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Title: Moral Formation in the Parish: With Your Whole Heart Turn to God 
Authors: Anthony J. Ciorra, PhD & 
James Keating, PhD 

ISBN: 0-8189-0815-7 
Paperback: xx + 180 pp. 
Price: $12.95 + shipping 
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The Catholic Church is entering a critical time in the moral formation of its members. The massive disagreement between what is taught by the Church and what is held as morally valid by much of the laity and many clerics on sexual issues, for example, has been well-documented. Noted as well is the growing opposition in the Church to papal and episcopal teaching on issues such as capital punishment, assisted suicide, artificial reproduction, and prudential strategies for assisting the poor. What is called for at this time are pastoral leaders who can teach the skills of moral discernment in the light of the teaching of the Church. Parishioners need to be able to distinguish the voices of moral truth from those of propaganda, political ideology or personal bias. This book is intended to assist in the re-appropriation of a truly Catholic moral identity in the community of the parish.

Fr. Anthony J. Ciorra is associate professor of theology at the College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, New Jersey. Nationally known as a speaker and retreat director, he also serves as director of the Center for Theological and Spiritual Development and as a college chaplain.

James Keating is Associate Professor of Moral Theology in the School of Theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio. His essays have appeared in Irish Theological Quarterly, Milltown Studies, New Theology Review, Church and Emmanuel , among others. 


"The authors organize their reflections in six clearly written and insightful chapters. They begin with a trenchant analysis of the excessive emphasis upon autonomy and individualism at the expense of community and dialogue in the pursuit of moral truth. The parish is an extremely powerful agency for correcting this imbalance. In the second chapter, the authors present the significance of the liturgical renewal in the Church and offer concrete suggestions on how the liturgy helps to form moral character as the crucial skill for moral action. Chapter three presents the art of discernment in a particularly cogent and compelling fashion. This summary is one of the best overviews I have read and articulates extremely helpful, practical applications of this spiritual legacy for moral formation. Chapter four focuses on particular questions in personal ethics and addresses the thorny and vexatious topics of marriage, family life, and sexual issues. While acknowledging controversy in these areas, the chapter confidently presents Church teaching in an uncompromising fashion and suggests excellent approaches to help parishioners appropriate this teaching. Chapter five is distinguished for its attention to the "public" character of Catholic moral teaching. Concentrating on the topics of public Catholicism in society and politics, health care issues, and poverty, the authors are to be commended for showing the mutual relatedness of personal conversion and public action on behalf of the gospel. The vital baptismal witness of Catholics in the marketplace of ideas, work, and culture is a much-needed corrective to a tendency to restrict morality to the realm of private, personal behavior. Chapter six is a fine summary of strategies to address the needs of various parish constituencies, including young adults and youth. In addition to the book's clear, engaging style, and its cogently argued strategies for enhancing moral development and action, particularly noteworthy is its ability to rise above the polarizing rhetoric that contributes to division and paralysis in the Church around moral issues. The authors avoid the traps of reductionism that so often result in pointless debates and stalemates between the dueling dichotomies of "right" or "left," "liberal" or "conservative." The balanced alternative proposed by the authors is neither "tradition-less" autonomy, nor "blind obedience," but faith-filled discernment which requires both individual commitment and allegiance to a community of faith-wisdom. The treatment of the dignity of personal conscience is finely nuanced. The authors state that "...conscience is not simply the isolated individual discerning the right, but rather the individual as member of the Church listening to the voice of God in his or her heart" (21). Anthony Ciorra, associate professor of theology at the College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, New Jersey, and James Keating, associate professor of moral theology at the Pontifical College, Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio, have skillfully blended their theological and pastoral gifts to fashion this admirable contribution to moral renewal in the Church today. The book is brief, clear, and accessible to a broad range of ages and interest groups. It is to be commended especially to busy pastors and parish staffs and is a marvelous tool for adult education. --Jeremiah L. McCarthy, St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, California in New Theology Review, Nov. 1999

"Moral Formation in the Parish is an attempt to unite Church teachings with parish beliefs by providing a moral ground on which to understand what we believe and why that is so. To achieve this union, the moral atmosphere and spirituality of the parish is explored. Liturgy as the gathering to create a parish that believes and lives the Gospel molds into a unit on Eucharist as the center for Christian life. Moral discernment and the action of the Holy Spirit in us move into a chapter on social ethics and our public face as Catholic Christian people. This book presents good questions and suggestions to assist us in reestablishing our relationship to God and nurturing a truly Christian journey." --Miriam Gallagher in the June-July, 1999 issue of Ministry & Liturgy

"[Moral Formation in the Parish] makes a few key assumptions with important consequences. One assumption is that the leader in moral formation... must be an authentic teacher, one whose own life and efforts exemplify the pursuit of a moral life. Moral formation is based on integrity and lacks plausibility if it is attempted from a 'do as I say, not as I do' stance. The second assumption is that much of moral living is a matter of relationships and much of the erosion of morality can be traced to an erosion of responsible relationships.... As a result of these two assumptions and their consequences, parish moral formation becomes a challenge to the whole of parish life and leadership. It is not just another ministry or service for the parishioners; it is a way of being for pastors and parishioners alike.... The authors note, quite appropriately in my opinion, that in recent decades writers on the subject of moral theology seem to be divided into those who emphasize the primacy of the individual conscience, and the pastoral leaders who have reacted to this individualism with authoritarianism and legalism. Ciorra/Keating are moderates who point out both the values and the flaws of the two extremes. How does the parish itself become the moral educator? The authors see this as being brought about when the parishioners are formed in love for God and one another by living the life of prayer and friendship that begins with the celebration of the Eucharist and is applied in daily life." --Msgr. John E. Murphy in Church, Summer '99

"The dominating questions of this book are succinctly put on p. xv, and correspond to the six subsequent chapters: An overview of parish life in the USA, the Eucharist as heart of the parish, the need for a process of discernment, a discussion of current pastoral problems and a healine-guide how to go about moral formation in the parish. Behind the outline the authors have a clear purpose. In their view the major issues in the Church are poor doctrinal formation, the prevalence of the autonomous conscience and a culture of individualism. Rejecting a return to authoritarianism as a solution to these issues, the authors try to write in a non-ideological way, a trait heartily to be recommended to all moral theologians.... Two characteristics should be noted: This is a book directed at the generation born after 1960, and it makes a sincere effort to avoid the theological wars that divided the pre-1960 generation who were writing in the 1970's and 1980's. Labels are eschewed as not being clear in meaning... and it is refreshing to read a theological work that rates arguments as more important than personalities, and proceeds accordingly. The other refreshing feature of the book is that the fairly traditional topics are put in a context wider than that found in most moral theological books. Discernment, spirituality and friendship give a vibrancy to the discussion, especially when the practical issues of marriage, money, healthcare ethics and poverty are treated. This book is more than a run-of-the-mill adult education textbook. -- Raphael Gallagher, C.Ss.R. in Studia Moralia, Vol. 37/2, 1999, pp. 483-484.

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