaning, without love, nothing makes sense. Without God, there is no right and wrong, no true authority.

Without belief in a loving and revelatory God, the God of Abraham – of Jews, Muslims, and Christians – nothing makes sense. Without his loving law written in stone and taught by his Son, anarchy reigns. Without confession, there is no absolution.

And so, as Americans express their opinion on these weighty matters of life and death in state elections in the next few years, we become Solomons, and we pray for Solomon’s wisdom, not to harm these babies. We pray that we recognize those candidates who embrace life, so we can weed the wheat from the chaff.

Other countries seem perplexed by our drama of choice, the extremes we seem act out. But we are many states united in federation. When law is legislated by the courts, especially the federal (national) courts, it bypasses the voter. We as Americans demand a say in these vital issues. We demand that we decide when life begins, when the killing is allowed, and why. Nine justices should not be deciding such things. And so the Supreme Court on Friday said, yes, you may vote on these issues from now on. They moved the decision to the states.

There will be states – such as my own, California – that retain the hideous killing of the unborn. There will be others that honor those innocent lives.

In 1973 (to my knowledge) we did not have the images and science of when life begins. Science has discovered since then many glorious things about our humanity. We can see the first movements in the womb, and we know the full, unique, genetic identity exists at the moment of fertilization, a moment when this new life, new human being is created.

Those who believe in God generally believe in the soul or spirit, and it is at this moment that God “ensouls” this new life, so that the mother, the father, and God have all come together to create this unique, mysterious, miraculous creature we call a human being. For excellent explanations as to how this happens, described so that we laymen can understand, see the work of Francis Etheredge, especially his recently released ABCQ of Conceiving Conception (En Route, 2022), reviewed in these pages.

One would hope and pray that many Americans will examine their views in terms of life and death of the unborn. Many desire peace and go along with the cultural messaging, which has been heavily pro-abortion and highly pressured, even threatening. Perhaps now they might reconsider, consider there are many of us who desire life. They will not be alone.

And we desire life for both mother and child. For the mother who kills must live with the horror of what she has done. We pray for those who have participated in this grisly act, from pressure or fear or career demands. We pray these mothers (and fathers) be healed, so that they can embrace the joy of all creation, all human life.

There will be increased resources for mothers, increased funding and increased care. We will embrace these children; we will embrace these women; we will embrace life. Our Lady Mary taught us how to do this.

It is curious that the President who appointed the justices that overturned this bad law, that allowed a generation to be born, was a rather unconventional troublemaker, according to many. He was a rough and ready cowboy, albeit a New Yorker in a suit, an American true in heart, a maverick outsider who came to town and turned the tables. Those who manned the tables – the real moneychangers – turned on him but he didn’t flinch. He was a lone ranger, a new sheriff in town, a man with a big heart and unfailing courage. He faced the mob daily – the lies, the collusions, the tearing down, the death machine, many in his own party. But he was a bit naïve; he trusted his administration to give sound advice, to support his vision. But he learned the hard way, through experience, that they didn’t like his style.

May God bless President Trump, for he listened to God’s voice, without flinching. Those whose lives he saved will one day see what a momentous moment this has been and will thank him. Ballads will be sung, for history has been made. He has opened doors and let in light. He has welcomed the children, as we are all commanded to do. 

I will never forget a comment made by a friend of my son, sometime in 1990 or so. Born in 1971, he said that he wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t be alive, if he had been conceived a year later. His mother, unmarried, probably would have had an abortion. Why? Because like many she thought that if it was legal, it must be okay. And of course there were no ultrasound images, no genetic discoveries yet. There were only questions as to when life began.

And so I have been singing a Te Deum on and off all weekend, the thanksgiving prayer that St. Ambrose and St. Augustine sang when Augustine emerged from the baptismal pool in the cathedral of Milan. I saw the pool in the crypt many years ago, uncovered by excavations. 

It is a historic time, a moment of great celebration, but it is only a turning point, a place in time where we have taken a new direction as a people. We have given life to many with this court decision. We need to give life to every American conceived in this great nation, the land of the free and most of all, the land of the brave.

