Help for the Journey of Life

The Register features several recent books that deal with pilgrimages — religious journeys as well as the pilgrimage of life by Amy Welborn, Marko Ivan Rupnik and Paul Badde

There are all kinds of journeys, and many kinds of pilgrims. As the liturgical year — itself a kind of pilgrimage — progresses from Easter on to Pentecost, the Register looks at recent books that have some insight into the pilgrimage of life.

Our earthly journey requires a road map, and the Church has a fair share of them to go around. One of the most trusted is the method of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik is known for his Eastern-style mosaics, particularly those he designed for Pope John Paul II’s private chapel in the Vatican. In Human Frailty, Divine Redemption, he turns from his artistic activity to examine how Ignatius’ Examen can keep us on the right path.

Another tried-and-true tool to help us find our way is making pilgrimages to sites commemorating particular divine interventions. Millions of pious Christians have gone to Italy to venerate the Shroud of Turin. In The True Icon, German author Paul Badde writes about this and another mysterious image, the Holy Face of Manoppello, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour through Christendom on a quest for answers.

The end of life’s journey is seldom easy for loved ones left behind. Amy Welborn, one of the first and most prominent Catholic writers to bring faith-inspired reflections to the blogosphere, has firsthand experience of that. In 2009, her husband, Michael Dubruiel, passed away suddenly at age 50, leaving her a widow and their children fatherless. The journey she undertook to answer some of the questions the tragedy unearthed formed the basis of her latest book, Wish You Were Here.

We at the Register wish you fruitful reading and a blessed journey.

Travels Through Loss and Hope

By Amy Welborn
Image Books, 2012
246 pages, $14
To order:

Death Takes a Holiday
By John M. Grondelski

“‘Death, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?’ Paul could mock death. Me, I’m not there yet.”
What would you do if you were a grieving, 40-something widow with three kids, because your husband had died unexpectedly five months earlier on a treadmill at the local Y? Amy Welborn took the family to Sicily for three weeks.

Welborn’s Sicilian sojourn reflects a wife and mother struggling in faith to keep her faith while facing the hole that death rips in life. Sicily just provides the backdrop for grappling with all of the questions: the “Why him?” “Why now?” “How much I want to see him!” “If only I’d …” “If only he’d …” The mundane events of their travels are but the canvas for some poignant reflections about faith. A trip to Mount Etna reminds her that life springs up even amid destruction. Like the grand castle they visit, whose builders and owners are long dead, whose power and pelf have today become the playground for a 4-year-old gelato-eating American tourist oblivious to all the place once represented. Like the organic farmer who runs the B&B where they stayed, a farm where wheat, olives and weeds grow together because he rather would await the harvest than apply pesticides. Like the silent church in a small town unexpectedly open during the hours of sancta siesta because there is a wake going on.

Far from a dry theological treatise, Welborn masterfully blends individual struggle, faith pondering, a what-happened-on-summer-vacation travelogue, and the wry insights of a mother traveling with 4-, 8- and 17-year-olds into a very personal yet very universal meditation on death. For those who have lost a loved one, her twists and turns will be all too familiar.

So why did she go to Sicily? I think Welborn’s answer is to be found in the fact that “home” is no longer “home.” Once a loved one dies, there’s a certain sense in which you can’t go home again. And the more you wrestle with it, the more you have more friends and relatives in the hereafter than here, the more the mansions of this world seem perhaps to be so many temporary lodgings.

“I wonder if I will ever feel at home anywhere again. … For that is what Mike took with him that morning. In trying to name the loss, I’ve settled on this. It wasn’t perfectly complete because we are human and because this is earth, but it is the most home I had ever experienced, and the loss of that is starting to hit me hard. No home. He went away and took it and left me here, yearning for home. And maybe that is the point of all of this. That in each other on earth, in love, we glimpse a bit of home, enough to ground us for just a bit, and enough to show us where home really is, what is wanting and what is waiting.”

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. But the trip still hurts.

John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.


The Theology and Practice
Of the Examen

By Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ
Pauline Books and Media, 2011
87 pages, $8.95
To order:
(800) 876-4463

See Your Soul as God Sees It
By John M. Grondelski

Although it acquired particular prominence in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the Examen has always been and should be an important part of a Catholic’s daily life. This daily prayerful introspection has two important purposes:

First and foremost, the Examen constantly requires us to reset our focus, to look at ourselves as God sees us, not as we might want to see ourselves. Second, it reinforces a healthy sense of right and wrong by making us see our deeds not through subjective eyes, but through those of a merciful yet just God.

Jesuit mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik’s little guide is designed to help people make the Examen a part of their lives.

One of the attractive things about this book is that it begins with the theology of the Examen. Before one begins the “how,” it is first essential to understand the “why.” The Examen is neither a “psychological exercise” nor an inventory of one’s sins from that day. It is a “prayer.” Its purpose is not to catalogue the past, but constantly to ask what God is doing in my life now in order for me to become what divine Wisdom from eternity created me to be:

“In order to see ourselves in truth, we must look at ourselves with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, which is also the gaze of Christ the Savior. It is the mercy of God. To see ourselves in reality and truth, we must ask for this gift from the Holy Spirit, who leads us back to Christ. Only Jesus can tell us how we appear, because he looks at us and does not hesitate to give his very life to restore our own.”

