There are all kinds of journeys, and many kinds of pilgrims. As the liturgical year continues on from Easter to Pentecost, the Register looks at several recent books that have some insight into to the most important journey — the pilgrimage of life, which culminates in our meeting He who sent us on this journey in the first place.
Amy Welborn, one of the first and most prominent Catholic writers to bring faith-inspired reflections to the blogosphere (Charlotte Was Both) has first-hand experience to offer those who have suffered grievous loss in their lives. In 2009, her husband, Michael Dubruiel, passed away suddenly at age 50, leaving her a widow and their children fatherless. The journey she undertook to answer some of the questions the tragedy unearthed formed the basis of Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope.
One of the most-well-loved images in Christianity is the Shroud of Turin, and millions of pious Christians have gone to the Italian city to venerate what may be the original icon in the Church. German author Paul Badde writes about this and another mysterious image, the Holy Face of Manoppello, in The True Icon in a way that makes the reader feel like he’s an Indiana Jones-type character on a whirlwind tour of significant places in Christendom, on a quest for answers.
Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik has become famous for his Eastern-style mosaics, particularly those he designed for Pope John Paul II’s private chapel in the Vatican. In Human Frailty, Divine Redemption, he turns from his artistic creation to the creativity of the founder of his order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to examine a key tool in spirituality — a tool designed to help keep us on the right path through the journey of life.
Death Takes a Holiday
By John M. Grondelski
“’Death, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?’ Paul could mock death. Me, I’m not there yet.”
What would you do if you were a grieving, 40-something widow with three kids, whose husband had died unexpectedly five months earlier on a treadmill at the local Y? Amy Welborn took them all off for three weeks to Sicily.
Some people’s first reactions (mine included) might be: “Poor baby! Tell that to the poor stay-at-home-mom/widow trying to raise her orphans on a slim Social Security check!”
But Welborn’s Sicilian sojourn is not a financially comfortable woman’s get-away. They are reflections of a wife and mother struggling in faith to keep her faith while facing the hole that death rips in life. Sicily just provides the backdrop for grappling with what faith teaches versus what people feel about death. The “why him?” “Why now?” “How much I want to see him!” “If only I’d . . . .” “If only he’d …. “ The mundane events of their travels are but the canvas for some poignant reflections about faith. Like a trip to Mount Etna, reminding her that life springs up even amidst destruction. Like the grand castle they visit, whose builders and owners are long dead, whose power and pelf have today become the playground for a four year old gelato-eating American tourist oblivious to all the striving the place once represented. Like the organic farmer who runs the B&B where they stayed, a farm where wheat, olives and weeds grow together because he rather awaits the harvest than apply pesticides. Like the silent church in a small town unexpectedly open during the hours of sancta siesta . . . only because there is a wake going on. Like the homeless man at the airport, sprawled on a bench when Amy and family arrives and still there three weeks later on departure, seemingly unchanged in comparison to everything that’s transpired in those four travelers’ lives.
Far from a dry theological treatise, Welborn masterfully blends individual struggle, faith reflection, what-happened-on-summer-vacation travelogue, and the wry insights of a mother traveling with four-, eight-, and 17-year-olds into a very personal yet very universal meditation on death. For those who have lost a loved one, her twists and turns will be all too familiar.
So why did she go to Sicily? I write this review 24 years to the day my mother died, and so I think Welborn’s answer is to be found in the fact that “home” is no longer “home.” Once a loved one dies, there’s a certain sense in which you can’t go home again. And the more you wrestle with it, the more you have more friends and relatives in the hereafter than here, the more the mansions of this world seem perhaps to be so many temporary lodgings.
“I wonder if I will ever feel at home anywhere again. . . . For that is what Mike took with him that morning. In trying to name the loss, I’ve settled on this. It wasn’t perfectly complete because we are human and because this is earth, but it is the most home I had ever experienced, and the loss of that is starting to hit me hard. No home. He went away and took it and left me here, yearning for home. And maybe that is the point of all of this. That in each other on earth, in love, we glimpse a bit of home, enough to ground us for just a bit, and enough to show us where home really is, what is wanting and what is waiting.”
Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. But the trip still hurts.
John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
WISH YOU WERE HERE
Travels Through Loss and Hope
By Amy Welborn
Image Books, 2012
246 pages, $14
An Adventurous Quest…Continued
By Joseph Pronechen
Two years ago, in The Face of God, German author Paul Badde took us on an exciting and adventurous quest spanning two millennia. In minute detail he traced a relic revered by some to be the portrait of Jesus Christ on the veil that covered his face in the tomb.
In his latest book, The True Icon, the author brings together two images — that veil (of Manoppello) and the Shroud of Turin. He takes us on a fascinating journey loaded with some surprising turns and some amazing insights and answers about both images.
Badde starts by focusing on the Shroud, which he calls “the most thoroughly investigated piece of fabric in the world.” He says goodbye to all the scientific examinations and theories that still can’t answer how the image got onto the linen cloth, and instead turns to the images’ histories and the gospels.
Here, he’s not interested in proving if the shroud is genuine because, he says, “I doubt —frankly — a lot of things. I doubt the latest news, I doubt my telephone bills and many prescriptions, and so on, but not that the Shroud of Turin accommodated Jesus of Nazareth after his death for two nights and a Sabbath.”