Providence and Pilgrimage: New Review by Francis Etheredge of Offerings, a Novel

Offerings (A Novel) by Christine Sunderland, Waterford, VA 20197: OakTara Publications, 2009, 249 pages and additional notes.

Reviewed by Francis Etheredge

“We live like a vine – Entwining and Entwined”

In this second book of Christine Sunderland’s trilogy on pilgrimage, the story builds on the first book but, as written, it could be read without it. In other words, although there are one or two backward glances, as it were, the second book is a sufficiently enthralling read to be enjoyed independently of the first one. However, given that this is the second part of a trilogy, there is both continuity and development of character; but, in addition, there are a multiplicity of new threads which make this a definitely enriched addition to the whole. Therefore, perhaps contradicting myself, let the reader be encouraged to begin at the beginning and start with book one. In general, and in book two, there are a variety of reasons which prompt the characters’ journeys. However, because there is an intermittent link with people who are connected to Christianity, in one way or another, it is as if the principal travellers are bumped, as it were, onto a pilgrimage.

On the one hand, human lives are twining around each other, not in any sense strangling each other so much as finding that growing together, even if there seems to be a different rate of growth between characters, does not separate but supports each of them; and, on the other hand, the wider denominational distance, as between Anglo-Catholics and the Catholic Church seems, at times, like a live electrical coil inducing a current in a wire. In other words, the proximity of the travellers-come-pilgrims to members of the Catholic Church and her mysteries seems to be a positive influence on them.

“Starting Points: Providence and Pilgrimage”

It could be we are going, ostensibly, to find a person who can help us; but, in the course of that search we may discover that, in fact, we need a more radical help. Or we could be the prayer companion of one who does not pray but begins to experience the relationship out of which prayer pours. Or we could be young and unattached and discovering the possibility of a vocation to marry. It is not so much, then, that there is one answer to these questions as that there could be multiple answers, each of which comes to the surface in its own time and needs its own remedy; and, therefore, it is to Christine Sunderland’s credit that she has brought out a number of these threads and shown how, in the end, they weave together different lives and their problems – but all, as it were, in search of the one God who is with us all, at all times (cf. Jn 14: 16-17). While, then, it could be argued that if we are not a Christian how can God be with us, there is also the path to God which each one of us treads, perhaps unknowingly to begin with but, in view of God’s searching for us, it is not so much discovering God as discovering God is with us. So, whether we are a “Sunday Christian” or “too busy” to be about searching for God, perhaps the point is that events in our lives can be, as it were, the stone that we trip over or the rock that we stand on (cf. 1 Pt 2: 7-8).

“Take up your cross and follow me” (cf. Mt 16: 24)

What, then, is a cross? In the case of Jesus Christ, it was the will of His Father that He accept the agony of both the thought (cf. Mt 26: 42) and the reality of His crucifixion at the hands of men, brought about by the ‘father of lies’ (cf. Lk 4: 13) and the weakness of human beings (cf. Jn 19: 12). The cross, then, is a suffering that is not taken away but which we are strengthened to endure (cf. Lk 22: 43).

It could be, then, that we have seriously failed, that we suddenly need an operation, that we have been too driven and too professional to be personable and that we do not even know the history of our family or that we think that we are called to one vocation but events reveal that we are called to another. Whatever it is, then, that comes into our life, God allows it because He is greater than what it is and can bring about a good beyond what we ordinarily experience. Thus Joseph, son of Jacob, who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, in the end rose to prominence in Egypt. When, in the near future, a famine came he was overseeing the solution and not distraught by the problem; and, therefore, when he was finally reconciled to the brothers who rejected him, he was able to say: What ‘you intended against me for evil, God intended for good’ (Gn 50: 20).

So we could say, our sufferings expose our vulnerability, even showing us that we are not invulnerable to temptations to adultery, to suicide, murder or whatever the sin we are tempted to commit. While discovering our vulnerability, like recognizing that black-fly always attacks the stalk or permeable underside of the leaf, we also discover the tempter’s way of stalking our weakness – but more significantly, we discover that we need an event, very often, to turn us out of our routines and to live in view of eternity: of the possibility that we will die one day. Will we have met our Creator before we die or will we be confronted, and possibly affronted, by the presence of a Stranger-Lord who will listen to what is in our heart? Will God find love in us or only an immersion in ourselves?

