Cover image for Saints and sinners : the American Catholic experience through stories, memoirs, essays, and commentary
Saints and sinners : the American Catholic experience through stories, memoirs, essays, and commentary
Tobin, Greg.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 347 pages ; 25 cm
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BX1406.2 .S25 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Messainic tradition has played an important role in Judeo-Christian culture, but few texts have been as revealing on the subject as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here a renowned biblical scholar explores the seeds of Messianic thought in the Bible, the scrolls and other ancient writings.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Tobin, the Book-of-the-Month-Club's editor in chief, takes on the range of beliefs and attitudes of the 60 million Americans who belong, in some sense, to the nation's largest single religious denomination. The place of the Catholic conscience in politics is examined with excerpts from Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Mario Cuomo, Garry Wills, Sister Helen Prejean, James Carroll, and John Cooney's biography of Cardinal Spellman. In the "Witness and Dissent" section, Tobin includes work by Fulton J. Sheen, Thomas Merton, Andrew M. Greeley, Eugene Kennedy, and Joseph Bernardin. The immigrant and ethnic experience of Catholicism is the subject of selections by Maria Trapp, Mario Puzo, Robert Leckie, Jack Kerouac, and Rudolfo Anaya. Catholic memories are recalled by Mary McCarthy, William F. Buckley Jr., Pete Hamill, John R. Powers, Michael Dorris, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. And a fiction section includes excerpts from such writers as J. F. Powers, Flannery O'Connor, James Leo Herlihy, John Gregory Dunne, Mary Gordon, Jimmy Breslin, and Alice McDermott. A wide-ranging, thought-provoking collection. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Operating from his conviction that American Catholic writers share a niche in American literature similar to Southern or New England writers, Tobin, former editor-in-chief of the Book-of-the-Month Club (now editor-in-chief of Ballantine), has compiled a "tasting menu" of 33 excerpts from books published since World War II. The book is divided into four sections: Politics and Protest, Witness and Dissent, Catholic Memories, Catholic Imagination. Because Tobin heavily emphasizes memoir and fiction, with smatterings of biography and sociology, the collection is a broad sample of American Catholic culture of the recent past. In and around the antilabor war of Cardinal Francis Spellman, the political trials of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and the tortured youthful conscience of writer Doris Kearns Goodwin, readers will encounter a range of perceptions, personalities and paradoxes. The "Catholic Memories" section includes notable reminiscences by luminaries such as Mary McCarthy, William F. Buckley and Garry Wills. Yet Tobin's anthology misses much of the turmoil of late 20th-century Catholicism. There is little more than a whiff here of Vatican II's reforms in liturgy and theology or of contemporary intra-Church battles over women's ordination, married priests and sexual ethics. Some may regret, too, the absence of poetry and the dominance of male views. Nevertheless, in addition to providing a good read, Tobin makes a significant contribution to a small but growing body of work on Catholicism as a category of American culture. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Charity and Conscience From: Loaves and Fishes By Dorothy Day A baby is always born with a loaf of bread under its arm This was the consoling remark my brother's Spanish mother-in-law used to make when a new baby was about to arrive. It is this philosophy which makes it possible for people to endure a life of poverty. "Just give me a chance," I hear people say. "Just let me get my debts paid. Just let me get a few of the things I need and then I'll begin to think of poverty and its rewards. Meanwhile, I've had nothing but." But these people do not understand the difference between inflicted poverty and voluntary poverty; between being the victims and the champions of poverty. I prefer to call the one kind destitution, reserving the word poverty for what St. Francis called "Lady Poverty." We know the misery being poor can cause. St. Francis was "the little poor man" and none was more joyful than he; yet Francis began with tears, in fear and trembling, hiding out in a cave from his irate father. He appropriated some of his father's goods (which he considered his rightful inheritance) in order to repair a church and rectory where he meant to live. It was only later that he came to love Lady Poverty. Perhaps kissing the leper was the great step that freed him not only from fastidiousness and a fear of disease but from attachment to worldly goods as well. It is hard to advocate poverty when a visitor tells you how he and his family lived in a basement room and did sweatshop work at night to make ends meet, then how the landlord came in and abused them for not paying promptly his exorbitant rent. It is hard to advocate poverty when the back yard at Chrystie Street still has the furniture piled to one side that was put out on the street in a recent eviction from a tenement next door. How can we say to such people, "Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven," especially when we are living comfortably in a warm house and sitting down to a good table, and are clothed warmly? I had occasion to visit the City Shelter last month, where homeless families are cared for. I sat there for a couple of hours contemplating poverty and destitution in a family. Two of the children were asleep in the parents' arms and four others were sprawling against them. Another young couple were also waiting, the mother pregnant. I did not want to appear to be spying, since all I was there for was the latest news on apartment-finding possibilities for homeless families. So I made myself known to the young man in charge. He apologized for having let me sit there; he'd thought, he explained, that I was "just one of the