Mike Aquilina has done it again. For years, his books have successfully popularized the Fathers of the Church for contemporary readers. In this latest book, he culls the wisdom of the Fathers to develop a yearlong program for his readers’ spiritual growth.
One could, of course, study patristics as a discrete and sometimes dry theological discipline. Aquilina does not, however, present the Fathers that way, and he has ample precedent. Although the Fathers were deep theologians, they were not scholastics holed up in monasteries or universities. They were mostly active pastors who preached to the people of their times. So the idea of using the Fathers’ works to promote the spiritual growth of readers today is exactly what the Fathers themselves were doing with their listeners yesterday.
Aquilina offers 365 patristic excerpts, one for each day of the year. Each reading is a paragraph or two long, followed by a question — “In God’s Presence, Consider …” — to help the reader to apply the text to his life. Each excerpt concludes with a brief “Closing Prayer.”
Consider this reflection on how the devil operates: “A skilled general, when laying siege to a city, hastens with all speed and with every device to attack the weakened parts of the wall, ordering his battering engines to be brought into action there, knowing very well that in those quarters the capture will be easy. Satan, when intending to lay siege to a human soul, sets to work at its weakest part, thinking that he will by this means bring it into easy subjection — especially when he sees it receiving no assistance from those helps by which it is likely the passion would be defeated, such as noble emotions, provocations to manly courage, suggestions to devotion, and the mystic Eucharist. For this most of all is effective as an antidote to the murderous poison of the devil.”
The text is from Cyril of Alexandria. Want a yearlong retreat with the likes of him, Ambrose, Augustine and Basil the Great? The topics include moral conversion, good and evil, prayer, recognizing God in your life and reckoning with death.
From an aesthetic perspective, this is a beautiful book. It will be a longtime keeper, be it as a gift or a personal possession. Quality paper, gilt edges, a ribbon to keep your place, and a soft leatherette cover that sustains it through daily use are just some of its features.
Some might ask why the book does not follow the liturgical year. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s not Aquilina’s purpose. He introduces you to the Fathers as spiritual directors leading you through Christian life. One of the valuable things about this setup is that you can start the book anytime, not just on Jan. 1. When you open up to spiritual growth, it’s always New Year’s. Second, only an annual book could effectively trace the Church year, because large chunks with central feasts like Easter are moveable.
Let Aquilina introduce you to the Fathers; if you really want to continue with them through the liturgical year, the breviary’s Office of Readings is for you.
John M. Grondelski writes from Bern, Switzerland.
A YEAR WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS
Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living
by Mike Aquilina
Saint Benedict Press, 2010
365 pages, $44.95
To order: saintbenedictpress.com