“Moral or material miracles?”

In the end, just as we are travelling through a modern world of cars, phones and laptops, as well as restaurants and farm life, there are still the poor who need help, people who need operations, but also the different possibilities of healing – whether that of being enabled to live with a disability or an illness or the actual healing of them. Indeed, it is a profound question as to why one person is given the gift of healing, while another is helped by an interior healing, even to the point of recovering or rediscovering the Christian Faith. Thus we are taken through innumerable places, each of which draws on what gave it existence and history, as well as how it is lived in the present and what difference it makes to visit it, even now.

In view, then, of the complexity of our lives, our habitual religious habits or the neglect of the questions which open upon eternity, we cannot possibly foresee all the ways that we are brought, by God, to an encounter, with Him; but, in reality, and this book succeeds supremely well in this, there are so many interconnecting strands that if we needed a contemporary account of the providential love of God, we can begin to find it here, in this trilogy on pilgrimage. I very much look forward to reading the third and final book.

Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of 11, 3 of whom are  in heaven, author of 13 books on Amazon, particularly, The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends: https://enroutebooksandmedia.com/familyonpilgrimage/; and, as a variation on the theme, a more domestic pilgrimage through the Covid-19 lockdown, in Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning novels about family, faith, freedom, and the sanctity of human life. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020) set in the San Francisco Bay Area.

June Journal, First Sunday after Trinity, Octave of Corpus Christi, Father’s Day

We are in the octave of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The celebration falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, marking the end of the seasons of Eastertide, Ascensiontide, and Whitsuntide, a span of rebirth that now continues in the Holy Eucharist. In my fifth novel, The Magdalene Mystery , I included a Corpus Christi procession, the traditional Rome solemnity, processing from the Lateran Basilica to the Basilica of Mary Maggiore. It is a kind of pilgrimage (and part of the ancient pilgrim’s route), praying with one’s feet, the Host in a monstrance on an altar within a canopy, carried reverently in the procession. It is a somber but happy celebration of the Presence of Christ among us and within us, an ongoing feeding in this life that continues the work of rebirth and re-creation and salvation begun in Baptism. 

It is a mystery and miracle, this intersection of time and Eternity, made accessible to those who believe. I can only witness what I have found to be true, that regular reception of Christ in the Holy Eucharist strengthens me, gives me direction for the day, for the week, for my time on Earth. And it is not all my imagining, my conjuring. Something wonderful happens. I am slightly changed with every Mass. I have looked into my heart and confessed my sins; I have been forgiven and cleansed; I have been fed with the Real Presence of Christ; I have sung thanksgivings and glorias; I have been a physical part of Christ’s Body the Church and at the same time allowed Christ’s Presence in the Host to sanctify me, ready me for Eternal Life. Mystery and miracle; repentance and rebirth. Every time.

Today is Father’s Day as well, a time to honor the fathers in our lives, wherever they be. God the Father reached into our world to give us his son. And God the Father created fathers and mothers to have children and celebrate their life and love together as families. Man is fallen, however, and the ideal is not always lived out. Still just as God the Father reached into our time to redeem us, so we reach for the ideals he has given us in this life. And when we fail, we confess, repent, and are reborn to try again. Christ reaches for us and raises us up on our feet again. We have the Ten Commandments as the foundation for morality, and we have Holy Scripture and the Church leading us, teaching us how to love, interpreting Eternity in real time. We are not alone.

And so we are enter the Trinity season, a season of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is a green season of growth, a time to enrich our souls and bodies with the knowledge of God. We recite the ancient creeds that distill this marvelous theology into poetic phrases of jeweled meaning. Behind each word and phrase is a world of words, a library of thought, discoveries made by our Fathers in God, our clergy. We are given this wealth of wonder and in our limited time on earth we try not to squander. We live life with love. We seek the truth and beauty of all creation and sanctify it.

In The Magdalene Mystery, to be re-issued this year by En Route Books and Media, I attempted to create a work that embodied our faith. The characters seek answers in Rome’s churches, through clues in the Apostles Creed, and slowly, praying with their hearts and minds, and yes, their feet, they discover the truth about what happened two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem and in a cave-tomb three days later. They learn what we can know of history and what we have good reason to believe.