clients." Sometimes, as in St. Francis's case, freedom from fastidiousness and detachment from worldly things, can be attained in only one step. We would like to think this is often so. And yet the older I get the more I see that life is made up of many steps, and they are very small ones, not giant strides. I have "kissed a leper" not once but twice--consciously--yet I cannot say I am much the better for it. The first time was early one morning on the steps of Precious Blood Church. A woman with cancer of the face was begging (beggars are allowed only in slums), and when I gave her money--which was no sacrifice on my part but merely passing on alms someone had given me--she tried to kiss my hand. The only thing I could do was to kiss her dirty old face with the gaping hole in it where an eye and a nose had been. It sounds like a heroic deed, but it was not. We get used to ugliness so quickly. What we avert our eyes from today can be borne tomorrow when we have learned a little more about love. Nurses know this, and so do mothers. The second time I was refusing a bed to a drunken prostitute with a huge, toothless, rouged mouth, a nightmare of a mouth. She had been raising a disturbance in the house. I kept remembering how St. Therese of Lisieux said that when you had to say no, when you had to refuse anyone anything, you could at least do it so that the person went away a bit happier. I had to deny this woman a bed, and when she asked me to kiss her I did, and it was a loathsome thing, the way she did it. It was scarcely a mark of normal human affection. We suffer these things and they fade from memory. But daily, hourly, to give up our own possessions and especially to subordinate our own impulses and wishes to others--these are hard, hard things; and I don't think they ever get any easier. You can strip yourself, you can be stripped, but still you will reach out like an octopus to seek your own comfort, your untroubled time, your ease, your refreshment. It may mean books or music--the gratification of the inner senses--or it may mean food and drink, coffee and cigarettes. The one kind of giving up is no easier than the other. Occasionally--often after reading the life of such a saint as Benedict Joseph Labre--we start thinking about poverty, about going out alone, living with the destitute, sleeping on park benches or in the City Shelter, living in churches, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament as we see so many doing who come from the municipal lodging house or the Salvation Army around the corner. And when such thoughts come on warm spring days, when children are playing in the park and it is good to be out on the city streets, we know that we are only deceiving ourselves: for we are only dreaming of a form of luxury. What we want is the warm sun, and rest, and time to think and read, and freedom from the people who press in on us from early morning until late at night. No, it is not simple, this business of poverty. Over and over again in the history of the Church the saints have emphasized voluntary poverty. Every religious community, begun in poverty and incredible hardship, but with a joyful acceptance of hardship by the rank-and-file priests, brothers, monks, or nuns who gave their youth and energy to good works, soon began to "thrive." Property was extended until holdings and buildings accumulated; and, although there is still individual poverty in the community, there is corporate wealth. It is hard to remain poor. One way to keep poor is not to accept money which comes from defrauding the poor. Here is a story of St. Ignatius of Sardinia, a Capuchin recently canonized. Ignatius used to go out from his monastery with a sack to beg from the people of the town, but he would never go to a certain merchant who had built his fortune by defrauding the poor. Franchine, the rich man, fumed every time the saint passed his door. His concern, however, was not the loss of the opportunity to give alms but fear of public opinion. He complained at the friary, whereupon the Father Guardian ordered St. Ignatius to beg from the merchant the next time he went out. "Very well," said Ignatius obediently. "If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor." The merchant received Ignatius with great flattery and gave him generous alms, asking him to come again in the future. But, as Ignatius was leaving the house with his sack on his shoulder, drops of blood began oozing from the sack. They trickled down on Franchine's doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went a trail of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian's feet. "Here," Ignatius said, "is the blood of the poor." This story appeared in the last column written by a great Catholic layman, a worker for social justice, F. P. Kenkel, editor of Social Justice Review in St. Louis (and always a friend of Peter Maurin's). Mr. Kenkel's comment was that the universal crisis in the world today was created by love of money. "The Far East and the Near East [and he might have said all Latin America and Africa also] together constitute a great sack from which blood is oozing. The flow will not stop as long as our interests in these people are dominated largely by financial and economic considerations." This and other facts seem to me to point more strongly than ever to the importance of voluntary poverty today. At least we can avoid being comfortable through the exploitation of others. And at least we can avoid physical wealth as the result of a war economy. There may be ever-improving standards of living in the United States, with every worker eventually owning his own home and driving his own car; but our whole modern economy is based on preparation for war, and this surely is one of the great arguments for poverty in our time. If the comfort one achieves results in the death of millions in the future, then that comfort shall be duly paid for. Indeed, to be literal, contributing to the war (misnamed "defense") effort is very difficult to avoid. If you work in a textile mill making cloth, or in a factory making dungarees or blankets, your work is still tied up with war. If you raise food or irrigate the land to raise food, you may be feeding troops or liberating