Richard M. Gula, S.S., Franciscan School of Theology Berkeley

January 4, 2022

How do people acquire the values out of which they live? How are these values modified? How might pastoral ministers be more effective in leading people to embrace the values of the gospel? These questions focus this book. O’Connell shows his skill as a moralist, pastoral theologian, and teacher in the way he weds moral theology and the insights of behavioral sciences on how values are transmitted to the “so what” questions of pastoral practice and the “how shall we” questions of religious education. No one has done it better.

Part 1 is fundamental moral “lite”, an overview of core insights of the Catholic moral tradition highlights the meaning and role of values in moral judgments and the importance of virtue and character in cultivating a life of discipleship. Part 2 draws from developmental psychology, social psychology, and sociology to bring clarity to how people acquire their values. O. shows that value preferences, or moral judgments, are made out of feelings rooted in convictions shaped by experience taking place in groups through a process of modeling. One of the key insights for pastoral ministry is that if we want to modify someone’s values, then we must assess closely the quality of the communities with which one associates rather than focusing on the individual along. Part 3 turns to another dimension of experience, the imagination. By drawing upon narrative theory, O. shows how story and ritual engage the imagination of others, providing them with vicarious experience, which can modify their moral sensibilities so that they can respond to the challenges of life in an empathetic manner. Part 4 moves from theory to practice. It aims to enrich pastoral practice by applying insight already gained to the three areas of pastoral ministry — religious education, liturgy, and parish life.

This would be an excellent supplementary text in a course in moral theology, pastoral ministry, or religious education. It resembles a road map for the process of becoming a disciple. My students appreciated O.’s respect for our moral tradition, his treatment of becoming a disciple as a process, his account of feelings in moral judgments and of groups as the locus of values, and his use of the social sciences to inform pastoral practice and it illumine moral dimensions of experience. O.’s commitment to pastoral theology is evident. He uses many examples to make clear connections to the pastoral goal of passing on to the next general gospel ways of valuing life. This is a “must read” for everyone committed to the pastoral goal of “making disciples”.

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