You Did it for Me by Father Kevin E. McKenna. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2005). 190 pp., $12.95.
A reflective presentation of Catholic social teaching, taken from biblical and modern-day perspectives, You Did It for Me — Care of Your Neighbor as a Spiritual Practice is Father McKenna’s second book on social justice and fifth overall.
Father McKenna delves into the seven principles of Catholic social teaching, chapter by chapter: care for God’s creation; respect for the life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities of the human person; preferential option for the poor; dignity of work and rights of workers; and solidarity.
He probes such commonly debated issues as abortion, unemployment, racism, capital punishment, and tension between church and state. The book interweaves history, Scripture and statements by church leaders in contrasting the modern world with Jesus’ teaching.
“It’s a reflection on the times. We’ve seen, especially in the last century, so many challenges around us to Gospel values,” said Father McKenna, who has served since 2001 as pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Irondequoit and is currently on sabbatical.
Father McKenna is careful to present information without blaring his personal opinions.
“I thought that the documents were much more eloquent. They were very effective for me as an approach to getting people to stop and think about where their lives are heading, where their values are at now,” he remarked.
Key to the book’s uniqueness is the opening of each chapter with an uplifting vignette about a person who has responded to the call for social justice: active volunteers; a priest who ministers to those suffering from abortion; a nun who led an ecumenical group of churches; a nun who has dedicated her life to the inner-city poor; a labor-relations specialist; and a deacon involved in anti-violence movements.
“I think these people give us hope, because they show that to live the Gospel in today’s world is not impossible,” said Father McKenna, who closes each chapter with prayer and reflection questions to help move readers toward that same ideal.
Father McKenna said he was moved to write You Did It for Me because he had been intrigued by many papal encyclicals on social justice, especially “The Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae) by Pope John Paul II. The pope died April 2, one day after the official release date of Father McKenna’s book.
“The model of John Paul II — he was a very prayerfully reflective person, and put his prayers into immediate action even before he was pope,” Father McKenna said.
You Did It for Me follows the publishing of A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching in 2002. His most recent work has been well received: You Did It for Me was recently selected as Book of the Month by Spiritual Book Associates, a national group.
Father McKenna’s focus on social justice is a departure from his three previous books, all on canon law — a subject for which he gained widespread recognition as chancellor and director of legal services for the Diocese of Rochester and as president of the Canon Law Society of America.
“I’m spreading my wings. I think people are somewhat surprised, because of my dealing so intensely with canon law,” Father McKenna remarked.