Alice Hugh Brown, ed
(Plainfield, NJ: Renew International, 2021)
I heartily recommend this book for several
reasons. First, for personal study and prayer. Second, for class, or
discussion groups. Third, for small prayer/retreat gatherings.
Our mentor and guide for this book is
Sister Helen Prejean ,C.S.J., noted for her decades of dedicated preaching,
teaching, witnessings and writing about social issues and the death penalty.
Through her ministry she has narrated stories of individuals on death row
and her personal experience of advocating for them. Sister Helen first
attracted general attention by her book "Dead Man Walking," which was made
into a movie with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
She has not only worked for an end to the
death penalty, but also for the elimination of social and economic
unfairness in the criminal justice system. Sr. Helen has walked more than
one person to the death chamber whom, she tells us, were uaually poor and
rarely had competent defense attorneys. Her writing and insights permeate
each of the seven "Sessions" of the book.
They are called "Sessions" because they
are just that: processes to be used with intervals of study, discussion, and
prayer. Each Session begins with a concise focus statement. Then an opening
prayer; a reflection on what practice the participants chose to perform from
the previous session; a statement from a death row inmate (some who were
executed); a Scripture passage and reflection on the Word of God, followed
by a couple questions for sharing; an essay from Sister Helen (informative
material on the evolution of the church’s teachings on the death penalty and
related topics); current societal and political attitudes. More reflective
questions are offered with an "Invitation to Act," providing practical
responses to the input material. The Sessions end with a communal prayer and
a Scripture passage is assigned to prepare for the next session.
If it all sounds like a lot, it is! But it
is not unmanageable. This brief book is packed with information, prayer and
practical responses in very "chewable bites." The book ends with additional
resource material for further study and reflection to be found on the
Internet, church documents and other published materials.
As I suggested above, "Dignity and the
Death Penalty" is an excellent resource for personal and communal study and
prayer. It provides readers with statistics, historical information and
current ecclesial teachings about capital punishment. It voices the
teachings of Jesus, reminds us what our church teaches about the death
penalty and how we can take concrete, faith-based actions to build a
"culture of life."