Book Reviews – January 2020

The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today
By Sam Guzman. Reviewed by Austin Barnes. (skip to review)

Still Amidst the Storm: A Family Man’s Search for Peace in an Anxious World
By Conor Gallagher. Reviewed by Seth Galemore. (skip to review)

Abide in the Heart of Christ: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola
By Joe Laramie, SJ. Reviewed by Ruth Caron. (skip to review)

From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith
By Sohrab Ahmari. Reviewed by Roseanne T. Sullivan. (skip to review)

Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
By Roy Petitfils. Reviewed by Maria Kraker. (skip to review)

The Gift of the Church, volume 1: How Catholicism Transformed the History and Soul of the West
By Ryan N.S. Topping. Reviewed by Magdalena Randal. (skip to review)

The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide to Fashion, Communication, and Friendship
By Mary Sheehan Warren. Reviewed by Magdalena Randal. (skip to review)


The Catholic Gentleman – Sam Guzman

Guzman, Sam. The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019. 175 pages.
Reviewed by Austin Barnes.

In The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today, Sam Guzman provides a rich synthesis of many spiritual masters, applied to the life of the modern man. He takes the insights and teachings from masters such as St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Therese of Lisieux, G.K. Chesterton, and others, and explains them to his reader in the context of living as a Catholic man, as a single man, as a father, and as a husband. Guzman is brief in his reflections but provides great material for deeper reflection and further study, with citations that provide ways to access spiritual masters online.

In reading The Catholic Gentlemen, one is struck by the twofold or two-part method in his exhortation for living as Catholic men. The first part focuses on human or natural virtues by looking at the arenas of: dressing with respect; being an authentic person; cultivating good and healthy hobbies; and the history of the gentleman. Then, building on the principle that grace perfects nature, Guzman begins to discuss the discipline of the spiritual life, using the previous more mundane topics as a springboard toward the higher things of God. There is only so much a man can do in the area of natural virtue before it is ever more necessary to rely on the grace of God and His supernatural aid and union. Guzman brings recreation to Christian anthropology, and considers the theology of marriage and fatherhood in the light of the universal call to holiness. He points out that not only is the man called to be a saint, but in his role as father and husband, he is called to help bring his family into sanctity with him.

Guzman looks at the beauty of marriage and fatherhood by examining many of its biggest pitfalls: staying attentive to the family, or, as he puts it, “showing up”; the reality of failure (explaining that it is inevitable for a husband and father to fail but such can be an opportunity to grow and become better with the help of Jesus); and the challenge of purity (especially in the area of pornography) and it’s devastating effect on marriage and family, and the importance of taking the ownership of one’s struggle, of seeking help and healing. Guzman concludes the book with reflections on a man’s relationship with the Blessed Mother, his role as a living icon of the Father, and the reality of living the Cross.

The Catholic Gentleman is a great resource for any Catholic man, advanced or beginner, because Guzman examines the basics of Christian manhood with his reader. For the beginner, he introduces the great vision that Jesus and His Church place before men in their roles as head, guardian, and icon, and for the advanced he provides a reminder that the Christian life is often simpler than it is made out to be; his is a back-to-basics methodology.

Under one cover Guzman presents an integrated spirituality for the Catholic men of the twenty-first century, that is, how a man can live his faith in the modern world with great virtue and joy. Guzman’s call for authenticity demonstrates that this is not a cookie-cutter model that men need to conform to, but rather an outline for serious male discipleship based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the company of Fr. Larry Richards, Dale Ahlquist, Matt Fradd, and many others, I very much recommend The Catholic Gentleman.

Deacon Austin Barnes is a transitional deacon of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, currently in formation at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul Minnesota.

Still Amidst the Storm – Conor Gallagher

Gallagher, Conor. Still Amidst the Storm: A Family Man’s Search for Peace in an Anxious World. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2019. 172 pages.
Reviewed by Seth Galemore.

In this day and age, one can hardly scan the headlines or switch on a television news program without coming across some version of the following inquiry: Is our society facing an epidemic of anxiety? Work anxiety, school anxiety, anxiety among young people, anxiety among old people, anxiety about being anxious — it can sometimes feel like an inescapable beast. Everyone has experienced it, and the headlines tell us that the problem is only deepening and widening in the modern world.