Today as I listened to our Father Napier in our Berkeley chapel preach on these many glorious things, he offered an image I will never forget. He said he had considered we might have a Corpus Christi procession in the streets of Berkeley, but he wasn’t sure how such a procession would be received. Then his face glowed as he said quietly, but then, you see, we are all monstrances in the streets of our towns. Christ is in us and we are in Christ, as Scripture said today. When we receive the Bread of Heaven, Christ’s Real Presence, we become living monstrances.

And so Christians walk the earth, carrying Our Lord with them, within them, to love one another.

Drawn Through Time to Eternity

THE FAMILY ON PILGRIMAGEThe Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends (St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, 2018) by Francis Etheredge

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland

The Family on Pilgrimage is a many-layered collection of poetry and prose with its own family of contributors, enriching the reader’s pilgrimage through these pages. Indeed, this book is a pilgrimage into pilgrimages, and while it is said that in a pilgrimage one prays with one’s feet, I prayed with my mind, heart, and soul, as images followed one after the other, signposts along the way.

In this sense we travel with the author to many places – Francis Etheredge’s own suffering past, his redemptive present, and by inference his glorious future:

“Indeed, that the whole of humanity is on a vast passage through the vortex of time to eternity; and, if it is possible, I hope that passing from this life involves passing through the utter reaches of the universe to marvel, once more, at the magnificent splendour of creation before, finally, meeting the Creator.” (17)

Francis Etheredge welcomes us into his family, to pray alongside, our feet stepping in time. Thus, the book is a family of pilgrimages, each with its own tenor and tone. This is not to say that there are no real accounts of the Etheredge family on pilgrimage – to Milan, Cracow, Loreto – as well as accounts from his children – Grace, Teresa, and Peter. In these journeys, we experience the challenges of this family of ten, as they trust God for their needs.

Indeed, we trust God to meet our needs along the way too. We ask Him to meet us where we are, and this prayer focuses us on Him. And so, as “God Leads Through Dead Ends,” He transforms the apparent dead ends into living ends that glorify our Creator and fill us with joy. As we seek God, searching for answers and healing, we see that each day is a pilgrimage from dawn to dusk, listening for His voice in His Word. We see more clearly friends and relations and hear their voices. We are drawn into creation, into life, to breathe in and out the Holy Spirit in our own time.

And yet as Christians our starting point goes back to the Old Testament and, “taking a new beginning in Jesus Christ, continues into the present.” (9) We seek big answers to large questions: the who, what, and why of life. What are my talents? What is my vocation, my purpose? What is the meaning of life, my life? We “journey into the mystery of God and His Word” (18), “into the Lord’s presence,” “breaking and sharing the Word and the Word of the Eucharist.” (19)

I have often reflected that in the parish church, we journey from Baptism at the entry font to Confirmation and Eucharist at the altar. At the end of our journey in time, we cross into Eternity, our coffin carried from outside to inside, up the aisle to the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle. In this pilgrim requiem, the earthly pilgrimage ends and the heavenly one begins.

Such a pilgrimage reflects the love of God, for “we are part of a great exodus: a passing of people from slavery to freedom: from being estranged from others to being fit for friendship: from an unwillingness to live forgiveness to love’s possibility of the gift of eternal life.” (25)

Thus God recreates us, using the experiences in our pilgrimage on earth in time. Francis Etheredge describes how he searched for his vocation, his marriage and family, but he is not “lamenting what did not happen but, rather… reflecting on what does happen: what the Lord in His wisdom is even now permitting to be possible.” (26) Without these decades of searching he would have been a different person and writer.

The Family on Pilgrimage sanctifies the ordinary with the extra-ordinary, our lives with sanctity. We see this in marriage:

“The reality of conversion is not magic… and moves in a mysterious way amidst the warp and weave of actual lives… there is no doubt that the constant help of word, liturgy and community throw light on the ‘everyday’ nature of the Christian Faith and its being lived; and… exposes the truth that Christ is present in marriage in a way that can only be described as constantly turning water into wine.” (cf. Jn 2:5-1) (163)

In this sense our Christian path becomes an ongoing miracle of turning the water of our lives into the wine of sanctity. We are blind but now we see, for Christ tells us, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) What do we see? The truth of our sin, of our need to change course with His help: “God finds us where we are and takes where we cannot go.”

