Those of you who remember my Candlemas Resolutions, recall my wish to write a review of one religious book per month. Spiritual reading is of great necessity for Christians. The Bible holds first place, but the Bible has been called “God’s Hidden Book” with good reason: it can be hard to understand, and the reader needs the special grace of the Holy Spirit to properly learn from it. (Happy Pentecost, by the way!) However, there are three things which shed light on how to apply and understand Scripture: 1) the lives of the saints; 2) theology; and 3) devotional/spiritual books.
I said that I wished to concentrate on theological works in that past article, but they are slow reading. I’m still not finished with Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology, which was reviewed in February of last year. (Mostly due to laziness, it is true.) Now, my theologically heavy book is Matthias Joseph Scheenben’s A Manual of Catholic Theology. It’s very interesting, but don’t expect a review of it any time soon. In any case, I hope that one of the following three books, two saint’s lives and one devotional work, peaks your interest and enriches your life.
1) Humility of Heart by Cajetan Maria de Bergamo
This book was written by the esteemed Capuchin missionary Cajetan Maria de Bergamo. This might be the only work of his to have been published in English, even though his eulogist praises him as “second to none in religious life and easily first in all types of writing” and Pope Benedict XVI claims his work as equally satisfying the heart and the mind. So, it should come as no surprise that his work on humility is considered one of the best on the virtue.
Humility of Heart does its best to paint a picture of how beautiful humility is and how ugly is its opposite, pride. He uses many apt examples, especially from Scripture. Most striking for me is how he reminded us that if humility is enough to move God to save us, then pride alone can cause damnation. Indeed, that unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, refusal to repent, is rooted in pride; and many persons who are considered decent or even virtuous go to hell because they refuse to let God in their lives.
The book can be hard reading, especially when one sees how ingrained pride is in our souls. At the same time, Father Cajetan moves us to hope in the unfathomable mercy of God and struggle for humility with meekness, knowing that those who hope in God are never disappointed.
2) The Autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret
Reading about St. Anthony Mary Claret’s zeal for the conversion of souls counts as the best part of the book. (Indeed, his pure heart was found incorrupt when his body was exhumed.) His thirty-five years of priesthood produced 144 books and about 25,000 sermons. Also, in his tenure of a little over six years as Archbishop of Cuba, he confirmed 300,000 people and rectified 9,000 marriages. In addition to his hard work as a missionary, he undertook many difficult daily penances, such as wearing a hair shirt and fasting three times a week. His devotional life is very interesting to read about.
His vocation struggle makes for another interesting part of the book. He had a great head for mathematics and invention; but, he eventually undertook the priesthood when he realized how pursuing a career in industry would hamper his devotion. I imagine that all my dear readers would be edified by St. Anthony’s holy and varied life.
3) The Life and Prayers of St. Padre Pio by Wyatt North
Wyatt North’s biography of J. R. R. Tolkien offered both a great outline of Tolkien’s life and many interesting details besides. So, I hoped that his hagiography of Padre Pio would do the same. Instead, he gave us an excellent outline of Padre Pio’s life and struggles, but most of the details were not new to me. Though, as a devotee of Padre Pio, I can never find out enough about this miracle worker, stigmatic, shepherd of souls, fierce opponent of the devil, and confessor. (Padre Pio would sometimes spend more than fourteen hours a day hearing confessions.) May Our Lord send us more people with Padre Pio’s devotion for the salvation of souls!
Pick up this book if you know very little about Padre Pio; otherwise, find a more detailed biography.