Even in an age when people seem to be reading books less and spending more time on the Internet, many people still enjoy curling up with a good book. And books — in print or in electronic editions — still make great gifts at Christmastime. Here are a few the Register has found to be of particular interest to Catholic readers.
What Made Teresa Great
WHERE THERE IS LOVE, THERE IS GOD
By Mother Teresa, edited by
Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.
365 pages, $24
To order: randomhouse.com
BY JOHN GRONDELSKI
What made Blessed Teresa of Calcutta great? The same thing that can make you or me great: “small things [done] with great love.”
Mother Teresa didn’t eradicate poverty — but she fed a hungry child. She didn’t eliminate leprosy — but she washed a leper. She herself recognized this: “In our lives we [are] doing nothing big.” But, in another sense, we do nothing small: As she also said, “For God, nothing is small. Once it is offered to Almighty God it becomes infinite.”
Where There Is Love, There Is God is a compendium of Mother Teresa’s insights about life, holiness, the love of God, and being a Missionary of Charity. Those thoughts are contained in two or three sentences, a paragraph or two at most. Yet in her brevity she captures succinctly the essence of what it means to be a Christian, because she is not recruiting for her order but helping to enable every Christian, in his particular station in life, to find God. “What you are doing, I cannot do; what I’m doing, you cannot do, but together we are doing something beautiful for God.” We do those beautiful things when we bring love and its fruit — joy — to those around us.
For Mother Teresa, that meant the poor of Calcutta. But the poor and hungry need not be sought in far-off India. “Maybe I have an old father, an old mother; maybe I have a sick child and I have no time. I’m so busy, I’ve not time. I’ve no time to smile at others. My crippled daughter, my crippled wife, my sick husband — I have no time, and that is Jesus in distressing disguise. The poor you have with you always, perhaps closer than you think.”
Mother Teresa was careful not to lose sight of Jesus, in the Eucharist, which her sisters share and adore daily, or in “the distressing disguise of the poor.” For Mother Teresa, Jesus remains very incarnate — in the sacraments and in the least of his brothers. Our loving response must then likewise be incarnate: “Today God is loving the world through you and through me and through all those who are his love and compassion in the world.”
At the same time, she always remains acutely aware that it is God who works through us: “I’m just a little pencil in his hand.”
A little pencil writing God’s love. Mother Teresa is emphatic about not being a social worker. Her charism was to bring Jesus to this poor man or this sick woman, in the concrete task of washing a leper or deworming a dying man, giving him back his dignity if but for a few moments before leaving this world.
Mother Teresa saw in the poor the continuation of Christ’s passion: The suffering mental patient, the sick man in pain, the dying man in his agony is to be brought to Christ. That is the charism of her community, for if Jesus thirsts for souls, the Missionary of Charity must bring them to him. “We have to satiate the thirst of an infinite God, dying of love.”
“Remember what we do for each other satiates the thirst of Jesus.”
A collection of rich yet simple stories, anecdotes and maxims, this book gives readers both a vision and practical advice whereby they can live the spirituality that animated Mother Teresa in their everyday lives. Reading a passage a day itself would certainly be spiritually enriching. This book makes a great Christmas gift.
John M. Grondelski writes from Bern, Switzerland.
From the Front Lines to the White House
THE ARCHBISHOP WORE COMBAT BOOTS
Memoir of an Extraordinary Life
By Archbishop Philip Hannan
Our Sunday Visitor, 2010
464 pages, hardbound, $24.95
To order: osv.com
By JOHN GRONDELSKI
In the popular holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, the angel Clarence tells George Bailey, “You’ve really had a wonderful life.”
The same can be said of Philip Hannan, retired archbishop of New Orleans and author of The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots.
Archbishop Hannan’s memoirs span a long and colorful life that includes popes and presidents. The archbishop, who was born in Washington in 1913, entered St. Charles College Seminary near Baltimore and completed studies for the priesthood at The Catholic University of America and in Rome. Ordained in December 1939, he volunteered to be an Army chaplain following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served with the 82nd Airborne in England, France, Belgium and Germany. From taking charge of Cologne Cathedral to being among the first post-liberation arrivals at the Wöbbelin concentration camp to occupation duty in divided Berlin, Father Hannan saw the scourge of war firsthand.
