A Tale of 2 Brothers
MY BROTHER, THE POPE
By Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, as told to Michael Hesemann
270 pages, $24.95
To order: ignatius.com
The vital importance of holy, Catholic family life in helping a young man to discern the call to priesthood and all that may follow from that call, including even becoming the Pope, is at the heart of this book-length interview with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger. Midway through the sympathetic interview, conducted by German journalist Michael Hesemann, Pope Benedict XVI’s elder brother cites the Ratzinger family itself as the key ingredient that influenced his and his brother’s decisions to become priests.
“It was clear to me from the beginning — although serving at the altar and, of course, perhaps more than anything else, the spirituality of our family had something to do with it — that I would go into ministry.” Young Joseph Ratzinger later followed his brother into the diocesan seminary, and the two have been intimate blood brothers and brothers in the Lord ever since.
Authenticity is at the heart of their lives and spirituality. “As brothers, Joseph and I were one heart and one soul; naturally we also quarreled and fought, that is part of it, but by and large we were inseparable, and that remained so our whole life long,” Msgr. Ratzinger told Hesemann. The reader quickly comes to believe that Pope Benedict would only reinforce and echo the memories of his brother, so close are the two even up to the present day, with Georg living in Germany and his brother at the Vatican, where regular brotherly reunions take place throughout the year.
The spirituality of the Ratzinger family was marked by love, prayer, liturgical worship, Marian piety, pilgrimages, convivial parish life, love for sacred music and a deep concern for the welfare of others. It also took place within — and to a large degree in opposition to — the Nazi takeover of their beloved homeland. The Ratzingers, like many serious Catholic families in Germany, suffered at the hands of the pagan disciples of Hitler, but this suffering only served to make them even more dedicated to Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. The Ratzinger brothers, along with their sister, Maria, and their parents, Joseph and Maria, lived in a variety of small Bavarian towns where the elder Joseph served as a policeman. The senior Ratzinger’s opposition to the Nazi leadership did not make for a stellar career in the police force, and the family was forced to move a number of times. But throughout their trials, the family only grew closer.
Msgr. Ratzinger, who became a famous choir director in Regensburg, Germany, is known to have an extraordinarily accurate and detailed memory, which shows itself in various colorful descriptions of the homes, towns, churches and schools where the family lived out their Catholic spirituality. The monsignor displays in his depictions just how Bavarian spirituality, like all solid Catholic spirituality, is earthy, grounded in reality, sacramental, beautiful and joyful. He usually embellishes his recollections with descriptions of delicious German foods that were served on various occasions and which make for mouth-watering reading. He told Hesemann, who does a masterful job of keeping the story moving forward, about a meal that was served upon the Pope’s return to the brothers’ hometown after the Pope’s election: “Eventually there was breznsuppe (pretzel soup), roast beef smothered in onions, spätzle, and finally a pineapple custard; everything tasted wonderful.”
There are dozens of rarely seen color and black-and-white photos interspersed throughout the book. Especially interesting are the ordination photos of the Pope and Msgr. Ratzinger, who were ordained together in 1951. The Ratzinger family’s spirituality has produced an abundance of priestly spirituality that has benefitted the world greatly. This book helps to explain the source of so many graces that have come from so faithful a Catholic family.
Father Matthew Gamber writes from Chicago.
Faith at Work
THE CATHOLIC BRIEFCASE
Tools for Integrating Faith and Work
By Randy Hain
Liguori Publications, 2011
137 pages, $16.99
To order: liguori.org
Written with the zeal of a convert and the concision of a businessman with a knack for marketing, The Catholic Briefcase, as the title implies, might be geared toward executive types struggling to grow in faith, discover spiritual balance amid the flux of corporate life and be leaven to their colleagues. Then again, this book could just as easily fit into the lunch box of a construction worker eager to deepen and share his faith. In either case, the book offers a valuable return on investment.
Randy Hain, managing partner of an Atlanta-based executive search firm and co-founder of the e-magazine Integrated Catholic Life, has written a practical and powerful book suitable for any Catholic, whether or not he wears a suit to work, let alone carries a briefcase. This book is for any reader who wants to wholesomely incorporate his faith into the workday world rather than relegating it to Sundays. Ours is an apostolic faith, meaning we’re sent out to spread the Good News, not read it at home, praise it at church and keep mum at all other times. It is also for those who don’t share the Gospel out of honest confusion and misplaced fear: How can I share the faith without sounding like a buffoon, either Elmer Gantry or Ned Flanders but wearing a crucifix? Then again, isn’t it against company policy to proselytize, anyway?