For that reason, Conor Gallagher’s Still Amidst the Storm: A Family Man’s Search for Peace in an Anxious World is a timely book that introduces a Catholic framework for reflecting on these troubles that are gripping so many minds. Though Gallagher focuses his reflections and insights on his experience as a husband, a father, and a man of business and law, this book should appeal to a wide audience of readers. He draws universal and generally applicable conclusions through his diary-like contemplations on his life as a family man. The result is a work that can teach all of us the wisdom of embracing traditional and timeless approaches to the panic and chaos of modern daily life.

Gallagher divides his book into three component parts: “The Present Moment,” “Silence,” and “Stillness.” Each part opens with the same pericope drawn from the Gospel of Mark (chapter 4, verses 37–41) wherein the twelve disciples, sailing through the night in a troubled and turbulent sea, call into question Christ’s (seemingly reckless) peace of mind amidst the storm. In response, Our Lord commands the sea to be still, and he chastises the Twelve for their lack of faith. It’s a fitting parallel for the message the author wishes to convey: that dwelling on the past and worrying about the future draw us away from the “eternal now” of the present, where God, who alone is capable of silencing our anxieties and calming our unrest, remains ever by our side.

Each part of the book is divided into chapters which the author says began as “half-baked journal entries” intended for his children. As such, the “journal entry” chapters are only loosely organized; Gallagher presents his ideas as distinct ruminations with a common thread, and each chapter closes with a series of reflective questions for introspection or group discussion.

The common thread of part one is “The Present Moment.” Gallagher reveals how the tumult of life tears us away from living in the present. Focusing on the past can lead us to wallow in old resentments or attachments, while turning our minds to the future may jolt us with panic or dread of the things we cannot foresee or control. He acknowledges the greatness that individuals may achieve when they reflect on the lessons of their past or look forward to the promises of the future, but he reminds his readers to stay grounded in the present at all times. Latching onto the past traps us in old habits of vice or despair, and grasping at control over the future leads to a prideful desire to be more God-like than we are. The antidote to anxiety and resentment is more than just “letting go” of these impulses; it’s rooted in trust and reliance on the will of God.

Parts two and three form a more unified whole in their respective focuses on “Silence” and “Stillness.” In his meditations on these two subjects, Gallagher draws out many, at times, paradoxical relationships within the tension between our drive for activity and our need for calm. For example, he rightly points out in one chapter that silence may not mean refraining from speech, which requires the soul to open up and communicate itself to others, but refraining from chatter, which is frivolous noise. In another chapter, he contrasts “stillness” with “idleness.” Both are forms of inactivity, but stillness can be embraced for a purpose, whereas idleness is defined by its lack of purpose. At one point in the book, Gallagher convincingly argues that the hustle and bustle of everyday busy-ness is, contrary to our popular notions, conducive to the vice of sloth, insofar as it draws us away from meaningful diligence. He warns about the dangers of consumerism, of chasing after “progress,” of overactive curiosity, but he doesn’t suggest a total renunciation of the world or of healthy impulses towards creativity and action. He stresses the difference between “emptying the mind and focusing the mind” — an important distinction.

In a book of this sort, it would have been easy for the author to indulge in erudite ruminations on philosophical methods, or formal doctrines, or the learning of experts for dealing with the modern world’s anxiety epidemic. But the strength of Gallagher’s approach is its groundedness in the common touches of daily life and family relationships. It is accessible and straightforward, which makes its intelligence and subtlety shine out all the clearer. This book is sure to inspire deep self-reflection for the lone reader as much as it will stimulate great discussion for groups of readers.

Seth Galemore is a parishioner of the Diocese of Austin and serves as the Director of Development for Annunciation Maternity Home in Georgetown, Texas.

Abide in the Heart of Christ – Joe Laramie, SJ

Laramie, SJ, Joe. Abide in the Heart of Christ: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 151 pages.
Reviewed by Ruth Caron.

Do you desire a closer relationship with Jesus Christ? Would like to make a retreat but find that your life is just too busy? If so, it would be well worth your time to work through Abide in the Heart of Christ, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The author, Father Joe Laramie, takes us through the first part of the four-part Spiritual Exercises in ten days, during which one spends about an hour each day reading and reflecting on the meditations. The one hour per day can also be broken into a half-hour twice a day or spread out into smaller segments over several days for each of the “ten days,” if needed. The important thing is to begin, even if one can only spare ten to fifteen minutes each day. Father Laramie provides several beautiful prayers in the appendix to choose from at the beginning of each meditation period. He also provides several books, websites, apps, and other resources in the appendix to continue the spiritual journey after the retreat.

