Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: Notes From the Underground

Once in a while a book just hits me in my gut. One of those, "wow, I gotta keep reading" types of books. Donald Cozzens' new book, Notes From the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013) is that type of book. I am very familiar with Cozzens' previous books, The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest and The Changing Face of the Priesthood, both very good books for anyone interested in pastoral ministry.

Cozzens is a writer in residence at John Carroll University and has been a guest on NPR as well as Meet the Press. In many ways he is a "pastors pastor" as he served many years in the priesthood, taught college and seminary classes, and has authored several books.

Notes From the Underground is not so much a theology of ministry or of the Church neither is it a textbook. Rather it is what the subtitle states, a sort of journal or series of personal reflections on what the Church has become over the years, especially in the past thirty years or so. Cozzens has seen deep changes in the Church, first the major liturgical and theological changes at Vatican II and more recently the stronger conservative push coming from the Vatican. While this book is aimed more at Catholic audiences, those of us in the Eastern Church would benefit from this book as well. It is not hard reading, but it is certainly thought provoking to say the least.

Cozzens laments the fact that even after the wonderful documents coming from Vatican II such as Sancrosanctum Concilium as well as Lumen Gentium, the Church is still pretty much clerical, authority and power flows from the top down. Yet when one read the Sacred Scriptures as well as the major writings of the Patristic Fathers and Mothers and the Tradition, one finds that the opposite is true, the Church is the entire people of God, not just the bishops or priests, but everyone all together gathered around the Lord's Table.

Notes From the Underground is a prophetic book. He calls into question the lack of pastoral care of bishops and other clergy regarding the recent sexual abuse scandals as well as not listening to the laity. Our parishes are full of wonderful gifted lay men and women whose voices are never heard. No one asks what they think. At one point Cozzens says that the presbyters are supposed to be a "presbyteral council" to the bishop yet the bishop usually never asks what his priests think! So true. While reading this book I kept underlining sentence after sentence as his writing rang true for this reader.

Notes From the Underground is certainly not a feel good book, but it is a good book. It is short but yet it is packed with plenty of food for thought for later reading.

I highly recommend this book to clergy and lay leaders who want to be challenged and to hear a true "voice in the wilderness" aka Father Donald Cozzens.

For more information about this book click here