Dolan's Lessons From Peter
A review of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s book To Whom Shall We Go? by John Burger, the Register’s news editor.
BY JOHN BURGER
May 3-9, 2009 Issue | Posted 4/24/09 at 10:05 AM
To Whom Shall We Go?
Lessons From the Apostle Peter
By Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
Our Sunday Visitor, 2008
152 pages, $13.95
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Lessons From Peter
St. Peter is often held up as an example of how God can do wonderful things with even the weakest and most cowardly of us. Peter is the one who ran away — but also the one who ran to the empty tomb.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan finds a lot to like in the fisherman who went on to become the first pope. The archbishop’s book To Whom Shall We Go?, which came out just before the announcement that he would become archbishop of New York, finds lessons for the rest of us in several of Peter’s encounters with Christ.
They are lessons, the archbishop points out at the start, in how to follow the Lord. He confides that he has thought much about what Peter has to teach us, and he counsels us that scriptural passages involving Peter are “potent prayer starters,” valuable passages that are ripe for personal contemplation. Archbishop Dolan helps bring forth the wisdom we can gain if we let our lives be reflected in Peter’s.
To help the reader benefit from this, the archbishop advises that we take a cue from another saint — Ignatius of Loyola. As anyone who’s ever been on an Ignatian retreat knows, a rich experience in contemplation can come about by following Ignatius’ counsel: Take a Scripture passage; pretend to be a part of the scene; pay attention to what happens; ask yourself what conversation you are having with Jesus and others present; and ask what they are saying to you.
Thus, Archbishop Dolan sees our lives as Christians summed up in the scene on Lake Tiberias, when Christ calls St. Peter to come to him across the water. Peter starts to sink only when he notices the turmoil around him. Likewise, the archbishop says, we begin to sink when we allow ourselves to be distracted away from what truly matters. The essential question in living the spiritual life is: “How can we keep looking at Jesus, beckoning us to walk on the water of life toward him?”
The archbishop offers two ways. One is the “practice of the presence of God,” a time-honored spiritual technique that can be accomplished, he says, by always being conscious of “the life of God within my soul.”
As a historian, Archbishop Dolan draws upon an example from World War I, when the Belgians were in danger of being overrun.
Cardinal Desire Mercier appealed to his people to daily “close your eyes and enter the sanctuary of your baptized soul, and there realize that God himself dwells.”
That, to Cardinal Mercier, was the most important thing Belgians could do to survive.
This book is full of similar anecdotes from history, but also from Archbishop Dolan’s experience as a priest, bishop, seminary rector and family man — he relates a touching story of his 9-year-old niece’s battle with cancer and details his brother’s courtship and eventual marriage.
Evidently a transcription of talks he gave, the pages have a feel, at times, of being mere transcripts rather than carefully crafted articles for a book.
As such, the book makes no effort to hide Archbishop Dolan’s very breezy, casual speaking style, which is fine for the most part, but grates a bit when he refers to the Prince of the Apostles as “this guy.” Later, he talks about a heartfelt prayer he made when he just couldn’t figure out why his niece was suffering from cancer: “I’d just talk turkey to the Lord.”
But, as he says regarding the theology that’s in his book, “I am a meat-and-potato guy; there’s nothing really complicated, nothing really exotic about any of this stuff.”
It is theology, true, but Archbishop Dolan presents it in ways anyone can understand.
It’s a style that will play well in New York, and a general readership will derive rich insights into lessons Christ wanted to impart to St. Peter — and to us.
John Burger is the
Register’s news editor.
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