Late Autumn Book Reviews

Happy Thanksgiving!

All the Pope’s Saints: The Jesuits Who Shaped Pope Francis, by Fr. Sean Salai, SJ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2017) 144 pages; $15.00. Reviewed by Deacon David Paternostro, S.J.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard, by Aurora Griffin (Ignatius Press, 2016) 184 pages; $15.00. Reviewed by Jon M. Ericson.

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. By Edward Feser, and Joseph M. Bessette. (Ignatius Press, 2017) Reviewed by K.E. Colombini.

Marian Maximalism, by Jonathan Fleishmann, PhD. (Academy of the Immaculate, 2016) 210 pages, $15.95. Reviewed by Brother Anthony Josemaria.

Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught Me to Trust and Embrace Life, by Colette Lafia, (Indiana: Sorin Press, 2015) pp. 160; $14.99. Reviewed by Vicki Gordon.

“Remain in Me:” Holy Orders, Prayer, and Ministry, by Deacon James Keating, PhD. Reviewed by Fr. Dennis J. Billy, C. Ss.P. Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ: 2018. Pp. 119.

The Spirituality of the Second Vatican Council, by Fr. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., New York/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014. 80 Pages. Reviewed by Liam Farrer, MA(Th).


All the Pope’s Saints: The Jesuits Who Shaped Pope Francis, by Fr. Sean Salai, S.J. (Our Sunday Visitor, 2017) 144 pages; $15.00. Reviewed by Deacon David Paternostro, S.J.

All the Pope’s Saints is not first and foremost a book about Pope Francis. Indeed, there are some chapters where Francis is a tangential figure. Yet Francis would likely approve of this fact. The Vicar of Christ ought to help people focus on Christ. At some point, like John the Baptist, he must decrease so that the Lord might increase. Pope Francis’s own preaching on “spiritual worldliness” serves as a warning against those who forget to diminish themselves. Moreover, there have been so many biographies, books, and studies of Francis that another would be repetitive. What Salai gives us in All the Pope’s Saints is, therefore, a refreshing change of pace. He does not show us Pope Francis so much as he shows us the spiritual world Francis emerged from. Over the course of 158 pages and several dozen saints, Salai shows us the animating force of Pope Francis—the Jesuit saints and the spirituality they embody.

Salai is a very gifted story-teller, and this fact is clearly evident from the first page, as he tells the story of St. Ignatius, and how Ignatius himself was influenced by considering the saints. Before Ignatius ever studies theology, or set down a spiritual rule, he read of the saints and asked “is this what St. Dominic or St. Francis would do?” Newman observed that a single faithful Catholic could do more for Catholicism in England than a whole theological library. In a recent book-length interview with John Allen, Bishop Barron—perhaps the premiere communicator of “Catholicism alive”— notes (using a baseball metaphor) that “a huge swath of Catholics do not know the fundamentals of Christianity. They don’t know the beauty of the game. They don’t know what the infield feels like. […] It will just seem like arbitrary rules being imposed on you.” If you want someone to fall in love with baseball, you tell them about the greats—Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio. So, too, with Catholicism. If you want people to fall in love with the faith, you tell them about the greats—including St. Ignatius, St. Margaret Mary, and St. Robert Bellarmine.

As Salai tells the stories of the greats of the Jesuit order (and a few, like St. Margaret Mary, whose own stories are wound up in the stories of Jesuits), he does so by grouping them around a series of virtues, all flowing from humility. If we are humble and recognize our place before God, we will have complete trust in Him. Trusting God, we will be open to what He asks of us, and carry out our mission with generosity. As we are generous in giving, we will be simple in our task, focusing only on what we need to have in order to keep being generous. With that simplicity, we will likewise have dedication for the task at hand, and have gratitude for ourselves, and all we are given, to carry out the task. Salai’s chapters flow with a certain logic, and likewise, the stories of the saints flow one into the other.

Because these saint biographies are grouped around a particular virtue that they exemplify, this book can be of particular help to the preacher. More than any textbook on virtue, ethics, or theology, the saints show us what it means to follow Jesus. They give us concrete images we can grasp. A lengthy discourse on the virtue of humility is nothing compared to a brief look at the life of a humble saint in moving the hearts of listeners. Someone looking to preach on any of the virtues which Salai presents in this book, would do well to read the relevant chapter, and consider integrating the story of one of the saints featured for that virtue into a homily.

Part of what makes Salai’s stories of the saints so effective is that they are also very personal. He does not simply tell the story of St. John Berchmans—he tells the story of how John Berchmans appeared to Mary Wilson in a Sacred Heart convent just a mile from where Fr. Salai made his own novitiate. He does not just tell of how Alphonsus Rodriguez is a model of simplicity—he tells of his own struggles (and that of many Jesuits and other religious) of what “simplicity” should look like in his own life of poverty. His candor as he tells elements of his own story is moving and appropriate. The way in which he weaves his own story in with the saints never overwhelms the saint’s story. This is a book about saints, and it stays that way. But as Salai tells of the impact that these saints had on his own life which one can, likewise, grasp the import of the saint for anyone’s life. Through a series of anecdotes and quirky stories, Salai reminds us that the “communion of saints” is not just something in common that saints have with one another, but with all of us as well.