Thus he takes the reader on this brave and necessary leap of faith that the shroud is the true burial cloth of Christ and the veil that covered Jesus’ face in the Holy Sepulcher. Along the way, like a detective, the author turns up one historical fact or clue after another.
The gospels of the empty tomb and Resurrection of Jesus become the foundational stones, especially John. “Of course!” you think, when Badde illustrates how, taken together, the Resurrection narratives seem to use cinematic cutting techniques to tell the sheer inconceivable excitement of what’s going on.
The case Badde makes why in the first several years the shroud and veil weren’t publicly displayed but hidden makes perfect sense. He details how Jewish standards of ritual cleanliness and prohibitions against ritual impurity play a major part.
Badde relies heavily on John 20:4-8, in which the beloved disciple mentions the burial cloths (plural) three times and separately “the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”
From the gospel and the tomb configuration itself, Badde postulates that Peter saw the veil first because “…on the large burial cloth there was nothing to see at that first moment in the dark, narrow chamber where it could not even be unfolded. That brings us to the next step. For now we not only can but must observe how afterward Peter and John hastily gathered up all the cloths and brought them into the daylight. They had to bring them to safety…Nothing could remain lying there. Who knew, then, what the other cloths concealed!”
So the shroud and the Holy Face veil — now in a church in Manoppello in the Abruzzi hills that Pope Benedict XVI chose to visit in 2006 as his first trip outside Rome — become two witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection that we have with us today.
Badde brings all this to light in an engaging style. There are enthralling sections in dialogue where we sit next to him and his wife as they hash over and discuss facts and theories and where they lead.
Abundant illustrations distinguish this book, from pictures of the shroud and veil to centuries-old art documenting them, like the cathedral fresco commemorating the shroud’s arrival in Pinerolo on its way to Turin in 1578. Another is of the original banner flown on the Savoy flagship at the Battle of Lepanto picturing Mary and angels holding the Shroud of Turin.
With his exceptional point of view, we can only wonder why Badde used the work “luck” several times on the quest. Why not “Divine Providence?”
Nevertheless, in all the material I’ve read or watched on the shroud have I seen a number of things Badde brings to light. He makes a compelling case out of the gospels and the histories, adding common sense and simple reasoning anyone can follow. As a bonus, this book becomes a meditative source, from its text to its illustrations and images.
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
THE TRUE ICON
by Paul Badde
Ignatius Press 2012
160 pages, $19.51
To order: Ignatius.com
Journey of the Soul
By John M. Grondelski
Although it acquired particular prominence in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the Examen has always been and should be an important part of a Catholic’s daily life. This daily prayerful introspection has two important purposes. First and foremost, the Examen constantly requires us to reset our focus, to look at ourselves as God sees us, not as we might want to see ourselves. Second, it reinforces a healthy sense of right and wrong by making us see our deeds not through subjective eyes but through those of a merciful yet just God.
Jesuit mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik’s little guide is designed to help people to understand and, therefore, better make the Examen a part of their lives.
One of the attractive things about this book is that it begins with the theology of the Examen. Before one begins the “how,” it is first essential to understand the “why.” The Examen is neither a “psychological exercise” nor an inventory of one’s sins from that day. It is a “prayer.” Its purpose is not to catalog the past but constantly to ask what God is doing in my life now in order for me to become what Divine Wisdom from eternity created me to be. “In order to see ourselves in truth, we must look at ourselves with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, which is also the gaze of Christ the Savior. It is the mercy of God. To see ourselves in reality and truth, we must ask for this gift from the Holy Spirit, who leads us back to Christ. Only Jesus can tell us how we appear, because he looks at us and does not hesitate to give his very life to restore our own.”
So, in an age of “do-it-yourself spirituality,” the Examen reminds us that Christ is our measure and model. “It is natural for a human being to seek a point of reference. Created in the image of God, the human person should not do less than compare him or herself to the Prototype, the original of whom he or she is the image. Given that the Prototype is a living being, the supreme Person in the theological sense, it is evident that we, too — created in God’s image — are not static realities.”
The Examen reminds us always to refocus: what we are often tempted to think of as the mundane grind of our daily lives is the arena in which God is at work right now. Only when armed with this perspective can we then move to how to incorporate the Examen into our daily lives. On the latter, the book provides some useful advice, but since the Examen is intended to foster our spiritual growth (which always occurs in the Church), ongoing counsel about how best to profit from it should come from a confessor or spiritual director.
The book itself is divided into 28 short reflections, each beginning with a quotation from the Fathers or Eastern Christian spirituality. (I especially liked his reflections on the significance of memory in Christian life). An attractive part of this book is its balanced incorporation of Eastern and Western Christian spirituality. (Father Rupnik directs the Centro Aletti in Rome, which brings Eastern and Western European scholars together). Although it is short, the book is a real treasure: each reading reveals deeper and deeper levels of meaning. The price is a steal.
John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
HUMAN FRAILTY, DIVINE REDEMPTION
The Theology and Practice Of the Examen
By Marko Ivan Rupnik, S.J.
Pauline Books and Media, 2011
87 pages, $8.95
To order: pauline.org