So, in an age of “do-it-yourself spirituality,” the Examen reminds us that Christ is our measure and model. “It is natural for a human being to seek a point of reference. Created in the image of God, the human person should not do less than compare him or herself to the Prototype, the original of whom he or she is the image. Given that the Prototype is a living being, the supreme Person in the theological sense, it is evident that we, too — created in God’s image — are not static realities.”

The Examen reminds us to refocus: What we are often tempted to think of as the mundane grind of our daily lives is the arena in which God is at work right now. Only when armed with this perspective can we then move to consider how to incorporate the Examen into our daily lives. On the latter, the book provides some useful advice, but since the Examen is intended to foster our spiritual growth (which always occurs in the Church), ongoing counsel about how best to profit from it should come from a confessor or spiritual director.

The book is divided into 28 short reflections, each beginning with a quotation from the Church Fathers or Eastern Christian spirituality. (I especially liked his reflections on the significance of memory in Christian life.) An attractive part of this book is its balanced incorporation of Eastern and Western Christian spirituality. (Father Rupnik directs the Centro Aletti in Rome, which brings Eastern and Western European scholars together to study.) Although it is short, the book is a real treasure — each reading reveals deeper and deeper levels of meaning — and the price makes it a bargain.

John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.


By Paul Badde

Ignatius Press 2012
160 pages, $19.51
To order:
(800) 651-1531

An Adventurous Quest … Continued
By Joseph Pronechen

Two years ago, in The Face of God, German author Paul Badde took us on an exciting and adventurous quest spanning two millennia. In minute detail he traced a relic revered by some to be the portrait of Jesus Christ on the veil that covered his face in the tomb.

In his latest book, The True Icon, the author brings together two images — that veil (the Veil of Manoppello) and the Shroud of Turin. He takes us on a fascinating journey loaded with some surprising turns and some amazing insights and answers about both images.

Badde starts by focusing on the shroud, which he calls “the most thoroughly investigated piece of fabric in the world.” He says good-bye to all the scientific examinations and theories that still can’t answer how the image got onto the linen cloth, and he instead turns to the images’ histories and the Gospels.

Here, he’s not interested in proving if the shroud is genuine, because, as he says, “I doubt — frankly — a lot of things. I doubt the latest news, I doubt my telephone bills and many prescriptions, and so on, but not that the Shroud of Turin accommodated Jesus of Nazareth after his death for two nights and a Sabbath.”

Thus, he takes the reader on this brave and necessary leap of faith that the shroud is the true burial cloth of Christ and the veil that covered Jesus’ face in the Holy Sepulcher. Along the way, like a detective on a trail, the author turns up one historic fact or clue after another.

The Gospel accounts of the empty tomb and Resurrection become the foundational stones, especially St. John’s. “Of course!” you say, when Badde illustrates how, taken together, the Resurrection narratives seem to use cinematic cutting techniques to tell the sheer inconceivable excitement of what’s going on.

The case Badde makes for why, in the first several years, the shroud and veil weren’t publicly displayed but hidden makes perfect sense.

He details how Jewish standards of ritual cleanliness and prohibitions against ritual impurity play a major part.

Badde relies heavily on John 20:4-8, in which the beloved disciple mentions the burial cloths (plural) three times and separately “the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths, but rolled up in a separate place.”

From the Gospel and the tomb configuration itself, Badde postulates that Peter saw the veil first because “… on the large burial cloth there was nothing to see at that first moment in the dark, narrow chamber where it could not even be unfolded. That brings us to the next step. For now we not only can but must observe how afterward Peter and John hastily gathered up all the cloths and brought them into the daylight. They had to bring them to safety. … Nothing could remain lying there. Who knew, then, what the other cloths concealed?”

So the shroud and the Holy Face veil, now housed in a church in Manoppello, in the Abruzzi hills that Pope Benedict XVI chose to visit in 2006 as his first trip outside Rome, become two witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection that we have with us today.

Badde brings all this to light in an engaging style. There are enthralling sections of dialogue, where we sit next to him and his wife as they discuss facts and theories and where they lead.

Abundant illustrations distinguish this book, from pictures of the shroud and veil to centuries-old art documenting them, like the cathedral fresco commemorating the shroud’s arrival in Pinerolo on its way to Turin in 1578.

Another is of the original banner flown on the Savoy flagship at the Battle of Lepanto picturing Mary and angels holding the Shroud of Turin.

With his exceptional point of view, we can only wonder why Badde used the word “luck” several times on the quest. Why not “divine Providence”?

Nevertheless, Badde makes a compelling case, adding common sense and simple reasoning to biblical and historic fact that anyone can follow. As a bonus, this book becomes a meditative source, from its text to its illustrations and images.

Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.