At the very beginning of this retreat, one experiences God’s love in a very real way. Father Laramie shows how God is intimately present in each person and who he or she really is as a child of God. I spent the first two hours of this retreat in front of the Blessed Sacrament on a Saturday and was able to spend the “third day” in an hour at home on Sunday. I did the rest of the retreat in little sections at home and at breaks at work. It took me over ten days since I was very busy with a full-time teaching job while earning another master’s degree. Father Laramie helps one to live more fully in Jesus’s love and to be filled with gratitude for one’s beating heart; for God dwelling in one’s heart and giving one existence; for God’s deep, abiding love that made each person in His image; and for Jesus redeeming each person and making him or her a child of God. Father Laramie beautifully expresses that God looks at each person with love and joy. That was just the first of the “ten days.” Every time Father Laramie gives a spiritual gem that helps to advance the spiritual life, he gives numerous concrete examples and ideas to use in daily life. At the end of each of the “ten days,” there are questions on which to reflect and other activities. Father Laramie encourages his readers to set aside time each day in a quiet place to encounter Christ’s heart, to take time to know that Christ smiles upon and delights in them. He recommends writing in a journal one’s thoughts and inspirations.

During the second day of this retreat, one learns that the negative culture that tries to find fault rather than the good gets in the way of experiencing God’s love and joy. Too often, people berate themselves and put up shields for protection from further pain and disappointment. After years of stress and pressure, they find it difficult to know their emotions. Father Laramie invites one during this retreat to become aware of his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences and to ask God for help with this. He points out that it is important to see and hear what is in the heart so that one can know better how to conform the heart to Jesus. Defenses need to be lowered so that people will not be separated from God, themselves, and others. Jesus’s heart broke open to pour out his love and grace on each person. Examining the heart helps one to open the heart to Jesus’s love and grace. When sufferings are united to the heart of Christ, hearts stretch to love and trust in Jesus more fully and draw hearts more closely to others in the love of Jesus Christ. While showing compassion for people’s sufferings and the natural repulsion towards suffering, Father Laramie helps one see how it is part of the journey with Christ and that sufferings give strength. One must risk being hurt to be in love, but Christ can heal wounds.

Father Laramie inspires one to ask Jesus to make his or her heart burn with love like His and to follow Him unreservedly during the “second day” of this retreat. One brings his or her hardships, busy-ness, and suffering to Jesus, as well as the joys of the heart, and let Him work on the person to draw one closer to God’s holy will. Father Laramie inspires gratitude for God’s blessings and a greater resolve to follow Jesus. These prayers and inspirations are possible with setting aside time for the wonderful meditations written by Father Laramie and answering the questions and doing the spiritual exercises he wrote. On the “third day” of the retreat, Fr. Laramie helps one to examine the gifts and graces with which God blesses each person to help one be more filled with gratitude and be more open to God’s love. He points out that the more one thanks God, the more one will notice blessings. He helps one see the need to structure time to thank God for His gifts and to spend more quiet time with Him in solitude.

These first three “days” of the retreat are a preparation for the rest of the retreat, which delves deeply into St. Ignatius’s first principle and foundation, that everyone is created to praise, reverence, and serve God, and that through this means each person is to save his or her soul. Fr. Laramie assists growth into a deeper knowledge of oneself, know what one needs to do to accomplish the first principle and foundation of St. Ignatius, and build good habits of prayer. He teaches how to pray the General Examen of St. Ignatius daily and to continually seek God’s will in one’s daily life. He explains that the fruit of the Examen is a more sensitive, reflective, and loving heart, filled with gratitude. This retreat also helps one see the obstacles that can get in the way of a closer relationship with God and what one can do about them to begin to remove them. God walks with each person through his or her difficulties and sufferings, and uses weaknesses and brokenness to accomplish great things. Father Laramie explains that God does not call the powerful, but empowers the ones He calls if only one says yes to God and allows God to work through, with, and in each person. However, one has to put in the hard work and cooperate with God’s grace.

