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Not Less than Everything

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Yet all of those profiled took the example of Jesus Christ for inspiration. This is not the pretty Jesus pictured on holy cards. It is Jesus the iconoclast, the one who threw the money changers out of the temple, who publicly chastised hypocrites, and who disdained the authorities. This is the Jesus who did what he thought was right and bore the consequences.

Wolff suggests that her heroes are part of the communion of saints – officially or unofficially. But, of those included, only Ignatius of Loyola and Joan of Arc are actually saints. Others, like El Salvadoran bishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated for his beliefs, could be thought of as saintly as could the Australian nun Mother Mary MacKillop who was excommunicated for insubordination. But it’s hard to imagine how anyone could think of the alcoholic poet (and suicide) John Berryman (1914-1972) or bad-boy artist Caravaggio (1571-1610), as saints. Yet this is a quibble in a thoroughly engrossing collection of mini biographies of familiar or unfamiliar but always fascinating characters – as seen through the eyes of highly regarded contemporary authors. 

These authors – including Bo Caldwell, James Carroll, Colm Tóibín, Katherine Harrison, Charles Curran, Mary Gordon, and Patrick Jordan – discuss (in order) “heroes” like Henry Bartel, Isaac Hecker, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Joan of Arc, Bernard Häring, Simone Weil, and Dorothy Day. Theologians, philosophers, professors, poets, journalists, and missionaries, the subjects were activists of one kind or another. Here is a sampling:

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