not less than everything

This born and bred Protestant found Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience to be a timely and thoroughly engaging anthology. Some profiles were familiar (Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Mary Magdalene, Ignatius of Loyola) but many were not, and the essays whet my curiosity for more.

The thread that unites these historical and contemporary figures is a faith expression that put them at odds with their communities and quite often, Church authority. These diverse portraits of dissent, struggle, courage, and deep faithfulness offer much to challenge and encourage the catholic Church universal. My copy is well marked, and I'm still reflecting on the essays days later, which range from historical profiles to intimate tributes to beloved mentors. In the collection, church history bleeds into narrative, personal devotion, politics, current headlines, social action, parish life, and more than a few dark nights of the soul for the clergy, academics, artists, activists, and faithful profiled within.

"The establishment is always loyal to the very institutionalism of the institution in question. The dissenter is always most loyal  instead to what the institution itself claims to be about" (61). This is the heart of the book and its stories of faith practiced in ways that were perceived as unorthodox (and perhaps even heretical) but were born of deep desire to serve both God and Church wholeheartedly.

One of the most fascinating essays for me was about Bartolome de Las Casas, a priest who served as chaplain during the Spanish conquest of Cuba. The gruesome horrors he witnessed led him to give up his land and slaves, becoming a vocal opponent of the Conquest and critic of his Church that sanctioned it.

Bartolome's belief in human dignity, religious freedom, and evangelism without force were remarkable for his time. The way he opposed unjust political and religious authority, identifying Jesus with the suffering and persecuted resembled twentieth century liberation theology. In fact, Gustavo Gutierrez wrote a book about de Las Casas, attributing much of his own thinking to the sixteenth century friar who said, "I leave in the Indies Jesus Christ, our God, scourged and afflicted and beaten and crucified not once, but thousands of times."

The book also paints a compelling portrait of contemporary Catholics wrestling with Old World theology, current abuse scandals, and a faith at once ancient and timeless. It provides a glimpse into what drives some Catholics away while others remain as solidly committed as ever to the Church and faith, even while finding themselves at odds with ecclesiastical authority.

Not Less Than Everything is a worthy read for history buffs, theology nerds, progressive (and other) Catholics, Protestants wanting to learn more about Catholicism, those disenchanted with Church wondering "Can I stay?", justice advocates, authority-buckers, rule-breakers, and any Christian seeking to be encouraged by the communion of sometimes unlikely saints.

"When first confronted, this artist's work will look irreverent to those called to maintenance and preservation. But the artist, eyes open, hand extended, knee bent, is striving for perfect fidelity" (115).

Review copy provide by TLC Book Tours. Opinions mine. Affiliate links. As you were, soldier.
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