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Book Review . . . A Memorable Book On Those “Not Forgotten”

April 30, 2021 Featured Today No Comments


Not Forgotten by George Weigel (Ignatius Press, San Francisco: 2021); available in paperback and as eBook. Order at or call 1-800-651-1531.

I once had the pleasure of hearing Academy Award-winning actor Charlton Heston give a riveting speech in the Ohio Valley steel town of Steubenville. Heston recalled how he had to really stretch to play the roles of some of the great men of history: Moses, John the Baptist, Sir Thomas More, and El Cid.
George Weigel wields his sharp pen as an effective tool to share with us some of the great men and women of the twentieth century. And he goes one step further by sharing many lesser known luminaries that have touched our world by heroic lives or by steadfast, ordinary lives. In Not Forgotten, published by Ignatius Press, Weigel provides 61 elegies and reminiscences of assorted personalities.
As a well-respected Catholic thinker and colorful writer, Weigel delivers a sparkle of jewels in some of the back stories of saints, martyrs and leaders of authentic character. He was privileged to know many of them personally as friends and some he learned of later. People such as St. John Paul II, Franz Jagerstatter, Sophie Scholl, Henry Hyde, Charles Colson, Arne Panula, James Schall, SJ, Betsy Schmitz Weigel, and George Shillow Weigel are among the distinguished crew!
Let’s take a closer look at a few of these gems. The very human yet mystic Pontiff John Paul II was a brave soul. Weigel reminds us that: “He once described his high school years as a time in which he was ‘completely absorbed’ by the passion for the theater. So it was fitting that Karol Jozef Wojtyla lived a very dramatic life” (Not Forgotten, p. 100).
He risked summary execution by the German soldiers for acting in plays when the Nazis locked the country down. Karol Wojtyla was also a man of action as Pope in standing up for the religious freedom of his countrymen. Communist authorities were infuriated by his audacity in defense of this freedom during his trip to his native land.
Among his innumerable actions and achievements, he successfully blocked “the Clinton administration’s efforts to have abortion-on-demand declared a basic human right; his remarkable magnetism for young people; his groundbreaking initiatives with Judaism; his robust defense of religious freedom as the first of human rights” (Not Forgotten, p. 100). Since Weigel has extensive knowledge about John Paul and has written an excellent tome about him, Witness to Hope, I found the insights and details provided in the two sections on the Holy Father very profound.
John Paul had insight for what would be needed in our times: “Thus the key to the freedom project in the twenty-first century, John Paul urged, lay in the realm of culture: in vibrant public moral cultures capable of disciplining and directing the tremendous energies. . . . Building the free society certainly involves getting the institutions right; beyond that, however, freedom’s future depends on men and women of virtue . . . committed to living in solidarity with others” (Not Forgotten p.103).
For example, in our day, although we see that many consider life cheap and human trafficking a given, there are substantial counter movements toward a rise of Christian faith and virtue worldwide. Some argue for building a parallel polis for commerce like Vaclav Havel and others did in the 1970s and 1980s when under the iron grip of Communism. Similarly, parallel moral or Christian culture could develop commerce relationships and pursue the new evangelization. Also this will involve the renewal of the current institutions. At any rate, John Paul makes the crucial case for this vibrant moral culture and with good precedent in history.
“Sophie was then led to the guillotine. One observer described her as she walked to her death: ‘Without turning a hair, without flinching’” (Jacob G. Hornberger, Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose—A Lesson in Dissent, Weigel gives us a fine elegy of the 21-year-old, wealthy German girl named Sophie Scholl who was part of the nonviolent student resistance group — the White Rose. They opposed the Nazi regime, the genocide of the Jews and the war Hitler started by distributing leaflets and putting graffiti messages on walls to awaken the people.
In the book, the author highlights the Catholic influences on Sophie and the others that led them out of the Hitler youth movement to being a prophetic voice to their nation. “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace” (Not Forgotten, p.189). When a Nazi party janitor saw Sophie put out the forbidden leaflets, the Gestapo arrested her and eventually the other members of the organization. Weigel zeroes in on the deep commitment to truth and the proper formation of conscience of this young woman and her fellow collaborators. They would not be complicit in the crimes of Germany and Hitler where “every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie” (Not Forgotten, p. 188).

Ecumenical Unity

A rather humorous back story is shared involving Chuck Colson, an unknown Major Evangelical Figure, and George Weigel. But I will let you read that one for yourself. The brief yet moving vignette on Charles Colson captures something of the power of authentic Christian conversion.
Formerly Weigel considered Chuck Colson his quintessential enemy. Colson was known for his hard-nose political tactics and his fierce loyalty to Richard Nixon. He was dubbed Nixon’s “hatchet man.” But then, during the Watergate era, the “hatchet man” encountered Christ after reading C.S. Lewis. The conversion of Colson was radical and real like Saul of Tarsus — the infamous hunter of Christians — became the Apostle Paul, builder of the Church. The conversion of Colson led to many surprising things. Colson’s book, Born Again, tells the interesting story of his journey. One major unexpected fruit of this change in direction was that his former enemy became his friend.
Weigel reports: “. . . reflecting on twenty years of friendship and collaboration with Chuck Colson . . . I never met a more thoroughly converted Christian, a more ecumenically serious Christian, or a more tenacious Christian. He was a man whom I came, not just to respect, but to love” (Not Forgotten, p. 41). Some of this collaboration led to important steps in the ecumenical unity necessary to battle aggressive secularism that is increasingly ignoring the First Amendment rights of believers.
The document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, was a collaborative effort that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Chuck Colson led. But leaders such as Avery Dulles, SJ, and J.I. Packer pushed it forward as well: “ECT, as we called it, developed into what was arguably the most important theological encounter ever between evangelical Protestants and Catholics” (Not Forgotten, p. 41). The U.S bishops, on the critical issue of religious freedom, even “commended and cited the ECT statement, In Defense of Religious Freedom” (Not Forgotten, p. 42).
While some might dismiss the value of this ecumenism, history shows us that National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s was so effective in neutralizing the German Christian voice because they divided the churches and conquered them one by one. Thus the collective voice was virtually silent. Thanks to Chuck Colson and many others, the ECT is an important step in the right direction of collaboration.
I enjoyed the book overall. It was hard to stop reading at times. The interesting back stories, the interwoven recent history, the contributions of people known and unknown and the brief glimpses made it a worthwhile read. When all is said and done, this collection of memories is all about friends. So I will close with a word on the great value of friendship: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).

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