Our Guide to Fall Reading
The beach chairs and the garden equipment are being put away. Fall can be a time when lengthening evening hours afford the time to do some good spiritual reading.
The beach chairs and the garden equipment are being put away. Fall can be a time when lengthening evening hours afford the time to do some good spiritual reading. This week, the Register takes a look at three recent publications that could fill the bill.
MOTHER TERESA: IN THE SHADOW OF OUR LADY
By Father Joseph
Our Sunday Visitor,
2007, 121 pages,
by TINA DENNELLY
As someone who is always trying to improve her devotion to the Blessed Mother, I was pleasantly surprised to find Blessed Mother Teresa’s ways to do so. In fact, that’s pretty much the goal of Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady, by Father Joseph Langford, co-founder of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers.
This small but insightful book outlines all he learned about Our Lady (as Mother Teresa always referred to her) through his interactions with the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.
While we’ve heard a lot about Mother Teresa’s private letters to her spiritual directors revealing her “dark night of the soul,” this book focuses solely on her relationship with Mary. It’s really more of a combination devotional handbook — indeed, it could easily fit in one hand — and story of a saint and her Mother. “Through 30 years of knowing her, Mother Teresa became for me the one book on Our Lady that I could never put down,” Father Langford writes.
As Catholics, we shouldn’t be surprised by Mother Teresa’s deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. After all, saints throughout the ages were observed to have a deep relationship with her.
Mother Teresa always held a rosary, even when she wasn’t praying it. To those who asked why, according to Father Langford, she responded that it “was her way of reminding herself that she was holding Our Lady’s hand, a hand she had never let go of since her vision [of founding the Missionaries of Charity] of 1947.”
Mother Teresa saw a parallel between herself and Mary standing at the foot of the cross. The Apostle John, like the others, had run away in fear when the events of Jesus’ passion unfolded. At some point, however, he found Mary in the crowd and stayed with her as Jesus was crucified.
“Our Lady brought John to faithfulness,” Father Langford writes, “and to witness the thirst of her Son. This is what she did for Mother Teresa. This is what she offers to do for every disciple.”
I was a little disappointed to read a book by someone as close to Mother Teresa as Father Langford was without hearing more firsthand stories of her life. But Father Langford has given us wonderful insights into one of the main sources of strength for Mother Teresa.
“Stay close to Our Lady,” he quotes her telling the Missionaries of Charity during a visit to Mexico. “If you do this, you can do great things for God and the good of people.”
Tina Dennelly writes from
Oakdale, New York.
A Life of Hope
A LIFE WITH KAROL: MY FORTY-YEAR FRIENDSHIP WITH THE MAN WHO BECAME POPE
By Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, in conversation with Gian Franco Svidercoschi
Translated by Adrian Walker
224 pp., $22.95
To order: doubleday.com
By JOHN BURGER
When A Life with Karol was first published in Italian, we heard stories about the previously unknown adventures of Pope John Paul II — especially how he sometimes slipped out of the Vatican in plain clothes in order to take skiing weekends.
Now that the book has been published in an English translation by Adrian Walker, we can all enjoy a fascinating look at the late Polish Pope, presented by the man who served as his personal secretary for 40 years, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
From the day young Father Dziwisz first met the then-archbishop of Krakow in October 1966 to the night before Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005, when he stood by the bed of the dying giant, this book is a loving portrait of a man who shaped history. It presents a picture of a John Paul we haven’t seen before. It takes us through the years when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla did battle for the Church with the communist regime in Poland, his participation in the Second Vatican Council, his election as Pope, the papal pilgrimages, the leadership of the post-Vatican II Church, the assassination attempt and the program for the new millennium.
The book is full of touching details of the relationship between the two men, such as the first time Father Dziwisz saw his boss in papal finery.
“The doors of the conclave finally opened and the marshal, Marchese Giulio Sacchetti, led me inside the Vatican,” he writes. “The Holy Father was already dining with all the cardinals. When I came in, the cardinal chamberlain, Jean Villot, stood up and presented me to the new Pope with a smile on his face.
“It was a very simple encounter, but for me it was extraordinarily moving. He was looking at me. Maybe he was trying to guess what I felt seeing him dressed as Pope. He didn’t say anything, but he spoke to me with his eyes, because he could do that, you know. He could look right into your soul. I was in the presence of the universal shepherd of the Church, the Pope. Then it finally sank in: He was no longer Cardinal Wojtyla, but John Paul II, the successor of Peter.”