As Salai weaves his story (and Pope Francis’s) in and out of the lives of the saints with skill, he does the same with the saints themselves. In the chapter on gratitude, for instance, Salai groups saints who might not be obvious choices—Claude de la Colombiere and Margaret Mary Alacoque, the two saints who brought the Sacred Heart to the world, are placed alongside Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, the two Jesuit Doctors of the Church whose writings helped form the intellectual backbone of the Counter-Reformation. But for all their differences in learning and style, they all had something much deeper in common—all of them “gazed in gratitude at Jesus Christ” (p. 145). Gratitude comes in all forms, and so does following Jesus, but in Salai’s book we see the deeper unity which all the saints share.

Pope Francis will not be around forever, but something of the spirit and spirituality which animates him will likely never leave the Church. Salai’s book is an excellent introduction to the spirituality which St. Ignatius gave to the world, and which has moved countless Jesuits to serve the Lord and His Church with fidelity, courage, and generosity. There is only one minor quibble I would have with something Salai has written: that if “some readers don’t care much for Pope Francis, or his way of speaking about Jesus, they may not like this book very much either” (p. 27). Salai has written a fine book, and one which will hopefully be cherished by all who wish to draw closer to the Lord in friendship.

Deacon David C. Paternostro, S.J., is a Jesuit currently working on an STL at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard by Aurora Griffin (Ignatius Press, 2016) 184 pages; $15.00. Reviewed by Jon M. Ericson.

Aurora Griffin has written a useful guide for the neophyte scholar to traverse the hazardous pathways of a secular university. The book, based on her personal experience, provides eminently practical advice directed at the entering freshman, but equally appropriate for the university student at any level. In addition to such practical advice as finding new friends slowly, seeking a mentor, making a prayer list, and even such ordinary details as taking a notebook to a retreat, the author touches on some enormously important topics. But, like Robert Browning’s Duchess, she treats all topics just the same. For example, item three, “Sanctify Your Work” raises important questions on the relationship of piety and learning, of Christian vocation. Because there is, no doubt, in this reader’s mind that Ms. Griffin is fully capable of addressing that topic in depth, it is all the more disappointing that she did not.

The disappointment was exacerbated when, on turning the page from a most thoughtful narrative of a spiritual retreat, expectations were heightened as one turns to a page blank except for just one word: ACADEMICS. Here, surely, is where we confront the apparent conflict between piety and scholarship, and learn from engaging in the conflict, that faith and reason, piety and scholarship, can live quite comfortably together, and that one’s faith is strengthened by the encounter. But no…the heading on the next page is “Find Catholic Professors.” The author dances trippingly around what could be the philosophical foundation for her book when she points to Augustine’s use of pagan sources and observes “…all truth is God’s truth, no matter where you find it…in math, psychology, or theology.” (p.122) There is, indeed, the potential for strengthening the faith as one grapples with the hard questions secular scholarship presents, but the potential for growth is limited if one looks for answers only from authorities, rather than experiencing one’s own intellectual tug of war. In sum, there is more to keeping the faith, and growing in the faith, than remaining close to like-minded believers.

In that regard, the author does advise the student to seek Christian fellowship outside of the Catholic church, benefit from what is best in Protestant teaching, and spend some time with people who clearly disagree with your beliefs and values. Nevertheless, the emphasis is clearly on finding a Catholic parish, a Catholic club, Catholic friends, Catholic faculty, in short: “Just be Catholic.” So, one could dismiss the author’s text as simply telling us that one stays Catholic at Harvard by staying Catholic at Harvard, but that would be unfair to the author’s intention. This book is all about the “How,” and the “How” is enumerated in forty useful “Tips” for the faithful student. The term,“Tips,” undervalues the substance that is there, quite a lot more than a tip in most sections. This advice is experientially based, clearly and interestingly described, and the whole treatise is undergirded by a childlike faith that the saints must admire, and the reader cannot avoid. In addition to all the good, practical advice, there is a spiritual richness to the text that will likely be contagious.

