THE BETTER PART:
A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer
By John Bartunek, LC
Circle Press, 2007
1,019 pages, $35.95
To order: circlepress.org
One of the sharper details developing in the picture of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate is the Pope’s dedication to prayer. In his encyclical Spe Salvi (Christian Hope), the Pope mentions the discipline of prayer several times, even suggesting a return to “offering up” hardships.
Books suited to pursuing prayer abound. Magnificat Scripture commentaries dot pews, and Divine Intimacy, the Carmelite meditation classic, is back in print. Yet, these compendiums embody “spiritual reading,” the genre best suited to increasing one’s general comprehension of Christian messages. For a personalized, intimate encounter with Christ himself, traditional lectio divina — reading guided by the Holy Spirit — cannot be matched. That’s the door on which Father John Bartunek’s The Better Part knocks.
Father Bartunek brings to bear immense intellectual and spiritual gifts in offering a gem of insight in every Gospel meditation throughout the thousand-page volume. Father Bartunek festoons his narrative promptings with quotations from hundreds of saints, alongside relevant passages from papal documents and the Catechism. The deftness with which he has integrated the Tradition of the Church is breathtaking.
The book’s 300 units and questions for small group discussion appeal directly to the will, intellect, heart and whole person. Father Bartunek looks at Christ as Lord, teacher, friend and life. Rereading Scripture with these in mind further opens us to the inner movements of the Holy Spirit, who knows better than we do where to focus our attention and contemplation.
An extra is indexing which helps the reader apply various parts of the book to points on the liturgical calendar and personal needs the seeker might have in his spiritual life.
Even the book’s opening chapters are enlightening, teaching the fundamentals of prayer clearly and concisely, from establishing a routine to warding off sloth.
Consider how he approaches Matthew 6:19-23, in which Jesus speaks of heavenly treasure with authority and conviction: “This is hardly a popular communication style in our self-centered world, which tries to drown out the cry of violated consciences with the soothing lies of ambiguity, mediocrity, and sophisticated tolerance. It’s one reason why Jesus isn’t so popular. But popularity can’t change the way things really are, and that’s what our Lord has: the truth. In fact, he is the Truth.”
Father Bartunek chose The Jerusalem Bible for the Scripture passages; it is a more figurative translation and unfamiliar to younger Catholics. Most likely, he did so for its lively, fresh prose: How better to reencounter Christ than to begin with untried passages? A few words from the author on this subject would buttress his reasoning.
As impressive as the meditations are as the writing of one priest, they are just that. Father Bartunek’s theological leanings tend toward the spiritually combative and, to his credit, never towards the antiquarian. For some, this daily discovery will be reifying and delivering, but others will find it daunting.
Nonetheless, even St. Martha, who chose the good part upon Jesus’ visit, would no doubt find in this contemplative masterwork inspiration to choose the better part.
Stephen Mirarchi writes
from Tampa, Florida.