This retreat is very fruitful and it would be a good idea to repeat it another time to deepen and strengthen the graces received. It would be wonderful if Father Laramie would write similar books on the other three parts of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. In the meantime, Father Laramie provided many resources in this book to continue one’s spiritual walk with Christ. I highly recommend this retreat book to not only lay people, but to priests and religious as well. Much fruit from this retreat can be shared with others and it would be worthwhile to repeat this retreat over and over to remind one of the important truths it contains and to continue to know and love Jesus more and more. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

A religion teacher and single mother of 8, Ruth Caron possesses her BA in Theology and Catholic Studies, an MA in education, and is currently completing her Master’s in pastoral ministry at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, MN.

From Fire by Water – Sohrab Ahmari

Ahmari, Sohrab. From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019. 240 pages.
Reviewed by Roseanne T. Sullivan.

When conservative journalist and media figure Sohrab Ahmari first attended a Catholic Mass in the middle of Manhattan in 2008, he was a far-from-saintly, Iran-born, fallen-away-Muslim, twenty-three-years old, who had been living in the U.S. for ten years. Ahmari was teaching at a charter school in Salem, MA, near Boston, during the week and commuting to New York City on weekends to a second job training teachers for the organization called Teach for America. One Sunday evening, after two nights in a row of binge drinking — part of a pattern of compulsive misbehavior that shamed him when he was sober — Ahmari was pacing around the block near Penn Station, waiting for his train back to Boston.

After several turns past a building with what he described as a “nondescript brick façade” with “a relief above the entrance of an almost alien Jesus,” he went in and found where a Mass was about to begin. “The first thing I noticed on entering the vestibule was the serenity of the place, which struck me as almost impossible. Miraculous even, amid the pandemonium of midtown.”

A young guitarist with a man-bun led the congregation in singing hymns. Ahmari stayed seated in the back and wrestled with his ambivalence about religious belief. He had deep spiritual longings, but he didn’t want to be counted among the gullible by his intellectual peers. He thought he was too smart to be a believer. “But all of a sudden, the singing and the strumming dissolved into that all-encompassing serenity, and something extraordinary happened.”

During the consecration, he began to cry, not tears of sorrow or of joy, but of peace. The Mass appealed to some deeply rooted parts of his personal makeup that he described in the first chapters of the book: he had always admired the ideal of heroic selfless sacrifice, and he longed for cosmic and moral absolutes. The words of the consecration struck him because they made present at the Mass the sacrifice of the blameless Victim, who humbled Himself to become human and died on the Cross that all may live. On his way out after Mass, he saw a photo of Pope Benedict XVI in the vestibule, and that set off a new bout of tears — because he intensely craved the moral authority and continuity for which the papacy stands.

He attended another Mass, and from then on he found that he could no longer honestly say he was an atheist. As he said in a Fox News interview, although he felt the faith was true on the level of his imagination and emotions, “it took, still, a long time to finally assent to faith.”

Mass at Ahmari’s Tipping Point

Seven years later, Ahmari was married and working in London as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal’s European edition. He had come to believe in Christianity and — with the encouragement of a zealous friend — he sometimes worshiped at evangelical services. He lived near an evangelical Anglican church called Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), and he began to occasionally attend services there. “The Regency church, with its elaborate stained-glass windows and vaulting arches, played host to charismatic worship that included JumboTrons, rock bands, and funky lighting.”

After one such service at HTB at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, Ahmari walked past a sign at the nearby Catholic Brompton Oratory (Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) advertising a Solemn High Latin Mass for Pentecost starting at 11, and he went in.

The rich decor of the church, the way that the architecture leads every eye to the altar of sacrifice, and what he felt was the rightful inclusion of Mother of God in a carving of the Immaculate Heart of Mary under the baldacchino and in a painting above the main altar, all captivated him.

A world-renowned choir chants the Brompton Oratory’s Solemn High Ordinary Form Latin Masses, which the priests celebrate ad orientem, facing liturgical East. Instead of staying aloof as he had previously, he followed along with the other worshippers as best he could.

Ahmari was struck that — in contrast to what he had just experienced at the HRB service — “the Catholic Church didn’t need to bend herself to the vacuous fads of 2016.” The very next day he sought out a priest at the Brompton Oratory House and announced he wanted to become a Roman Catholic.

There is more, much more to this fascinating story. For the rest, you need to read From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith yourself. Sohrab Ahmari wrote it to share the influences and events of his life and the changes in his convictions that brought him from the fire of misery and the captivity of sin, through the water of Baptism, and into the Catholic Church.