My brief conclusion addresses minors, and a major. One of the “minors” concerns the liturgical year where Advent is said to be preparation for Christmas. While it may seem so at the shopping center, I believe the gospel texts for all the major denominations concern the second coming of Christ. A second minor matter is the description of theological differences between Catholics and Protestants regarding faith and works, with apparent disregard for the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, an official statement issued by the Catholic Church, and the Lutheran World Federation in 1998. Section 4.7 of that declaration puts the matter so simply and so well: “We confess together that good works—a Christian life lived in hope, faith, and love—follow justification and are its fruits.” While those two minor matters might bring a whimper, the major item brings a howl. While it is true that the author’s statement “Don’t be Liberal” must be taken in context, it is also true that such a sweeping generality needs to be given definition and limitation. I would further observe to the truth of the fact that there has been no greater liberal in human history than Jesus Christ, and that Pope Francis is one of the most outstanding of our time. Finally, if you are a Christian headed for college, or the parent of that lucky soul, read this book.

Dr. Jon Ericson’s academic experience includes teaching at Pacific Lutheran University, Stanford, and Central Washington, and concludes as Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts at Cal Poly, SLO.

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. By Edward Feser, and Joseph M. Bessette. (Ignatius Press, 2017) Review by K.E. Colombini.

To the average Catholic in the pew, and the many who avoid the pews, Church teaching on the death penalty is pretty clear. It is wrong. It is wrong because we believe in the right to life “from conception to natural death,” as we so often hear. It is wrong because it is an affront to the dignity of the human person. It is wrong because we are called to be people of mercy, and to turn the other cheek. It is wrong because it is unnecessary for punishment, and isn’t a deterrent. It is wrong because it is applied unfairly to the poor and minorities. It. Is. Wrong.

In page after page, this important work by two, noted Catholic professors—one of philosophy (Edward Feser), and the other a professor of government and ethics (Joseph M. Bessette)—tears apart each of these claims, except the first. Catholic teaching on the death penalty is pretty clear. Catholic teaching on the subject, rooted in both revelation and natural law, is clear that the state has the right to take the life of a criminal in capital cases. Sacred Scripture, the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, and the Popes have all agreed on this point. Just look at the clarity of the catechisms over the years.

The Roman Catechism, 1566: “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty, and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence.”

The Baltimore Catechism, 1891, Question 1276: “Human life may be lawfully taken: In self-defense, when we are unjustly attacked and have no other means of saving our own lives; in a just war, when the safety or rights of the nation require it; by the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death, when the preservation of law and order, and the good of the community, require such execution.”

The Catechism of the United States, 1992, Section 2266: “Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason, the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.”

Inexplicably, this section was altered, and the statement significantly weakened, with the second edition of the CCC in 1997, despite Pope John Paul II’s statement that the 1992 Catechism was “a sure norm for teaching the faith.” And yet, even this weakened statement (now found in Section 2267) admits that Church teaching “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.”

The shift in the discussion, and the way Church leaders frame the subject, is the impetus for this book, which kicks off with a comprehensive look at natural law and capital punishment—and why much of the Church’s moral teaching is based on natural law, traditionally understood. This qualifier is important, the authors note, because of what’s become known as “The New Natural Law Theory,” or NNLT, which, they say, denies “that morality can be grounded in a metaphysical analysis of human nature.”

This chapter on natural law takes up 80 pages of the book, and is important also insofar as it provides a good look at natural law, what it is, and how it can be misconstrued even by the well-meaning. It is followed by a chapter that reviews Church teaching on capital punishment, and one that looks at reasons for the death penalty, reviewing specific cases of crimes where the sentence of death would be the only logical way to serve justice.

The real challenge lay in Chapter 4, where Feser and Bessette look at what the American bishops have said on the matter, and it becomes clear they disagree, respectfully. They conclude it with this: “…we have shown, then, that every element of the bishops’ case against the death penalty fails, including their scriptural interpretations, their moral and philosophical arguments, and their understanding of the practical application and effects of capital punishment.”

Reading this, and thinking about the book as a whole, we are left with a crucial question: “What next?” What sort of impact can this book have on the debate? It is surely a book that needs to be read, especially by those in the Church who are tasked with helping the faithful understand what the Church teaches on key moral “social justice” issues, like the right to life. Priests, especially, should not only look to this volume as an important reference work for their library, but as an important book to read and digest.

K. E. Colombini is a former journalist who works in corporate communications in St. Louis, Mo. He also writes for First Things, and other publications.

Marian Maximalism, by Jonathan Fleishmann, PhD. (Academy of the Immaculate, 2016) 210 pages, $15.95. Reviewed by Brother Anthony Josemaria.

Jonathan Fleishmann’s Marian Maximalism is a very important and very unique book. I also think it’s a very interesting and insightful book, but that is only my opinion. Nonetheless, I can truly say the book is objectively important and unique, because it contains and presents a unique, logical proof of the validity of an old, and very important axiom, attributed to Saint Bernard, which nowadays is often taken as a mere figure of speech: De Maria numquam satis! ― About Mary we can never say enough! This is the very definition of Marian Maximalism, and what this book is all about. And the results are profound and surprising.