This book answers questions along these lines for men and women of good will who want to fully live their Catholicism rather than leaving their faith at the door when they go to work. And as for that last question about proselytizing, Hain gives a clear and compelling answer typical of the style and content of this practical primer for fusing faith and work:
“I have heard many times that expressing faith in the workplace is ‘against company policy.’ Have you actually seen a written policy addressing making the Sign of the Cross and praying at meals, praying quietly at your desk, going to Mass at lunch, or wearing ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? Let me challenge all of us to consider the possibility that much of our fear may be based on a false perception of possible persecution and not reality. Therefore, use your right to live your life as faithfully as you possibly can. In doing so, you will not only find work more enjoyable, but you will inspire others to do the same.”
Making the faith part of our comfort zone, Hain implies, is key to becoming comfortable sharing it with others. For the faith should be worn as naturally and comfortably as a well-tailored suit whose top quality but modest appearance pleases an onlooker’s eye without his even noticing exactly why — versus, say, a garish outfit that’s the sartorial equivalent of a street-corner evangelist repelling passersby with an un-Christlike invitation to hell sans repentance. Hain does not recommend that style of proselytizing, of course, which gives the word a negative connotation, besides being ineffective and, if not against company policy per se, certainly worth a dressing-down in personnel. Being on fire with a pure and luminous faith, however, presents a welcoming light, not hellfire to burn nonbelievers that could be grounds for getting fired or at least being shunned at the company “holiday” party.
Before we can become comfortable sharing the faith, however, we must, to borrow from St. Paul, put on our spiritual power suits. To this end, Hain stresses the importance of developing a disciplined prayer life with set times (“If it’s not on the calendar [traditional or smartphone version], it rarely happens”) that taps into the Church’s wellspring of prayer practices and devotions. (He finds the Rosary and the Jesuits’ Daily Examen particularly powerful through practice, making it second nature.) And as for daily Mass, the Eucharist is the ultimate power lunch to nourish the heart, mind and soul of the believer, empowering him to present the faith with knowledge, compassion and grace. Presented right, the faith is lovely to behold and a treasure to share. And Randy Hain is an able guide in helping Christians do that higher work we all are called to perform, however we earn our daily bread. In writing The Catholic Briefcase, Hain deserves some well-earned bread, too, so do buy his book, and you will count yourself blessed.
Matthew A. Rarey writes from Chicago.
Don’t Know Much About the Bible?
BIBLE BASICS FOR CATHOLICS
A New Picture of Salvation History
By John Bergsma
Ave Maria Press, 2012
192 pages, 14.95
To order: avemariapress.com
“You ought to know the Bible better than you do, and you probably feel vaguely guilty that you don’t.”
This opening sentence to Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History by John Bergsma, associate professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, is the author’s motivation for writing this concise but rich book in which he hopes to make “the Bible’s big picture […] begin to make more sense” for the reader. He fulfills this goal admirably.
Bergsma’s approach is to give an overview of salvation history as presented in the Bible as a series of covenants between God and man, or what he calls “mountaintop experiences.” One chapter is devoted to each of the six covenants (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus), with an additional chapter exploring the prophets’ role in anticipating the New Covenant, that is: Jesus Christ.
In the introduction, three key terms (covenant, mediator and mountain) integral to the entire approach of the book are explained. Each chapter has suggested Scripture readings. In addition, the reader will be given many, sometimes extended, quotes from the Bible in the text itself. Simple line drawings in the author’s own hand may provide a chuckle or two, but they serve to reinforce and make memorable what is learned. Each chapter ends with a pictorial recap of all covenants explored to that point. Particularly powerful is the last chapter, which shows how Jesus fulfills the expectations of each covenant and establishes the New Covenant promised by the prophets, neatly tying together everything presented to that point. An afterword provides encouragement to the reader to respond to the message of Scripture with a deeper appreciation and enthusiasm for the sacraments, the Catholic faith, Scripture and evangelization.
Even though this is a basic, non-intimidating overview of the Bible, the author is not afraid to deepen our appreciation of Scripture by occasionally introducing some important technical terms and Hebrew and Greek words, always explaining them thoroughly and understandably. He also regularly brings out profound and interesting points, like the meaning of the word “manna” or the importance of the seemingly obscure figure Melchizedek. Humor is interspersed occasionally, lightening things up, but always serving to make a point.
The book would have benefited from discussion and reflection questions after each chapter for those who wish to use it for more formal Bible study or meditation. Also, for those who have been away from the Scriptures for a while and are wondering about the best translation to use, a recommendation for a Bible version does not appear until well into the second chapter. The suggested reading section is not very extensive, but the concluding “Notes” section (be sure to keep a finger in this section while you’re reading) makes up for it, with references to many scholarly resources for those wanting to take deeper dives into certain areas of interest.
This book is based on the very popular “Principles of Biblical Study” courses that Bergsma teaches, one of which I had the pleasure of being enrolled in a few years ago. While nothing beats his engaging live presentation of the material, this volume is the next best thing to being there.
Richard Grebenc writes from Chicago.