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'Act Justly, Love Tenderly: Lifelong Lessons in Conscience and Calling'

“Act Justly, Love Tenderly:  Lifelong Lessons in Conscience and Calling." By John Neafsey. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2016. 160 pages. Paperback: $22; Kindle: $9.99; Nook: $10.49.

Like the prophets themselves, John Neafsey’s latest book, “Act Justly, Love Tenderly," is both uncomfortable and comforting. The uncomfortable part asks us to reflect seriously on who we are and what that means for our vocation as Christians; the comforting part is the assurance that we are never expected to pursue that vocation alone. As Neafsey says in the last line of the book, “We can concentrate…on putting one foot in front of the other, and remember that God is walking with us every step of the way.”

The author has chosen for reflection a passage from the Old Testament prophet, Micah. Though the epigraph at the beginning of the book quotes Micah 6: 6-8, verse 8 is the actual focus of what follows: “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” As simple as this passage sounds, the author goes on to state that appearances can be deceiving.  “According to Rabbi David Wolpe,” he notes, “Micah’s ‘only this’ may be the most understated ‘only’ on record.”

The book, in fact, begins with an examination of precisely what “only this” may mean for serious Christians. To do this, he refers to the experiences of two people (among others) who took up Micah’s challenge in very concrete ways. The first is Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th Century, who lost most of his family during the Holocaust; the second is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who, not surprisingly, was a good friend of Heschel’s. Each of these men, in extraordinary and heroic ways lived out the “only this” of Micah’s exhortation.

The author is quick to point out, however, that not everyone is called to large deeds; most of us, in fact, will be asked to be just, loving and humble in relatively small ways. What those ways may be vary from individual to individual because, as Neafsey points out, “Callings come to people as they are, wherever they are, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.” Indeed, he says that the first step to living out Micah’s words is to actively seek personal authenticity, the “who” we are and have been, in the words of the prophet, from our “mother’s womb."

"The link with vocation,” he says, “is that we are called, first of all, to be ourselves.”

The balance of the book explores in more detail the “triple summons” to justice, love and humility.  Part two delves into precisely what the prophets meant when they talked about justice. “We love justice not by devoting ourselves to an abstract principle or idea of justice,” the author says, “but by acting justly – by doing justice.”   

In part three, Neafsey talks about the true nature of love:  “…love is not only a feeling. It is also a choice we make or action we take, regardless of the feeling of the moment.” By way of illustration, he speaks of two life circumstances that are very familiar to us – parenthood and the care of our elders. Here, Neafsey turns to his own personal and powerful experiences, told in a way that will resonate strongly with most readers.

He closes the book with a superb explanation of humility and, given the values often espoused by our culture, it may be the most important part of the whole piece. He provides a sound explanation of just what it means to be genuinely humble, pointing out that this virtue is the linchpin that both love and justice hang on. “All of us…are called to become ever more humble, decent and loving persons,” he concludes, “while we have the chance.”

Author bio

John Neafsey is both an author and a licensed clinical psychologist. He has served as a senior lecturer in the department of theology at Loyola University in Chicago and is a member of the staff at the Heartland Alliance Kovler Center, a treatment program for survivors of torture, also in Chicago.

Prior to becoming a staff psychologist at Kovler, he worked for many years as a volunteer therapist there and was also involved with its graduate training program. Currently, he conducts intake evaluations with new clients and supervises clinical psychology trainees who work with torture survivors. He also maintains a private practice in Chicago.

Neafsey earned his master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola and his doctorate in clinical psychology form Rutger’s University. A member of the Collegeville Institute Seminary on Vocation across the Lifespan, he is the author of two other books, “A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience” and “Crucified People: The Suffering of the Tortured in Today’s World.” Both books were recipients of Catholic Press Association Book Awards.  
 
Neafsey lives in Chicago with his wife and two children and is a member of St. Gertrude Parish there.
  • Published in Reviews

“Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World.”

“Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World.” By Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM. Edited by Diane Houdek, SFO. Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2016. 188 pages. Kindle: $9.99; Nook: $8.49; Paperback: $15.06.
 
Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, many people, both Catholic and otherwise, have taken a closer look at the little Saint of Assisi who was the inspiration for the pontiff’s choice of name. Although St. Francis himself has always enjoyed a certain popularity – note the many statues of him for sale at garden centers, for instance – it is this pope’s lifestyle which has drawn more thoughtful attention to who his namesake really was.
 
That is why this book, “Live Like Francis,” will probably speak to great numbers of people. This present version (there were earlier ones, but this “iteration…opens this vision to people both in and beyond the Secular Franciscan community”) is more than a mere introduction to the life and spirituality of the saint; it is an invitation to journey with him, reflecting on his ideals and learning how to incorporate his vision into a world much in need of what he has to teach. As such, it is not a book meant to be consumed in one or two sittings; rather, it is a year-long pilgrimage that the reader is invited to make into the heart of God by way of the heart of Francis.
 
Indeed, the book is structured to allow the reader to do precisely that.  Divided into 52 reflections, one for each week of the year, we are invited to contemplate the Franciscan way of life through Scripture, writings by and about Francis, how these can apply to daily life and finally, a prayer to better understand and put into practice what we have just read. Sometimes the reflections seem deceptively simple but, as the authors, Father Leonard Foley, OFM and Father Jovian Weigel, OFM, assure us even before we begin, “You will find that you progress a great deal, even though the growth may seem almost imperceptible at the time.”
 
“The foundation of the Franciscan way of life is Jesus Christ and no other.”  This is what Francis discovered in the church of San Damiano centuries ago, and it is what the reader is invited to rediscover here and now. As the authors note, “To be Franciscan, then, is to attempt to be Christian, a disciple.”  This, of course, is not an easy path to follow, which is why Fathers Foley and Weigel bring us along one step, one reflection at a time. 
 
Almost without noticing, by mid-year, readers discover that they have entered deep waters, indeed, but by then, they are hooked. Like Francis, they discover that there really is no going back, just a greater and greater going forward. And that means taking what has been learned so far and bringing it into the world. “If we choose to follow Jesus and to lead others to His truth, we become modern-day apostles,” the authors note. “As part of our commitment to live like Francis, we are called to go out of ourselves to bring Jesus’s gifts of faith, hope and love to life in tangible, practical ways.”
 
Ultimately, of course, this is the point. As the subtitle of the book reminds us, these are reflections on “Franciscan Life in the World,” which is why the reflections in Parts Four and Five move us out of ourselves and into the mainstream of life. By the end, we have been brought on a pilgrimage that starts within but that must, to be genuine, have an impact on what is outside of ourselves. “Reach out beyond yourself as Francis did,” the authors conclude. “Reach out as Jesus did….Make your daily decisions on the basis of what Jesus said and did. Believe that the Spirit continually calls us together to form the Body of Jesus today.”
 
Author bio
 
Sadly, the two authors of this book have passed away, but not before they each added significantly to both Catholic and Franciscan spirituality.
 
Father Leonard Foley, OFM, was a long-time editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine and a founding editor of Homily Helps and Weekday Homily helps. A Franciscan friar for 62 years and a priest for 54, he was well known in his later years as a popular retreat master and a speaker for adult education programs. Although he wrote upwards of 15 books for St. Anthony Messenger Press, his best-selling work was “Believing in Jesus: A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith.” Father Foley died on Easter Sunday morning in 1994.
 
Father Jovian Wiegel, OFM, was active with the secular Franciscans at the local, regional and national levels for more than 30 years. He professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan in 1943 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1948; he began his Third Order/ Secular Franciscan Order ministry in 1950 as a spiritual assistant.  He died peacefully in 2008.
 
Diane Houdek, SFO, who edited “Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World,” is the digital media editor for Franciscan Media and has written extensively for them.
 
 
  • Published in Reviews
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