We are embodied words of God, a part of the history of salvation, from the Creation to the end of time. This is the great mystery of being human, a human being, the mystery of being open to life and thus to marriage and children. We are a part of this history, its past, present, and future, the family of God.

And yet radical reformation is sometimes needed. Like the Prodigal Son, extreme measures wake the sinner to his sin and recreate him, giving him hope in this Creator God who recreates from nothing. For God is ever-patient, ever-returning, and just when we are “beneath the waves and time… suddenly His help is understood…” (63) and we learn we are “sinner[s] in need of a saviour.” (86) 

Etheredge speaks of pilgrimages as a time when God commands our full attention, for we are away from the day-to-day distractions of life. I have found this to be true, not only in trips that remove me from my daily life but on a Sunday morning, going to Mass with a pilgrim’s heart, waiting to hear the Word from Him, through the Scripture, through the sermon, through the singing and chants, to hear with my heart what He desires of me, and with this, a further glimpse of who I am meant to be. Just so, a pilgrim may set an hour apart in the evening to pray and listen to God’s voice. It is in the setting apart, the use of our time and attention, that we become pilgrims.

And so in our pilgrimage through life God uses our challenges to complete and recreate each one of us, to become our true selves. It is as if our sufferings are ingredients recreated in glory. We are pilgrims, being drawn through time to eternity, recreated with each step. Every beginning and ending can become bookends for a pilgrim’s prayer, an ongoing invitation to God to be present, to enlighten, to partake in our lives.

Such enlightenment is part of the “vocation of the writer” to speak to today’s culture. As Christ multiplied loaves to feed thousands, He gives writers words to feed thousands, words multiplying when shared. May Etheredge’s words multiply and enlighten our dark, for today our greatest sin is that we are “radically incapable of recognizing the quality of all human beings in the gift of human personhood…”, the right of unborn persons to live.

Pilgrim writers embody words. Just as every life is a growing creation from the moment of conception, with many parts forming the whole, Etheredge cautions that to see ourselves as the potter and not the clay may be a tempting illusion: “What looks to us as a mess and a – wandering all over the place may, in reality, be the indications that our life is being shaped rather more than we are the shaper.” (234) Writers embark on their own pilgrimage, looking to reflect the Maker in their creations, sculpting yet being sculpted.

Yet, Francis Etheredge adds, God gives everyone this creativity through the work they are called to do, and thus writers must ground the truths of God in reality, in the activities of men and women on earth. In this way the family expands into the family of God, the human family in the present day as we step through our lives from conception to death on this earth, and each of us provide the “constant opportunity for God to act in whatever way will bring the good we need.” (243)

And what about the words we choose to use, in writing, in speech? What kind of language will lead us to the true Word? Francis Etheredge closes with this prescient poem:

Bruised or Well-used Words? 

When the heart spikes and the tongue spits 
words through the bashing impact of pain, 
bruised words which disfigure the still discolouring wound, 
– bearing the blunt hurt 
they bludgeon understanding and aggravate grief. 

Left for a while, these prayed, 
aggravated insights evict the venom within, 
becoming middling words, 
like an arrow pulled from the wound, 
too fresh to be anything but singularly painful; 
and yet, the point pulled, 
they start drawing the unforgiving infection: 

the rebellion; the protest; and the vengeful bite. 

Fiction or fact, there is “within and between” 
the truth told in different ways, an exploration, 

now in human history, 

now in an account that goes to places where the heart, 

perhaps too painfully pierced, 

is visited more easily by a stranger to the original experience. 

But well used words, softly saying what hurts but helps, 
alight like butterflies, almost too gently to be noticed, 
trailing evidence of passing into thought the word which 
opens the heart to the Word within the word, 
which knows the words we need 
to hear the truth that heals. (245-6)

Deo Gratias.

 

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Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of 11, 3 of whom are in heaven, is author of 13 books on Amazon. Visit him at LinkedIn and En Route Books and Media

 

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Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, and freedom. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020) about a Christian hermit living in sandstone caves east of San Francisco.