Indeed, the links between Our Lady, and certain profound topics in Catholic theology, truly surprised me. I say this as one who has studied Mariology, and taught and written books and articles about Our Lady since 1997. These interconnections led me to conclude that the term “Marian Maximalism” is no mere cliché, but an actual theological principle! Marian Maximalism is, in fact, a “theological key” for answering subtle questions pertaining to the Christian Faith. For example, in Chapter 9 on “Grace and Merit,” Dr. Fleischmann demonstrates how: “Marian Maximalism is the ‘answer key’ that allows us to safely and confidently answer the subtle questions related to grace and merit which have caused so much division and misunderstanding within the Christian faith through the centuries” (page 90).

By saying—De Maria numquam satis—St. Bernard, and other Marian Maximalists, simply mean that we can never praise Mary highly enough; we can never expect “too much help,” or “too many graces” from Mary; nor can we “trust too much in Mary” for the salvation of our souls, and for establishing a civilization of love on earth. Because Dr. Fleischmann proves this thesis by logical means, this is why the book can honestly be called truly unique. It’s unique because the proof is new, and original, and very important.

Why is this so important? Marian Maximalism is very, very important because it is the principle of the proposed Fifth Marian Dogma: “Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, Co-Redemptrix with the Redeemer, Advocate for the People of God.” Each of these three doctrines is a tenet of Marian Maximalism―each urgently needing a dogmatic approval and elaboration by the Church’s Supreme Magisterium. I believe that Jonathan Fleischmann’s proof will greatly advance this cause!

I am not alone in my praise. Raymond Cardinal Burke in his Foreword to the book gives a fine and carefully thought out teaching, painting Marian Maximalism as a necessary means for the New Evangelization. The Afterword is written by Jonathan Fleischmann’s mentor, Father Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., one of the world’s most accomplished and respected Marian theologians.

Here, then, is my main purpose for writing this review: I’m hoping that a lot of people―a lot of people―will read this book, and be as impressed as I was, and then do what I did. I was so impressed that I bought and sent an extra copy to Pope Francis (in August, 2016) with a letter attached, begging him to define the Fifth Marian Dogma, which (according to the Church approved revelations of God to Ida Peerdeman of Amsterdam and others) is necessary for the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary―the same Triumph revealed as forthcoming by Our Lady at Fatima. I pray that each reader of this review will read Marian Maximalism and be similarly inspired to send a copy to Pope Francis, with a letter asking him to define the Fifth Marian Dogma! Let’s also pray the Rosary for the Fifth Marian Dogma!

One may ask: Why are these important teachings on Our Blessed Mother not widely available in the churches and theological circles nowadays? How could Catholics forget the very Person about whom the Saints claim that we can never have enough? How could our May 31 Memorial to Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces, have been allowed to be taken from the church calendars without a battle cry from the people? Without being overly simplistic, I believe a simple answer can be given, by pointing to that one act of Vatican II which intentionally erased (partly for ecumenical reasons) one three-letter word. One missing, three-letter word has made all the difference. The three-letter word―“all”―was deleted from Our Lady’s great title Mediatrix of All Graces, which effectively leaves Our Lady (like the Saints) merely as a “Mediatrix of Graces.” But if Our Lady is not the Mediatrix of All Graces merited by Jesus Christ, then holy Church’s traditional Mariology, which invites all to make a total consecration of ourselves to Mary―as taught by such great saints as Louis de Montfort, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Teresa―would be false. This is exactly what Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe said regarding the existence of his famous Militia Immaculatae, and why he was so intent in promoting a papal definition of Mediatrix of All Graces as a Dogma of the Church. He said the MI “depends precisely upon the truth that the Immaculata is Mediatrix of All Graces. If it were not so, our whole activity of the MI would be illogical” (Aim Higher, Marytown Press, 2007, p. 13).

I believe there is also a reason why even some sincere Catholics would like to continue deleting the word “all” from Mary’s title. They believe that if they have to go directly to Mary for all graces, then Mary in effect prevents them from conversing directly with Jesus. But this belief is a great error. In fact, it is Mary who makes it possible for us to converse directly with the true Jesus!

Saint Maximilian Kolbe put the question this way, asking rhetorically: “[Since all graces come to us through Mary] is it then permitted to converse directly with Jesus?” He then responds: “It is not a question of feeling or thinking, but of the fact that it is so [i.e., we may certainly converse directly with Jesus] even though the thought of her intercession would never cross your mind. If you really love Jesus, then above all you desire to do His will in all things, and receive graces in the way that He ordained. When you have such a disposition, you can, and ought freely, to turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, being confident that you will obtain everything. If someone were to tell himself … ‘I do not need the Blessed Mother, I myself am able to praise and honor the most Sacred Heart of God and ask for what I need’ – would Jesus not cast him aside for such insufferable pride?” (Aim Higher!, ibid., pp. 14-15.)

