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Posted July 17, 2006

Book: Great Mystics and Social Justice
Author: Susan Rakoczy
Paulist Press. New York. 2006. Pp. 217

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Christianity is a call to a life of prayer and activism, states Susan Rakoczy, author of Greate Mystics and Social Justice. Her important new scholarly and readable work takes its subtitle from Catherine of Siena's revelation that we are to walk on the "two feet" of love - both God and neighbor.

The author bases her thesis on the lives and writings of contemplatives - men women both famous and obscure, from early Christianity to the present - who championed political, religious, and social activism from New York to Rome to Soweto: Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and four South Africans - Archbishop Denis Hurley, Beyers Naude, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Dr. Rakoczy also sorts out the controversy surrounding the story of saints Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. She contrasts the voices extolling the superiority of Mary., the contemplative, over Martha, the symbol of the active life, with those extolling Martha over Mary. She includes the hermeneutical interpretation of feminist scholar Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and the unifying synthesis of Teresa of Avila, who affirmed the unity of Martha and Mary in one person as the goal of the full Christian life.

With reflections on mysticism, suffering, and political love, and with end-chapter notes and bibliography, Great Mystics and Social Justice shows Christianity at it fullest.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Solitude and Compassion

The great thirst in Merton's life was for solitude, both interior and exterior, for God alone. He gradually became aware of the difference between true and false solitude: false solitude separates the person from others so that one can no longer give anything to them from the depth of one's spirit, while "true solitude separates one man from the rest in order that he may freely develop the good that is his own, and then fulfill his true destiny by putting himself in the service of everyone else."

The journey to and in true solitude is the search for the true self, a pervasive theme in Merton's writings. Sanctity and being one's true self are identical: "For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self." this is the task of using the gift of freedom "to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity," a labor of great sacrifice, anguish, risk, and tears.

Table of Contents:

1. Prayer or action? The tension explored

2. Mystical experience: the common call

3. Catherine of Siena: the two feet of love

4. Ignatius of Loyola: finding God in all things

5. Martha and Mary: sorting out the dilemma

6. Evelyn Underhill: a practical mysticism

7. Thomas Merton: speaking from silence

8. Dorothy Day: prophet of poverty

9. "Be reconciled": four South African voices

10. Mysticism, suffering, and political love