Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
‘Let the Great World Spin’ a ‘total delight,’ plus words from Sister Joan Chittister and a vocation story

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 29, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

The book club I am in recently assigned the new novel by Colum McCann, titled Let the Great World Spin. It is published by Random House in softcover at a list price of $15. And boy, is it a memorable book that is heart-breaking and hope-filled. It thoroughly deserves its National Book Award.

Let the Great World Spin is a wonderful mix of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities without the cynicism, added to the Catholic novels of Graham Greene and spiced up with the movie Crash, with much more plausibility.

John Andrew Corrigan and his brother Ciarran grow up in Ireland and both eventually end up in New York City. Corrigan, as he is called from the beginning, is a Francis of Assisi character who tries to live Christianity to its limits. He joins a rather independent Religious community and lives with vows in a “priest-worker” type of life. He is incredibly generous. For example, his apartment is open all hours so the prostitutes on the nearby streets of the Bronx have a place to use a bathroom. He works during the day taking people from a nursing facility on trips throughout the city. There is a life-changing event that involves a terrible accident involving a van and a car driven by two drug-addicted artists who we later see intertwined with the Corrigan brothers.

All this takes place early in the novel. Layered over the 12 or so New Yorkers who are the principal characters is the 1974 tightrope walk of Phillippe Petit between the then-recently-completed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. So Petit walks above New York as we delve deeply into the lives of wounded people below. The novel ends in 2006, so there is a connection with the 9/11 tragedy 27 years later.

Characters from the different stories tend to intersect with other characters. One of the strongest sections is a group of mothers who meet once a month or so after all having lost sons in Vietnam. Rich and poor, black and white; we experience their incredible sufferings of loss and moments of joy. To me it is amazing how an Irish-American author so powerfully portrays an African-American woman whose life connects back to slavery.

A key question of the novel: Can two daughters of an addicted prostitute break through their background and become productive citizens with a leg up? Following just their story shows the power of good and loving deeds done by others changing people’s lives for the good.

Two quotations particularly touched me. In reference to Corrigan: “He told me once that there was no better faith than a wounded faith and sometimes I wonder if that is what he was doing all along – trying to wound his faith in order to test it – and I was just another stone in the way of his God.”

And Gloria, the African-American, in reference to Claire, a wealthy white woman who also lost a son: “People are good or half good or a quarter good and it changes all the time – but even on the best day nobody’s perfect.”

Let the Great World Spin is a total delight to read. Be ready for many a human emotion to be a part of your reading of this book. Who said powerful books of religious themes weren’t being written anymore? Here is one you should not miss.


Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, have teamed up to write a beautiful new spiritual book titled Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is. It is published by Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minn., for a list price in hardcover of $16.95.

The majority of the book is written by Sister Joan, with thoughtful discussion of such topics as Faith, Doubt, Conflict, Death, Darkness, and Peace. Rowan Williams has chapters on Saints, Sinners, Genesis, and Exodus.

Personally I found Sister Joan’s chapters more directly touching my life in story, reflection, and hope. In her section on Doubt I found her summation particularly helpful. She writes: “There is simply a point in life when reason fails to satisfy our awareness of what is clearly unreasonable and clearly real at the same time – like love and self-sacrifice and trust and good. Data does not exist to explain these unexplainable things. Then only the doubt that opens our hearts to what we cannot comprehend, only the doubt that makes us rabidly pursue the truth, only the doubt that moves us beyond complacency, only the doubt that corrects mythologies not worthy of faith can lead us to the purer air of spiritual truth. Then we are ready to move beyond the senses into the mystical, where faith shows us those penetrating truths the eye cannot see.”

Uncommon Gratitude is an excellent book for the season of Easter-Pentecost.


A new large size children’s book by Marguerite B. Wertz and Father Jeffrey F. Kirby of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., titled Becoming Father Bob, has been published by Signa Press of Aiken, S.C. The excellent illustrations are by Alice M. Judd. The hardcover’s list price is $24.95.

The story starts with Bobby waking up for the day of his First Communion. There is quite a family celebration which includes the gift from Mom and Dad of a new puppy, which Bobby names Mickey. We follow Bobby through grade school and his active life which includes baseball, Scouts, school, church and play.

During this time he has Father Stan for a seventh grade religion teacher. Bobby is active as a school crossing guard and involved with baseball and attending school dances. Eventually Bobby hears of the words vocation and discernment. Bobby is confirmed in his diocese toward the end of grade school. He attends high school and leads an active social life. Soon we find him in university. He becomes active at the Catholic student center. He graduates and becomes a math teacher. With the help of his new pastor, Father Jim, Bobby goes to St. Mary Seminary. He is eventually is ordained a priest and is assigned to St. Angela Parish.

Becoming Father Bob would be a fine addition to a Catholic school or parish library.

DVD Review

The Inland Register recently received a DVD of the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The film, directed by Gini Reticker, tells the story of hundreds if not thousands of women of both Christian and Muslim religions, organizing for peace in the African country of Liberia.

Liberia was founded by American slaves in 1847. But in 2003 it was ruled by a brutal warlord, Charles Taylor. The violence involving young boys with guns was tearing the country apart. Other war-lords began a massive civil war that was devastating in its death and destruction.

Women first from a Lutheran Church began a call for silent protests by women. The bringing together of Christian and Muslim women wearing white became a powerful protest. The Liberian women even went in large numbers to a peace conference in Ghana and silently prayed and were always present. After weeks of failed negotiations, the women applied more prayer, dancing, and influence on the male delegates, and eventually peace came to Liberia. Guns were turned in and today the leader of the country is a woman.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell would be excellent for the members of a social justice committee in any parish. The list price is $29.95 and it is available on Netflix.

? (Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and Inland Register archivist.)

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