What are you reading?
“What are you reading?”… a question a friend of mine inevitably poses whenever our paths cross.
I am always eager to receive a recommendation of a good book. Because I suspect that you are, too, I thought I would use my column to suggest a few books that I have read recently and found to be simulating fare.
John Henry Newman by Ian Ker, senior research fellow in theology at Oxford University, is a monumental biography of the recently beatified English convert. Cardinal Newman’s complex character and stunning genius radiate from each of the 750 pages of this comprehensive treatment of a man who has been called the dominating religious figure of the nineteenth century, and who is one of the forerunners of the Second Vatican Council. The remarkable volume, a gift to me from a gentleman who, like Newman, converted to Catholicism from the Anglican Church, is daunting in it sheer thickness. It is well worth the reader’s effort, though, for the thickness reveals, in both depth and detail, the life, times, and thought of a towering churchman who has been the inspiration for generations of others who have come home to Rome.
If you are looking for a “guidebook for the journey to God based on the wisdom of the saints,” Ralph Martin’s The Fulfillment of All Desire is for you. This book by a prominent lay leader in Church renewal movements and current director of the graduate program in the New Evangelization at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary, is a contemporary classic on the spiritual life. Martin describes the spiritual journey in its several stages, from the first awakenings as transformation begins, on towards a certain stability in prayer and deeper purification, to what our tradition has called the “unitive way,” that profound intimacy with God that is a final preparation for the beatific vision — a faithful believer’s eternal reward. Martin calls upon five saints to guide the reader along the path of transformation: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Francis de Sales.
My library includes hundreds of books I have read once and then placed on a bookshelf, sometimes never to be touched again, except to be dusted or crated for transport to a new address. The Fulfillment of All Desire is a different story. It will remain on my “active” shelf, ready at hand to be consulted often.
The membership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops includes many bishops with impressive scholarly credentials — theologians, historians, canonists, Scripture scholars. Some have been seminary and university professors, even presidents and rectors. Many are authors.
On that short list of top bishop intellectuals, though, is Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the USCCB. The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Conversion, and Culture, is proof enough of its double doctorate author’s insight, wisdom and erudition, all of it built upon an edifice of robust ecclesial faith.
Cardinal George is an astute observer and analyst of contemporary American culture, with all its blessings and curses. In this wide-ranging look at Catholic faith and life, Cardinal George invites us to consider the profound ways in which our relationship with God and one another makes a crucial difference — all the difference — in who we are and how we love.
Our Catholic faith gives us a lens allowing us to see every dimension of our lives — personal and social — differently. Through that lens, Cardinal George invites us to think about the evangelization of American culture, Catholic-Muslim dialogue, the crisis of “liberal Catholicism,” the role of the lay faithful, the mission of priests, and the Church’s worship.
The tone of the book is perhaps best described in its final sentence:
“Believers are true to themselves when they raise the question of who they are in ecclesial communion and judge all their personal actions in the light of that truth which, when all is said and done, is Christ himself:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn. 14:6).
Three fine books. For Christmas gifts. For you. Enjoy! And be ready to be challenged intellectually and spiritually.