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New book heralds a 'Catholic Moment'

By Jerry Johnston

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 29 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Catherine Wolff complied essays for "Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero."

Provided by HarperCollins

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With a new pope now in the mix, the world is showing renewed interest in all things Catholic. And that is proving to be a godsend for many Catholic writers who constantly struggle to reach a wide market.

In its 2,000 years of history, Catholicism has seeped into the most remote outposts of humanity, from right-wing regimes in East Europe to the Marxist countries of Latin America.

And one reason for that, says author Catherine Wolff, is because men and women of conscience have been willing to push it there.

Wolff, along with her celebrated author husband, Tobias, was at The King’s English bookshop in Salt Lake City last week to promote a new anthology: “Not Less than Everything — Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero.”

Tobias Wolff was there to draw the crowd.

Catherine Wolff was there to preach the gospel of individual conscience.

Impressed with what they had to say, I bought the book.

“Not Less than Everything” is a collection of more than two dozen mini-profiles of Catholics who have made a difference. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is in there; so are Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) and social reformer Dorothy Day.

I do read a lot, but there were still about a dozen names I’d never seen before.

I was anxious to make their acquaintance.

And with Pope Francis set to celebrate Easter Mass tomorrow, I spent this last week getting to know a little more about my Catholic brethren.

In Wolff’s volume, author James Carroll introduced me to Isaac Hecker, an American priest and founder of the Paulist fathers who, Carroll writes, insisted “that the Holy Spirit was alive and source of guidance not just in the magisterium, but within every individual member of the church.”

For its time, 1858, that was dangerous and courageous thinking.

Patrick Jordan offers a spot-on portrait of Dorothy Day, the Catholic activist, and Martha E. Stortz’s look at Martin Luther will change the way others look at Luther.

The writers who penned the sketches are some of the finest Catholic wordsmiths working today, which means each page of the book is fresh and memorable.

This, for example, from Paul J. Contino’s take on Monsignor John V. Sheridan, a columnist and television personality in Los Angeles for the last half of the 20th century:

Immanuel Kant claimed, “From the crooked timber of humanity nothing straight can ever be made.” Paul Claudel popularized the proverb, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Allow me to amalgamate: Through John Sheridan, God built straight with crooked timber. No matter how broken or bent, after being in his presence, people felt edified — built up, more whole, more holy.

In the end, if last year was a “Mormon Moment,” perhaps a New World pope and fine books like this one will set off a “Catholic Moment” this year.

Stay tuned.

The year is young.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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