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Book Review Archive

Dignity and the Death Penalty: Evolution of Catholic Teaching"

Alice Hugh Brown, ed (Plainfield, NJ: Renew International, 2021)

I heartily recommend this book for several reasons. First, for personal study and prayer. Second, for class, or discussion groups. Third, for small prayer/retreat gatherings.

Our mentor and guide for this book is Sister Helen Prejean ,C.S.J., noted for her decades of dedicated preaching, teaching, witnessings and writing about social issues and the death penalty. Through her ministry she has narrated stories of individuals on death row and her personal experience of advocating for them. Sister Helen first attracted general attention by her book "Dead Man Walking," which was made into a movie with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

She has not only worked for an end to the death penalty, but also for the elimination of social and economic unfairness in the criminal justice system. Sr. Helen has walked more than one person to the death chamber whom, she tells us, were uaually poor and rarely had competent defense attorneys. Her writing and insights permeate each of the seven "Sessions" of the book.

They are called "Sessions" because they are just that: processes to be used with intervals of study, discussion, and prayer. Each Session begins with a concise focus statement. Then an opening prayer; a reflection on what practice the participants chose to perform from the previous session; a statement from a death row inmate (some who were executed); a Scripture passage and reflection on the Word of God, followed by a couple questions for sharing; an essay from Sister Helen (informative material on the evolution of the church’s teachings on the death penalty and related topics); current societal and political attitudes. More reflective questions are offered with an "Invitation to Act," providing practical responses to the input material. The Sessions end with a communal prayer and a Scripture passage is assigned to prepare for the next session.

If it all sounds like a lot, it is! But it is not unmanageable. This brief book is packed with information, prayer and practical responses in very "chewable bites." The book ends with additional resource material for further study and reflection to be found on the Internet, church documents and other published materials.

As I suggested above, "Dignity and the Death Penalty" is an excellent resource for personal and communal study and prayer. It provides readers with statistics, historical information and current ecclesial teachings about capital punishment. It voices the teachings of Jesus, reminds us what our church teaches about the death penalty and how we can take concrete, faith-based actions to build a "culture of life."

Book Review Archive

Just click on a book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

• DIgnity and the Death Penalty •
• Jesus: A Gospel Portrait •
• How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row •
• Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages •
• The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church •
• A Joint Review •
• St. Dominic: A Story of a Preaching Friar •
• Moses in Pharaoh's House •
• ...and the Mountains Echoed •
• Behind the Beautiful Forevers •
• Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily •
• The Rhythm of Being... •
• Remi De Roo - Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop •
• Redeeming the Past •
• Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings •
• This Is Our Exile •
• Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in and Age of Globalization •
• True and False Reform In the Church •
• Adult Faith •
• The Mystical Way In Everyday Life •
• Racial Justice and the Catholic Church •
• Let the Great World Spin •
• The Priesthood Of the Faithful •
• Living With Wisdom •
• Where the Pure Water Flows •
• Best Advice For Preaching •
• We Speak the Word Of the Lord •
• Great World Religions: Islam •
• Of Books and Preparation •
• After Sunday: A Theology of Work •
• A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching •
• Written Text Becomes Living Word... •
• Voicing the Vision: Imagination & Prophetic Preaching •
• The Death of Innocents •

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