The book is a nice mix of reminiscences and reflections on the meaning of John Paul’s long pontificate. A significant chapter deals with the New Evangelization, a hallmark of that pontificate. Gian Franco Svidercoschi, who interviews Cardinal Dziwisz for the book, notes that this grew out of John Paul’s “commitment to renewal” of the Church. The New Evangelization, he noted, would not be confined to the “traditional mission countries, but was also addressed to a Western world increasingly sunk in spiritual amnesia.”
Cardinal Dziwisz concurs with Svidercoschi and notes that the idea came to John Paul when he noticed “that there was a really urgent need to reinvigorate the churches in the old Christian countries. ... He thus believed it was necessary to go back to the sources of the faith in order to give the mission of evangelization new dynamism and impact.”
Cardinal Dziwisz notes that evangelization is the duty of every Christian, and that John Paul had the sense that the renewal of the Church had to begin with himself, interiorly.
“His main method was reading the Gospel,” the cardinal writes. “He read holy Scripture daily until the very end of his life. It was Scripture that constantly reignited his great impatience to spread Christ’s message around the world.”
The book is a conversation with Svidercoschi, which makes for somewhat difficult reading. The narrative jumps between the cardinal’s reflections and the journalist’s statements, analyses and historical notes. Even though Svidercoschi’s part is presented in italic type, one forgets that there is someone else here besides Cardinal Dziwisz. At times, especially before I caught on, I thought I was hearing Cardinal Dziwisz, when I was hearing Svidercoschi.
But this book is an important work in understanding the mind and soul of Pope John Paul II. It will take its place along George Weigel’s great biography, Witness to Hope.
Hope is, in fact, the very thing one feels for the Church after reading this book.
John Burger is the
Register’s news editor.
Saints Among Us
THE HEART OF A SAINT: Ten Ways to Grow Closer to God
by Bert Ghezzi
Word Among Us Press, 2007
152 pages, $17.95
To order: bookstore.wau.org
BY JUDY ROBERTS
Readers of Bert Ghezzi’s books on saints know him as the go-to guy for stories about the Church’s multitude of holy men and women.
In this latest work, he presents 10 as models of particular aspects of the Christian life. (Seven of these were featured in his 2000 anthology, Voices of the Saints, published by Doubleday.) St. Thérèse of Lisieux, for example, is the focus of a chapter on loving God, while Pope John Paul II is used to illustrate the work of evangelization.
Ghezzi begins by writing that, in looking at the lives of the saints, he has observed one commonality: “a heart set on loving God above all.” Lest readers think sainthood is beyond them, he continues, “Holiness is not the narrowly guarded privilege of a few, but rather an abundantly available opportunity for all.” His point is that all of us can become saints, provided we make the choice to be holy and allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us.
Nonetheless, the lofty lives of holy men and women can be intimidating. Ghezzi’s friendly, approachable style of writing helps make each saint real, convincing us that some degree of what they achieved is attainable. For instance, in the chapter on John Paul II, which looks at the late Pontiff’s efforts to shape and advance the New Evangelization, Ghezzi writes: “The New Evangelization charges laypeople with transforming their culture by living out the requirements of the Gospel in all their social environments. However, Pope John Paul II’s example may seem too big, too daunting for us to imitate, his effort resembling a movie on an IMAX screen, and ours a pencil sketch on a note pad. Even so, we must consider making choices that allow God to act through us to care for others. … We need to behave in ways that show that God is working to set things right in our worlds. Just like John Paul II — on a small scale, perhaps, but following his example nonetheless.”
Ghezzi tells each subject’s story in an engaging way, whether he is writing about the well-known St. Francis of Assisi or more obscure St. Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th-century abbot who was a model of Christian charity and friendship.
With so many canonized saints from which to choose, some readers may take issue with some choices, particularly that of Dorothy Day, whose politics and past have been known to spark controversy.
However, The Heart of a Saint also provides refreshing takes on familiar names like Day, who is typically remembered for her social activism. Ghezzi deals with her work among the poor, but uses her primarily to illustrate the value of prayer and study. He tells how she once chastised a Catholic Worker volunteer for missing daily Mass, saying he was “hurting the work.”
Although relatively short in its number of pages, Ghezzi’s slim volume is packed with an abundance of information. Each chapter incorporates words from Scripture, biographical details and a relevant excerpt from the writings or sermons of other saints, ending with a “Think, Pray and Act” section that provides practical tools for applying lessons drawn from the life of each subject. Readers will find this to be excellent reading for spiritual reflection at any time of the year.
Judy Roberts is based in
- August 31- September 6, 2008