By Dr Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | November 30, 2021 | In Reviews
It is amazing how many times people talk and write about Catholicism without remembering the holiness that vibrates at the very center of the Church, radiating from the Eucharist into countless souls. After all, among all those who claim the name Catholic – that is, within this whole visible body of redeemed sinners – the only difference that matters is whether they choose to become truly Catholic in response to that Christlike grace which is communicated continually through all the sacraments. . The difference that matters, in other words, is whether or not they (and we) become saints.
Recently, I discovered two brilliantly simple books that make this essential difference extremely clear, in a way that can help each of us on the path to union with God.
Truth and Holiness
Brant Pitre brings us a new volume of Authentically Catholic Spiritual Direction, published by Image books (a famous major imprint that originated in Doubleday, but is now part of Random House, itself part of Penguin-Random House). As you may recall from other books I have reviewed by Pitre (just enter his name in our search tool in the upper right corner of our web pages), this very accessible Catholic author excels in his understanding of Jewish foundations of Catholicism, allowing it to shed considerable new light on our understanding of Christ, Mary and many Catholic subjects, including prayer and spiritual growth.
In Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, Pitre explains prayer (vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation), examines the general path of spiritual growth, explores the major vices and their corresponding virtues, and discerns what ‘it means to make spiritual progress. To offer a taste, the last section covers:
- Heart exam
- Divine lectio and Jacob’s ladder
- The battle of prayer
- The dark night
- Living water
Each chapter presents rock-solid principles of authentic Catholic spirituality as Pitre clearly proceeds through three stages: (1) Exploring the topic in the Jewish Scriptures; (2) illustrate it in the life of Christ; and (3) explain it more systematically through the Catholic spiritual tradition. The treatment is in each case brief, clear, remarkably rich, and spiritually deep.
How we die
What the modern rich so often forget is that all the wishful thinking in the world cannot overcome death. No matter how we maximize the delights of wealth, ease, labor-saving devices, and distracting entertainment, we’d all better recognize our tendency to ignore the elephant in the room. We must contemplate our ultimate end, which is always and inevitably determined upon our death. That’s the beauty of a new book from Ignatius Press, translated from the work of Italian author Antonio Maria Sicari, OCD: How Saints Die: 100 Stories of Hope.
The introduction to Fr. Sicari’s book, entitled “Death, love, holiness”, clearly highlights what we might call the astonishing gaps – or perhaps cracks or even chasms– in our vision of the modern world. Then, in a series of remarkably skilful biographical notes, the author traces the lives of saints who died as martyrs, died of love, died of ecclesial passion, of maternal charity, of paternal charity, of apostolic labor, culminating in men and women. the women. who were known to die innocent and, well, to “die like saints.”
There are, on average, 12.5 saints in each category (suggesting that averages have their drawbacks). You might want to guess how Fr. Sicari classified saints as diverse as Gianna Beretta Molla, Thomas More, Kateri Tekakwitha, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Vincent de Paul and Catherine Labouré (for take one in each category). But of course, most of the hundred saints in this collection could have been placed in more than one section. Each short biography is between one and two pages long, but despite the brevity, Fr. Sicari does much more than provide a simple “liturgical day” -type summary. He clearly sees the essence of what allowed each of these saints to die well.
If the contemplation of the last four things – death, judgment, heaven and hell – does not push us towards a deeply Catholic view of life, it is doubtful that anything can do without spontaneously grateful participation. to divine love. Fortunately, this possibility remains to a standstill, and it usually requires little more than genuine humility. We all need to recognize our extreme human poverty, a poverty that can only be eliminated by a divine gift.
It is not necessary to be a deep Catholic to receive such a gift, but it is necessary to avoid the pretense of deep thought that comes with becoming a pseudo-Catholic. Once again, the ground on which our receptivity grows is humility, a virtue typically honored in the breach in our culture. And many times, where we naively await spiritual guidance, blind guides lead us straight into the proverbial ditch. So read the Sicari Saints Series for inspiration, read Pitre’s chapters on spiritual growth for instruction – and may we all avoid being part of a sorry collection of uplifting accounts.
Brant Pitre, Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus: Image, 2021. Hardcover 312pp. $ 27.00 (also available as an ebook)
Antonio Maria Sicari, TOC, How Saints Die: 100 Stories of Hope: Ignatius Press, 2021. Paper 234pp. $ 13.46 (eBook $ 7.18)
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