Roseanne T. Sullivan is a writer from the Boston area who currently lives in San José, CA. Many of her writings and photographs have appeared in the Latin Mass Magazine, at the New Liturgical Movement, in Regina Magazine, National Catholic Register, at the Dappled Things blog, Deep Down Things, and other publications. Her own intermittently updated blog, Catholic Pundit Wannabe, is at catholicpunditwannabe.blogspot.com.

Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
– Roy Petitfils

Petitfils, Roy. Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 138 pages.
Reviewed by Maria Kraker.

In this ministry resource book, Catholic psychotherapist Roy Petitfils integrates modern psychology with Catholic tradition to provide practical guidelines for helping teens who struggle with mental health issues. Given the rising prevalence of psychology today, this endeavor is significant for Catholic parents, teachers, and youth ministers seeking competency in addressing teen issues. In sum, Petitfils advocates for healing through personal relationships built upon trust. By providing examples from his own experience, Petitfils demonstrates that trust is established by incorporating communication methods of psychological praxis with traditional Catholic principles of faith, virtue, and prayer.

Highlighting the magnitude of modern cultural issues, Petitfils proposes that within the last half-century the disintegration of traditional family life has given rise to unprecedented challenges for teens. Citing research from the National Institute of Mental Health, he notes that nearly one-third of adolescents have had an anxiety disorder and that one-tenth of adolescents have experienced severe depression (3). Often due to lack of support, teens manage mental health issues through harmful coping methods. Given this situation, engagement in the lives of teens by dedicated adults is essential for the flourishing of this next generation of young adults, yet adults also need reliable guidelines to help teens effectively. Modern psychology and Catholic tradition together constitute a valuable roadmap to navigate difficult pastoral situations. Prayerful compassion, attentive listening, and intentional communication skills facilitate trusting relationships that foster integration, healing, and growth. Through relying on both spiritual and psychological resources, concerned adults can become effective ministers of healing to a hurting generation of teens.

While the field of psychology can be saturated with clinical terms, Petitfils articulates the signs of stress, anxiety, and depression in simple, accessible prose. Especially helpful is his distinction between normal and abnormal teenage behavior, including appearance, mood, rebelliousness, substance use, social influences, and spiritual attitudes (33). Solidly practical, yet remarkably engaging, Petitfils successfully integrates a personal narrative style with advice stemming from his experience as a Catholic psychotherapist.

Even a masterpiece will possess flaws. One weakness of this book is its anecdotal tone, which limits the credibility of its assertions. Although Petitfils cites some professional research, many claims remain supported only by personal experience or by general reference to Catholic tradition. For example, Petitfils asserts that devotional prayer can help to heal mental health issues but does not cite any statistics or general research to support this claim (82). While a faithful Catholic might agree with his assertion, a clinical psychologist would remain skeptical given its lack of supporting evidence.

Nevertheless, this book is an extremely helpful resource for anyone caring for teens. It is a hopeful narrative that prompts the reader to reflect gently upon her own struggles while providing practical advice for helping others. By delving into this rich resource, parents, pastors, and youth ministers alike will discover an immensely rich source of practical wisdom for bringing teens to wholeness.

Maria Kraker is currently pursuing a Masters in Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, and is an instructor in theology at Chesterton Academy High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Gift of the Church – Ryan N.S. Topping

Topping, Ryan N.S. The Gift of the Church, volume 1: How Catholicism Transformed the History and Soul of the West. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2018. 260 pages.
Reviewed by Magdalena Randal.

Ryan N.S. Topping’s The Gift of the Church, volume 1: How Catholicism Transformed the History and Soul of the West is an exuberant expression of the author’s enthusiasm as a convert versed in rhetoric. The work is introduced by an associate, Anthony Esolen, whose worldview is not dissimilar to Topping’s.

Topping’s journey as a devout Christian includes his conversion from the Mennonite Church. He has described his decision to embrace the Roman Catholic faith as a process of cleaving to a less fragile theology than the one he was born into. Embedded in Topping’s richly worded manuscript, though, is evidence of some residual fragility. While the early chapters of the book unfold in a confident, confessional way, there are striking sections wherein Topping resorts to dismissal and accusation.