Back in Washington, he first studied canon law at Catholic University, then worked in the chancery of the newly erected Archdiocese of Washington. He was ordained a bishop in 1958.
Along the way, he began to serve as a clerical confidant to a congressman from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy, a relationship that lasted into Kennedy’s brief presidency. “Though I was immensely privileged to be his trusted friend and consultant, even more meaningful was having had a priest’s relationship with the president. God knows, we didn’t always agree on religious matters. Flashing back to that whirlwind presidential campaign, I smiled, recalling his long, involved questions on Church policy, my, undoubtedly, equally long-winded answers, which he always accepted. We might argue like the devil, but no verbal skirmish was ever disrespectful of either of our identities. Oh, how I would miss that intellectual parrying — miss my friend, Jack.”
So long was that relationship that Kennedy’s widow asked Bishop Hannan to deliver the sermon at Kennedy’s state funeral.
Bishop Hannan became archbishop of New Orleans in 1965, arriving just after Hurricane Betsy. His years included the desegregation of schools. Archbishop Hannan was a tireless advocate of racial justice in a diocese where his predecessor had excommunicated some ardent segregationists. He helped settle Vietnamese refugees and hosted Pope John Paul II in 1987. He writes frankly, if briefly, about the clerical sex-abuse scandal. Even after retirement in 1988, he has remained a loyal Crescent City son, riding out Hurricane Katrina and cheering the Saints to Super Bowl victory in 2010.
Though the book is interesting, personal and readable, one must nevertheless question some of Archbishop Hannan’s claims. Some chronology is confused: Karol Wojtyla’s building the Nowa Huta Church preceded Solidarity. It is hard to believe that Justice William Brennan (the Catholic who voted for Roe v. Wade) might have already been pro-abortion in 1956, when even the Catholic teaching on contraception was largely intact. From a broader perspective, one should ask 50 years after JFK broke through the “stained-glass ceiling” by being elected America’s first Catholic president, if the cost — his espousal of an incipient version of the “naked public square” — was not a greater setback than benefit for Catholics. Among Catholic Democrats, one might argue that giving short shrift to “Catholic” issues — like Ted Kennedy and Mary Landrieu on abortion — began with JFK’s opposition to parochial school aid and his Houston pledge not to let his religion affect his politics.
Archbishop Hannan has led a wonderful life. We can be grateful to him for sharing that extraordinary life with his readers.
John M. Grondelski writes from Bern, Switzerland.
Light From the Desert
LETTERS FROM THE DESERT
Two Centuries on Prayer in
the Byzantine Tradition
By Cliff Ermatinger
Circle Press, 2010
160 pages, $8.95
To order: circlepress.com
BY HUGH McNICHOL
The adage that good things come in small packages is especially applicable to Letters From the Desert: Two Centuries on Prayer in the Byzantine Tradition by Father Cliff Ermatinger.
The work focuses on the traditional methods of prayer in the Eastern Church. The Desert Fathers of the Eastern Church are the resources cited as the best examples of meditative prayer for Christians. Their unique methodology of seeking refuge in the solitude of the desert allowed the Eastern Church Fathers the chance to write extensively on contemplative prayer as a manner in which to experience God.
In the book, the author uses quotes from the Desert Fathers as the source of inspiration and imitation for the contemporary Catholic reader looking to establish a fundamental prayer relationship with God. Drawing on the Byzantine monastic experience, rooted in desert solitude, he collects more than 200 quotes from the Eastern monastics’ journey of faith towards understanding and appreciating the face of Christ in their prayerful contemplations.
The book is filled with inspirational writing from authors often unknown to us in the Latin Catholic tradition. Writers such as Hesychius of Jerusalem, Theoleptus, Maximus the Confessor and Isaac of Nineveh share their insights on prayer and its methodology as part of every faithful person’s journey that moves onward and upward towards God.
This book provides invaluable insights into the minds and faithful determination of the Monastic Fathers of the Eastern tradition, powerful meditations as vehicles of personal prayer and devotion.
Father Ermatinger, through this devotional recollection of Eastern patristic writings, gives all believers a magnificent source of meditative resources to enrich our common journey of faith through prayer and contemplative meditation. It should be part of every person’s spiritual reading.
Hugh McNichol writes from Wilmington, Delaware.