It is well known, actually as a central insight of Christology, that each of the four Marian Dogmas―Immaculate Conception, Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Assumption―each a precept of Marian Maximalism―magnifies not only Mary, but especially Jesus Christ. Each Marian Dogma clarifies an essential truth concerning the Person and Nature of Jesus Christ (see the Catechism (490-507; 966)).

In fact, the four Marian Dogmas magnify primarily the Head of Christ’s Mystical Body. And it took holy Church nearly two thousand years to complete their definition, with the Assumption dogmatically defined in 1950. In each case there was significant opposition against the proposed Dogma. We know the reason: the demon always instills confusion and hatred toward the Woman and her Seed (Genesis 3:15).
The proposed Fifth Marian Dogma differs from the others in that it magnifies Christ primarily in His Body, which is composed of the true Children of Mary. Thus, this newest example of Marian Maximalism has stimulated very great opposition, both within the Church, and without, from those who hate the “New Eve” and all she represents, not least, the virtues of purity and humility. (Do you think “hate” is too strong a word? See Fleishmann, chapter 2: “Miso-Gyny”). The opposition is very severe, because the Fifth Marian Dogma threatens Satan’s empire of corruption and filth in the greatest possible way, by magnifying the true Church, the Children of Mary. It empowers each member of the True Church to actually “be Christ” for others via union with Our Blessed Mother: as merciful co-redeemers and mediators, and as advocates of God’s mercy for the salvation of others. The Fifth Marian Dogma promotes, in a maximal manner, our living the Gospel of Mercy, like Jesus, as children of Mary.

Marian Maximalism, as the Fifth Marian Dogma, therefore “guarantees” a Reign of Mercy! Indeed, how few there are who are sufficiently aware of how very great and profound and complete is the love of our Blessed Mother for us! How little we appreciate how very great is her suffering for our salvation, always and continually with Jesus, in mutual sacrificial assent to God’s holy will. The Fifth Marian Dogma supplies the needed illumination of Our Mother’s most merciful love for us, here and now. Thus, when correctly defined and explained to the faithful, there will be a great movement in souls to love our Lady with a love so great, said Pope Saint John Paul II, as to “sweep the Church interiorly” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 56). It will become the reign in souls of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as prophesied by Saints Louis de Montfort and Maximilian M. Kolbe, and which Sister Lucia, the Fatima Seer, and the Belgian mystic Berthe Petit, and others, called the “Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” In short, God’s Mercy will triumph, in and through us, after the Fifth Marian Dogma is defined and proclaimed. This is the “guarantee.”

In sum, given the profound “Marian Minimalism” which now pervades, we need a good book to explain and prove Marian Maximalism in purely logical terms, which is what Dr. Fleishmann’s book does very well. He proves it via a threefold method which is logically rigorous. Let the reader be not afraid, however, because the book is nicely written, friendly and charming in its manner of speech, and, for the most part not difficult, and non-technical in terminology. Though readers of Homiletic and Pastoral Review will have mostly clear sailing, I should reveal that there are, here and there, a few long and difficult footnotes using concepts and operations from mathematical logic. (I confess that I couldn’t fully understand these parts, and shall leave them for the professional logicians!).

Brother Anthony Josemaria, a member of the Third Order, Franciscans of the Immaculate, writes occasionally for the magazine, Missio Immaculatae International, and has compiled and edited the two-volume text titled, The Blessed Virgin Mary in England: A Mary Catechism with Pilgrimage to Her Holy Shrines, iUniverse, 2008, 2009.


Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught Me to Trust and Embrace Life, by Colette Lafia, (Indiana: Sorin Press, 2015) pp. 160; $14.99. Reviewed by Vicki Gordon.

Like many today, Colette Lafia was living a troubled life born of personal struggle. Her husband’s job was in jeopardy, she suffered from long-term infertility and insomnia, and had recently lost her sister to breast cancer. She writes: “My heart was broken, and the atmosphere of grief pervading my life intensified. I became acutely aware that anything could happen to the body, and the vulnerability of this truth pressed down on me.”

Beset by her many problems and her deep sense of grief, Colette and her husband planned a week-long retreat at the Benedictine Abbey of Gethsemani in Louisville, Kentucky. When they arrived at the Abbey, she immediately felt more relaxed. Soon thereafter, she met Brother Rene who would become her mentor and an important companion on her spiritual journey. In getting acquainted with Brother Rene, she learned about his life, and that he was about to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a monk in a few days. On impulse, she asked if he were ever lonely. “No, just as you have had a companion in your husband all these years, I have had a constant companion in God.”

Despite the busy life of the monks as they cared for the grounds, and made products which they sold to support themselves, she observed that they were visibly immersed in the spiritual world. Over the door to the monks’ quarters, she noticed a sign summing up their lives which read, “God alone.” Colette quickly settled into the life of the monastery, daily Mass and prayer, and the twilight chanting of monks bound in a vow of silence, and… God began to whisper to her.

