A Coffee-Table Contribution to the New Evangelization

Spirit and Life highlights a variety of churches throughout the United States and abroad

(photo: Register Files)

When you think of a good Catholic book to place on a coffee table, whether at home, the parish office or your workplace waiting room, you start with eye-catching photos to gain the attention of prospective readers. Second, you want an elegantly designed layout (with generous white space) to increase interest. Finally, to fully engage and make a lasting impact, provide inspiring stories of real-life people growing closer to the Lord Jesus and each other.

In her new book Spirit and Life: The Holy Sacraments of the Catholic Church (Sophia Institute Press), Rose Rea and her team of contributors combine all three to produce a work that holds great promise in giving witness to many. While there are those who probably won’t buy Spirit and Life on their own, or perhaps not look it over if received as a gift from a zealous friend or family member, there are many who will casually pick it up if placed on a coffee table they encounter.

The curious will be drawn in by the lovely photography of Peter Weldon that coalesces with the inviting layout and design of Gemma Hawes. Weldon and Hawes’ collaborative venture is on display throughout the book, highlighting a variety of churches in which the sacraments are celebrated, from St. Catherine of Siena Chapel (the Chapel on the Rock) in Allenspark, Colorado, to St. Clement Catholic Church in Chicago, to the ruins of Quinn Abbey in County Clare, Ireland. In viewing these edifying edifices, you can easily imagine yourself amid the ministry of monks from centuries past, or perhaps relive your own receptions of the sacraments and anticipate those yet to come.

The book also features excerpts from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on each sacrament, as well as a commentary by a Father or Doctor of the Church, or a prominent pope.

But what might be read first by many are the insightful and personal reflections by a number of Catholic leaders. There are two for each sacrament. And though Weldon’s photography shines, the most endearing photo in the book is a wedding-day shot (by Heidi Ryder) of Live Action founder Lila Rose and her husband Joe. The newlyweds gaze lovingly at each other while seated on a bench, having realized their matrimonial dreams and yet understanding that their great adventure in the Lord Jesus is just beginning.

In her associated reflection, Rose recognizes the need to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) to prepare well for marriage, including having a “willingness to rest in the arms of our Father, both in our sleep at night and in adoration or sitting in silence with Him before the Blessed Sacrament.” She and Joe “also bonded over simpler things, such as our love for outdoor hikes and long conversations about history, theology and public policy.”

“From the beginning, Joe was clear in his pursuit of me, but it took months of dating, and then engagement, to make clear his love and willingness to sacrifice for me,” adds Rose. “I knew that this was a man who had the virtue and the desire to lead our family and who shared my vision for marriage.”

Meanwhile, in his own reflection on marriage, Catholic author and blogger Sam Guzman gives additional uplifting insight.

“When I was younger, and indeed more immature, I viewed marriage as the fulfillment of my longings,” says Guzman. “What I did not realize then, and do realize now, is that marriage is not about self-fulfillment. It is certainly not about satisfying sexual cravings or about mere emotional affirmation. It is a school of love. And as a school of love, it is a dual to the death with our disordered passions and lusts. It is a daily dying to our sinful selves. It is a moment-by-moment choosing of the way of the cross, which is the way of sacrifice.”

Other reflections include one on Confession by Dominican Sister John Thomas Armour, who provides a remarkable anecdote from one of her sixth-graders who “got it” regarding the Sacrament of Penance, based on a homily he had heard earlier one day during an all-school Mass on the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome.

Another is a reflection on baptism by Katie Almon, who has served the Church as an educator and is also a wife and mother of young children. Almon poignantly shares about her son Jack Michael, who was 2 pounds at birth and died only weeks later. But not before he received baptism, which not only removed the stain of original sin from Jack Michael but also renewed him inwardly, making him “a new creature,” a child of God (CCC 1213-1216).

“By the world’s standards, a little one whose life is marked by suffering does not make sense. Indeed, it’s a source of anger,” says Almon. “Yet, as I faced Jack’s death, I felt peace. Jack’s identity and mission came into crystal-clear focus. He was grafted to the vine. He was hidden in Christ’s wounds. Emerging anew after being plunged into the depths” of the waters of baptism, “Jack’s life bore witness to the entire purpose of the Christian life.”

And relying on friends and family through their ordeal also helped the Almons grow in faith. “They had been our shelter for many months,” says Almon. “Jack had opened up a precious vulnerability inside me. I recognized that opening myself to offers of support allowed me to identify more deeply in the Body of Christ.”

Virtually all Catholics and other Christians have copies of the Bible, and most Catholics also have a copy of the Catechism. Yet many don’t frequently read either. However, after browsing Spirit and Life, and perusing some of the reflections by Catholics who have embraced the sacraments vibrantly, they’ll be more likely to read both and apply the related truth to their lives with renewed conviction.