The process that unfolded in the film Spotlight comes to mind. In that narrative, eager investigative reporters are quick to assign blame to specific people while their executive editor continually encourages them to focus on the system and not on individuals. Like the dedicated reporters in that film, Topping has succumbed to pointing up problems he sees with other ways of framing faith and education rather than simply sticking with his proposed mission of describing how the Roman Catholic Church has been a gift.

There isn’t much real evidence that the Roman Catholic Church has transformed the soul of the West since Topping’s examples of what he considers to be less robust ways of learning and believing are not fully investigated. Muslims, feminists, and students at liberal arts colleges are dismissed with glib references to their lack of courage, holiness, and real education. However, for Roman Catholic seminarians who were overwhelmed by foundation theology courses on the history of their Church, this book is an excellent review of events often reflected upon as high points in Church history.

To say that the Church transformed the history and soul of the West presumes that there was a history which existed to be transformed. Certainly the Church has been a part of our shared experience of reality, yet without knowing how history might have unfolded without it, there is no “history” to be transformed.

Topping’s pride in his chosen faith feels filled with the kind of tension that precedes an even deeper phase of conversion. Certainly he knows his dates and Catholic personalities. The book glorifies the Crusades by making Muslims a threat. It lays claim to the concept of a “just war” being an invention of the Catholic Church. It is evident that he spends a lot of time thinking about the Fathers of the Church and the architecture that he feels is exemplary of the tradition that their writings fostered.

The text is presented as the first part of a two-volume undertaking, with the explanation that its format is more systematic than the work which will follow it. The upcoming book is described as one that will take a more thematic approach to its examination of the gift of the Church.

The issue of child abuse that the Roman Catholic Church is finally addressing is not mentioned anywhere in the first volume except by veiled reference to the “human” imperfection of the institution that is the Church. I hope Topping will explore this problem as part of the theme of the abuse of power that has been a regrettable part of the Church’s contribution to Western culture. Tackling the injuries that the Church has inflicted on Western culture offers an opportunity to focus on the real transformative power of an institution that can only advance by deepening its capacity for mercy and forgiveness. The gift of a merciful Church is that there is much to be gained from an exploration of the way grace continues to transform suffering inside and outside the Roman Catholic framework.

Magdalena Randal is a freelance, Catholic writer.

The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide to Fashion
– Mary Sheehan Warren

Sheehan Warren, Mary. The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide to Fashion, Communication, and Friendship. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2019. 200 pages.
Reviewed by Magdalena Randal.

The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide to Fashion, Communication, and Friendship is a roadmap to the place where souls encounter one another naked. That is to say the author, Mary Sheehan Warren, outlines for her readers ways in which human beings can have social intercourse in a noble way. Her focus is on the eyes as far as fashion goes, while her concentration is on fidelity in the realm of friendship. She clearly hopes her readers will befriend themselves first by engaging in acts of self-love informed by modesty and thoughtful reflection. Thus they will be prepared to become attentive, communicative friends capable of the kind of loyalty that our current social-media culture is damaging.

Her guide to choosing attire is punctuated with little summaries of personalities who have led inspiring, wholesome lives. While suggesting that one’s wardrobe ought to be designed and donned to lead another to the windows of one’s soul, she lauds admirable figures as diverse as Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan genocide survivor, and her own mother, a former fashion model.

The book feels like a sort of transcription of one of Sheehan Warren’s presentations. She founded a company devoted to improving one’s image by wearing fashionable clothing, “Success In Style,” and now advertises herself as an authority on curating fashion at her website, MarySheehanWarren.com.

The most important part of the book, for this reader, was the section dedicated to the art of listening, an activity that is losing ground in our current culture of excessive self-expression. Here Sheehan Warren encourages generous giving of time and attention.

Such behavior clothes a soul in the appealing attributes of the Spirit — the Spirit cannily invoked by Sheehan Warren’s breezy prose. Informing this cheery guide to etiquette is clearly an earnest concern for the state of a contemporary young woman’s soul. The writer even references Aristotle on friendship.

Still, anyone who has suffered poor behavior from a well-dressed person can attest that the habit does not make the monk. The fashionably attired young woman is not necessarily always the thoughtful, friendly communicator. It would be valuable in our age of concern over such things as online bullying to read Prof. Sheehan Warren’s observations about people who dress unconventionally while focusing on the state of their inner lives. Could behaving with dignity be the greatest gown to don?

Magdalena Randal is a freelance, Catholic writer.

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