At the monastery, I began to notice my tension between surrendering and resisting. In my interior storm, I was like that candle flickering, taking shelter in the stone church. I felt the light of God, in myself, seeking union. God, a verb. Bringing forth. Not a blazing fire, or a bolt of lightning, but a small voice, craving a listening that was carved, a listening that required silence to be heard.

Her week at the monastery began to change her in other ways. She began to absorb its way of being, the rhythm of prayers, and the silence and the surrender. Her “eternal litany” and heavy weight began to fade away, and were replaced by the emptiness and light which allows God to enter, and begin to fill a soul. “I felt a nudging inside me, something stirring and inviting me in.”

When at the end of the week, Colette and her husband returned home, all life’s so familiar problems awaited her. Again, she must meet her struggles face-to-face—her infertility, her insomnia, her sister’s death, and her father’s illness and physical decline. It is at this time that she begins a correspondence with Brother Rene that would continue until his death. And it is in this correspondence that the other side of the book unfolds. Here, the reader meets with the simplicity and completely trusting faith of a dedicated soul.

In his letters, Brother Rene teaches her the most important aspect of man’s relationship with God, that of surrender. Pray, yes, but then await God’s answer. Too many of us want a specific answer. He writes: “You ask how to listen to God in your life… A movement of the heart is foremost among the signs and ways of knowing if what one hears is inspired by the Spirit.”

And again: “You did not get the answer you were looking for when your sister died to this world. But instead of digging for answers, you need to go heavenward, and plunge forth with love, hope, and confidence to wherever God will lead. Yes, let go of that inner fear. It is my prayer that you will see what I see… we must go deeper and deeper. Trusting and trusting… What is at the core here is your relationship with God. A mother experiences her baby as an extension of herself. God is mother. You are baby. You are God’s extension in time.”

Brother Rene, who started out as a young man wanting a family, and instead found his fulfillment in God, gently teaches Colette, through his inspired and thoughtful letters, that the most important decision, and the surest happiness, is found in making a space in our lives for God. A previous tenant of the Garden of Gethsemane monastery and, perhaps, its most famous monk, Thomas Merton, once wrote: “The will of God is not a fate to which we submit, but a creative act in our life, producing something absolutely new.”

Little by little, in her correspondence with Brother Rene, and in her life, Colette surrenders, and is drawn into a nearer union with God. In her last meeting with Brother Rene, she asks him what is the heart of the spiritual life? She receives his answer, an answer for all seekers: “It is love,” he says. “So always live in love.”

Vicky Gordon is a lifelong Catholic, bibliophile, linguist, and retired graphic designer living in Missoula, MT.


“Remain in Me:” Holy Orders, Prayer, and Ministry, by Deacon James Keating, PhD, Director of Theological Formation in the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University. Reviewed by Fr. Dennis J. Billy, C. Ss.P. Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ: 2018. Pp. 119.

This book is a timely and much needed. The author begins with the observation that in recent decades collaboration between priests and deacons has not been without its share of emotional tensions. The remedy to resolving these difficulties, he claims, lies in fostering a deeper relationship with God by cultivating a habit of interior prayerfulness. To assist them in doing so, he offers a series of five meditations on the priestly and diaconal life that focus on the natural union they share through the sacrament of Holy Orders. He encourages priests and deacons to study this book together in a spirit of prayerfulness. By addressing their interior lives simultaneously, he hopes to enkindle in them an even deeper love for God, forge strong bonds of communion among them, and strengthen their commitment to their cooperative mission in the Church.

The book consists of five chapters. Chapter one, “The Non-Negotiable of Clerical Life: Spiritual Direction,” emphasizes the importance of sustained and ongoing direction in the lives of priests and deacons. Spiritual direction, he claims, is “the golden thread of spiritual maturity.” Its goal is “to bear fruit in a deeper contemplative prayer life.” Without it, priests and deacons can easily lose touch with God’s presence in their lives, and become estranged from their very selves, and the people they are called to serve. Spiritual direction will enable them to confront their vulnerabilities, and help them open themselves up to God’s love.

Chapter two, “Suffering Temptations,” examines some of the temptations that may lead priests and deacons to compromise (and possibly even abandon) their lives of prayer, not the least of which is that the “persons we minister to appear content with elementary involvement in Catholic spirituality.” He gives three suggestions for dealing with such temptations: (1) sitting in the pain of prayer out of love, (2) bring Christ, and the beauty of His self-gift upon the Cross, and (3) noticing God reaching us in our ministry. He encourages priests and deacons to receive their affirmation, not from their accomplishments in ministry, but from their relationship with Christ. Suffering and love, he notes, cannot be separated. The true disciple must take up his cross daily and follow.