others to serve as troops. If you ride a bus you are paying taxes. Whatever you buy is taxed, so that you are, in effect, helping to support the state's preparations for war exactly to the extent of your attachment to worldly things of whatever kind. The act and spirit of giving are the best counter to the evil forces in the world today, and giving liberates the individual not only spiritually but materially. For, in a world enslaved through installment buying and mortgages, the only way to live in any true security is to live so close to the bottom that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose. And in a world of hates and fears, we can look to Peter Maurin's words for the liberation that love brings: "Voluntary poverty is the answer. We cannot see our brother in need without stripping ourselves. It is the only way we have of showing our love." "Precarity," or precariousness, is an essential element in true voluntary poverty, a saintly French Canadian priest from Martinique has written us. "True poverty is rare," he writes. "Nowadays religious communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, they admit, poverty on principle, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fire-proof. Precarity is everywhere rejected, and precarity is an essential element of poverty. This has been forgotten. Here in our monastery we have precarity in everything except the Church. "These last days our refectory was near collapsing. We have put several supplementary beams in place and thus it will last maybe two or three years more. Some day it will fall on our heads and that will be funny. Precarity enables us better to help the poor. When a community is always building and enlarging and embellishing, which is good in itself, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do so as long as there are slums and breadlines anywhere." People ask, How does property fit in? Does one have a right to private property? St. Thomas Aquinas said that a certain amount of goods is necessary to live a good life. Eric Gill said that property is "proper" to man. Recent Popes have written at length how justice rather than charity should be sought for the worker. Unions still fight for better wages and hours, though I have come more and more to feel that in itself is not the answer, in view of such factors as the steadily rising cost of living and dependence on war production. Our experiences at the Catholic Worker have taught us much about the working of poverty, precarity, and destitution. We go from day to day on these principles. After thirty years we still have our poverty, but very little destitution. I am afraid, alas, our standards are higher than they used to be. This is partly due to the war. The young men who came back and resumed work with the Catholic Worker were used to having meat two or three times a day. In the thirties we had it only two or three times a week. Excerpted from Saints and Sinners: The American Catholic Experience Through Stories, Memoirs, Essays and Commentary by Greg Tobin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Dorothy DayJohn CooneyDaniel BerriganMario M. CuomoGarry WillsJames CarrollHelen PrejeanFulton J. SheenThomas MertonWilliam F. Buckley Jr.Andrew M. GreeleyEugene KennedyJoseph Louis BernardinMaria Augusta TrappMario PuzoJames CarrollRobert LeckieJack KerouacRudolfo AnayaMary McCarthyWilliam F. Buckley Jr.Garry WillsPete HamillJohn R. PowersMichael DorrisDoris Kearns GoodwinHenry Morton RobinsonJ. F. PowersFlannery O'ConnorJames Leo HerlihyJohn Gregory DunneMary GordonJimmy BreslinAlice McDermott
Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Saints and Sinnersp. xi
Part I Politics and Protest--The Catholic Conscience
Introductionp. 3
Charity and Conscience (from: Loaves and Fishes)p. 8
Cardinal Spellman and the Gravediggers' Strike (from: The American Pope: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman)p. 16
Lights On in the House of the Dead (from: Lights On in the House of the Dead)p. 25
The Campaign for Governor (from: Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo)p. 30
The Case of Mario Cuomo (from: Under God: Religion and American Politics)p. 36
A Priest Forever (from: An American Requiem)p. 48
Prayer for the Dead (from: Dead Man Walking)p. 56
Part II Witness and Dissent--American, Catholic, and Intellectual
Introductionp. 63
The Philosophy of Anxiety (from: Peace of Soul)p. 67
Conquistador, Tourist, and Indian (from "A Letter to Pablo Antonio Uadra Concerning Giants")p. 79
Religion at Yale (from: God and Man at Yale)p. 85
The Persistence of Community (from: The Persistence of Religion)p. 95
The Two Cultures of American Catholicism (from: Tomorrow's Catholics/Yesterday's Church)p. 106
Facing False Charges (from: The Gift of Peace)p. 122
Part III In The New World--Immigrant and Ethnic Experiences
Introductionp. 135
Ellis Island (from: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers)p. 138
Penance (from: The Godfather)p. 149
Anarchy in Boston (from: Mortal Friends)p. 155
Thursday Night at the Rectory (from: Ordained)p. 175
Visions of Gerard (from: Visions of Gerard)p. 185
The Power to Heal (from: Bless Me, Ultima)p. 196
Part IV Interior Lives--Catholic Memories
Introductionp. 203
How I Grew (from: How I Grew)p. 205
On the Special Blessings, and Problems, of Catholics (from: Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith)p. 217
Memories of a Catholic Boyhood (from: Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy, and Radical Religion)p. 228
Confession (from: A Drinking Life)p. 237
Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? (from: Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?)p. 241
Martyrsp. 251
The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Catholic Church (from: Wait Till Next Year)p. 254
Part V Faith and Fantasy--A Catholic Imagination
Introductionp. 265
The Curate (from: The Cardinal)p. 268
The Presence of Grace (from: The Presence of Grace)p. 272
Wise Blood (from: Wise Blood)p. 291
Mr. O'Daniel (from: Midnight Cowboy)p. 300
True Confessions (from: True Confessions)p. 306
Cyprian (from: The Company of Women)p. 316
Hungover (from: Table Money)p. 326
Nuptials (from: At Weddings and Wakes)p. 333
Sources and Permissionsp. 345