Chapter three, “Prayer Renewed,” exposes the “lie of perfection” to which many priests and deacons succumb. Priestly and diaconal identity lies not in wearing the mask of perfection, but in opening one’s heart in vulnerability to the Father’s love. Only by living in communion with God can they sustain their vocations, and be fruitful in their ministries. To this end, he offers five suggestions for cultivating a spirit of deep prayer: (1) placing ourselves in God’s presence, and asking Him to show us our deepest vulnerabilities, (2) receiving these vulnerabilities and pouring them into Christ’s Sacred Heart, (3) maintaining our communion with Christ by this reciprocal action of pouring and receiving, (4) having a quickened and deepened appreciation of the healing of burdens, and the joy of graces bestowed by Christ, and (5) asking for the grace not to retreat back into a hardened heart, but to endure the burden of love, and resist the lie of isolation.

Chapter four, “Ministry,” points out that the primary gift of priests and deacons to others is their own fascination with God. The faithful expect them to be able to facilitate the encounter between God and man. For this reason, priests and deacons must not seek to downplay the sacred character of Holy Orders, but put it front and center. They do so by simply “being with Christ,” and bringing Him into the presence of those they serve. The power of priests and deacons to serve is rooted in Christ’s love. This mystical identification with Christ’s love enables priests and deacons to be imbued with Christ’s love and to share it with others.

Chapter five, “United in Holy Orders,” points out that, whether for the celibate life, or the way of marriage, renewal in ministry always takes place in the real life circumstances of the minister’s life. It points out that the celibate priest is called to become a mystic, and that the prayer life to which deacons and their wives are called to share can inspire others to move from the shallows and into the deep waters of the spiritual life. It also indicates that priests and deacons share in the “brotherhood of open hands.” The Holy Spirit forges the bond of this brotherhood in a holy descent of epiclesis: in priests, when they open their hands to be anointed with the sacred chrism; in deacons, when they open their hands to receive the Gospel. This convergence of open hands forms the basis of their brotherhood in the Church. When seen in this light, tensions among priests and deacons are rooted not in the fundamental brotherhood they share, but in ignorance, personal sin, and more practically, in ministerial incompetence, personality conflicts, and poor formation. The book concludes with a reiteration of some of the basic ways in which priests and deacons can foster their relationship with Christ, and continue on the way of holiness. These include spiritual direction, regular confession, daily prayer, and vulnerability to God’s presence in ministry.

“Remain in Me:” Holy Orders, Prayer and Ministry by Deacon James Keating, PhD, Director of Theological Formation in the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, breaks new ground in examining the interior lives of priests and deacons together. In doing so, it emphasizes their common brotherhood, and challenges them to overcome whatever tensions may exist in their personal and ministerial relationships. If the community of God’s love is to flow into the lives of the faithful, it must first be manifest in the lives of those who share the sacrament of Holy Orders. To this end, much has been written on the priestly brotherhood itself, and even on the diaconal brotherhood. In this reviewer’s awareness, this is the first book of its type to explore the mutual relationships among of priests and deacons together. If studied in a prayerful, contemplative manner, it can be a great source of enrichment for relations among priests and deacons in the United States, Canada, and throughout the world.

Fr. Dennis J. Billy, C. Ss.P., is the author of numerous books and articles. Fr. Billy, C.Ss.R, is a Redemptorist priest of the Baltimore Province, and currently serves on the staff of Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua, New York.


The Spirituality of the Second Vatican Council by Fr. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., New York/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014. 80 Pages. Reviewed by Liam Farrer, MA(Th).

Much ado has been made over the concept of “the spirit of Vatican II,” in the fifty years following the Second Vatican Council. Yet, as Gerald O’Collins notes in his book’s introduction, aside from a few selections used in the Office of Readings, “little interest seems to have been shown in the contribution that the Council made to the spirituality of all Christians, and not simply to the spiritual life of priests and religious.” This is what O’Collins’ work endeavors to do. His purpose is not to offer readers the historical-theological commentary they may have come to expect from his scholarship, but rather to guide them through the Council’s major documents in a way that “open[s] up some of the spiritual treasures to be found.” Although, as O’Collins himself notes, the book does not, and cannot, completely cover the fullness of the Council’s spiritual teachings, it does provide an excellent starting point for one looking to incorporate the teachings of Vatican II into their spirituality in an authentic way, and for this we must be grateful.

Within the first chapter, O’Collins rather admirably casts his net into the depths of scripture and tradition in order to explain to his readers that “the essential ‘mark’ of the Church,” is the universal call to holiness. The author does not deny that this call’s ultimate goal “to imitate and share in the divine holiness sets the bar very high.” Nevertheless, through a masterful analysis of Lumen Gentium’s use of St. Paul, as well as an appeal to the lives and teachings of various saints, he manages to faithfully represent the Council’s understanding of how this bar is achieved in a way that is accessible to modern readers; through a lifetime of working a spiritual program within a community, all the while relying on the grace of the Triune God to bring it to completion.

O’Collins fleshes out this program in chapters two to six through a careful spiritual reading of the Council’s four constitutions, beginning with Sacrosanctum Concilium, silently invoking the age of the old principles of lex orandi, lex credendi. He begins with a discussion of the five ways in which Christ is present within the liturgy, and how the recognition of this liturgical presence enables and equips Christians to participate in divine worship that extends outside of formal liturgy into the “divine canticle of praise” “sung throughout the ages.” This allows us to see Christ present throughout the world, particularly in the poor and the suffering.

As someone who is Jesuit educated, I tend to suspect that once the presence of Christ in the midst of our spiritual life is discussed, the concepts of contemplation and action cannot be far behind. O’Collins, being a member of the aforementioned order, did not disappoint.

The tools for effective contemplation are provided in the third chapter, which uses Dei Verbum to show how the contemplation of the Word, can be used to enter into a deeper method of communion with the Trinity, particularly by restoring the venerable tradition of lectio divina to one’s spiritual life. The fourth chapter deals with Lumen Gentium’s focus on the threefold baptismal calling of priest, prophet, and king in the active life of the faithful. Unfortunately, it is probably the least developed chapter in the book; particularly in its glossing over of the already underdeveloped theology of what it means to share in Christ’s kingship. Despite this, the topic will no doubt stay with the reader due to the profundity of O’Collins closing question; “…Is my own life a priestly, prophetic, and kingly one?”

The next two chapters of O’Collins’ book, which focus on Gaudium et Spes, seem to help answer that question by providing the reader with methods to engage in living an authentic active spiritual life. Chapter five focuses on the importance of encountering the Risen Christ extra-liturgically in order to form one’s own spiritual life. This encounter, he notes, must be more than the recognition of Christ’s presence. It must be relational since “in telling a story of who Jesus is, Vatican II, as we shall see, also tells the story of who we are.” O’Collins offers seven suggestions on how to do this, culminating with the recommendation that one must make Christ the center of one’s life in order to be able to share Him with the world effectively and fully. In presenting this path to relationship with Jesus, O’Collins, while not explicitly mentioning that he is doing so, presents the conciliar roots of the New Evangelization, and creates a spiritual framework for putting them into effect.

He continues to build this framework in chapter six by highlighting the three things which Catholics must embody in order to provide a faithful and loving witness to the Church of Christ—a love of the truth, a commitment to the theological virtues which increase one’s relationship with the Trinity, and openness to dialogue in all aspects of life which allows the spirit of God to move through us for the good of our sisters and brothers.

The final chapter is the highpoint of the work. It consists of O’Collins practical suggestions in order to live out this spiritual program. As the suggestions are laid out on a point-by-point basis, it is tempting to read this chapter alone, and ignore the rest of the book. I would caution against doing this. While it would not leave one unsatisfied, it is clear to anyone who has read the full text that O’Collins means to tie certain points to the spiritual theology that he has outlined in previous chapters. In fact, he does this with such skill that I found myself bemoaning the fact that he did not write a separate chapter for each point.

All this being said, there is no reason why one who has to read the whole book could not base a series of sermons or talks on each of the nine points, or, after reading the book with a group over the course of seven weeks, devote the following nine weeks to an expansion on each of them. This method would have the added benefit of allowing the priest, or catechist, to incorporate Council documents, other than the constitutions, at a more substantial level, something which may be necessary given that within this chapter, I felt that, O’Collins tended to proof-text shorter council documents in what seemed to be an attempt to expose readers to them. While I can understand the sentiment behind it, I did not feel it was an effective way to communicate some very important, and often misinterpreted teachings.

As I do not want to end my review of such a wonderful book on a negative note, I should instead like to close by highlighting what I consider to be O’Collins’ greatest accomplishment. He remains balanced.

Unlike many authors who remain firmly entrenched when it comes to the Second Vatican Council, O’Collins is just as comfortable with ressourcement thinking as he is with aggorinamento. He manages to be critical of the pre-conciliar Church where criticism may be deserved, while at the same time respecting the enormous spiritual gifts that were left to us by that period in the Church’s history. In the same way, he gently urges his readers to implement, within their spirituality, some of the lesser known teachings of the council, while at the same time recognizing the presence of the Spirit within the Church.

In this sense, O’Collins has written a book that in addition to truly being Catholic, is very practical and extremely accessible. I would recommend it to priests, RCIA catechists, seminary professors, undergraduate professors of theology, or even interested laity. I am sure that it will aid readers in incorporating the teachings of the council into their spiritual practices. It has done so for me.

Liam Farrer MA(Th) is a PhD Student in Theology at Regis College, University of Toronto, a Junior Scholar of the Lonergan Research Institute, and an RCIA Catechist at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Toronto.

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