Spiritual Books for May

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.

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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.

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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. 

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The Duluth Pilgrimage, pt. II

This is the second part of the narrative of my pilgrimage to the relics of St. Maria Goretti, and it looks like it will be the penultimate rather than the ultimate post.  I know that many of my dear reader are more interested in anime than my religious opinions and experiences, of which the beginning of this month has been replete.  So, I promise to double post tomorrow: the last of this series and then a post on Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation, Utawarerumono (the original series), or Heavy Object.

No other incidents worthy of note took place until I reached St. Monica’s Church in Duluth.  The complaints of my belly had made me half an hour late to the Mass, but not late enough to miss the homily.  That the Church parking lot was full and that I needed to park in some overflow parking pleased me, as I was wondering how many American Catholics would be interested in venerating a saint’s relics–a practice which probably strikes many as medieval.  Since the main part of the Church was packed, I was ushered into a conference room, in which the mass was broadcast on a large TV screen.  (This stands as the one way watching Mass on TV counts as participation in it.)  To my surprise, many of the Catholics attending were Asians, Africans, and Hispanics, making me a minority–something I had not expected.

St. M. Goretti

 

After my brief reflection on the diversity of the body of Christ, I turned my attention to the missionary priest offering the homily.  Several facts about St. Maria Goretti which the priest unveiled surprised me.  For example, America’s people had been greatly involved with the saint and her hometown: three of her siblings came to live in America, her prayers were asked in interceding for the Americans to break out of the Anzio Death Trap during WWII (which area contains the second largest cemetery of American soldiers in Europe),  the American soldiers taught the residents of her town baseball which they love more than soccer now, and the American Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Francis Spellman, led the campaign to have St. Maria Goretti’s residence in Nettuno renovated in 1953.  And so, the padre referred to the saint as a very American saint.  Sort of how one may view St. Padre Pio as a very American saint in his solicitude for American soldiers during WWII and even the Americans who visited his monastery afterwards.  But, Italy has so many saints that they can spare some for other countries.

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Happy Feast of St. Padre Pio

Today is the fourty-seventh anniversary of the death, or rather natalis (the Latin word for birthday, often applied to the last day of a saint’s life on earth), of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcino.  Padre Pio lived the life of a Capuchin monk at the town of San Giovanni Rotonda, Italy.  He won renown during his life as the greatest miracle worker of the 20th century, and through his stigmata and charisms  lead perhaps hundreds of thousands of people to Christ.  Often, he would spend over fourteen hours in the confessional to shrive the multitudes of pilgrims from across the globe who sought to see him.  For which reason, when the pope asked a priest what Padre Pio did at San Giovanni Rotunda, the priest responded: “He takes away the sins of the world.”  Pio’s last words were “Jesus, Mary,” persons to whom St. Pio had dedicated his entire life.

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At any rate, I hope that my Catholic readers celebrate this feast by asking Padre Pio’s intercession and even possibly going to mass.  May my other readers be edified by reading about Padre Pio’s example or delighted to learn something new.  A while back, I linked to this page on Padre Pio for some anecdotes.  That link also has a ton of pictures of the saint.  And I shall link other pages below for your pleasure.

St. Pio carrying Christ's cross

At the Padre Pio shrine in Italy, Pio is shown holding the place of St. Simon in the Fifth Station of the Cross.

EWTN’s Two Page Biography of Padre Pio

Quotes from Padre Pio

 

What is God’s Will and Why One Should Strive to Follow it

Interestingly, people sometimes become nervous when they hear about God’s will.  Perhaps because they expect it will take a great sacrifice or they associate this term with misfortunes–e.g. “It was just God’s will.”  Yet, who is it that is willing for us to follow His will?  A perfect and infinitely good God who is absolutely merciful and just.  He wishes all things to come to perfection, which for human beings is nothing other than our happiness.

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So, God wishes us to be happy and to be perfectly happy with Him for all eternity, sharing in God’s own happiness.  Therefore, God’s will cannot be other than His Glory and our complete happiness.  Indeed, if we should all become happy in the way that God wished, like the blessed Virgin Mary–the only human being to perfectly follow God’s will in all respects (Of course, Jesus Christ followed His Father’s will perfectly too, but He was also God), then we should all be saints and the happiness of one would increase our own happiness.  How greatly would God’s glory be revealed!  The saints dwell in perfect happiness in heaven and were more joyful on earth than us ordinary sinners.

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Yet, why this hesitation and fear of following God’s will if it leads us to perfect happiness?  The great crosses in the lives of the saints might deter us; yet, is there a life without a cross–that gift from a most loving God?  If suffering be our lot whether we are saints or sinners, why not suffer for the sake of virtue and our happiness rather than going against God’s will?  Is it possible that we shall have a lighter cross by doing what ultimately makes us unhappy, even if it might seem the easier route?

I should like to compare three lives for you, all of which seemed to have been lived by God’s will: St. Padre Pio, Louis Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien.    One does find crosses therein, but these same people seem to be happier than most.

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On one hand, the life of Padre Pio seems to have been stuffed with crosses: demonic persecutions, persecution by church authorities, people maligning his good name, much pain, and many severe physical illnesses.  On the other hand, he delighted to suffer because suffering increased his likeness and closeness to Our Lord and Master–to the degree that he was marked with the Stigmata.  Furthermore, he was able to help people reconcile with Christ through his ministry of the Confessional and his example of a life dedicated to Jesus Christ.  Doing so brought him so many spiritual children than he could have had as the father of a family.  No other kind of life would have made Padre Pio happier.

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You might know that Louis Martin was the father of St. Therese of Lisieux.  If I remember rightly, he owned a jewelry business and delighted in his family: a loving wife, who has also entered the process of canonization, and five daughters who became religious sisters.  He strictly observed the sabbath, exercised patience toward all, was always the first to respond to the village fire alarm, made time for quiet meditation, and loved his daughters dearly.  If he had gone into religion, as he had planned, we would never have had St. Therese of Lisieux, and he would never have enjoyed the love of his family and been an example to all his neighbors.  And despite his illnesses toward the end of his life, he actually seemed to grow happier and holier and edified people even by his death.

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Lastly, Tolkien’s early life also contained suffering: his mother was disowned by her family after converting to Catholicism and she died a widow while Tolkien was in his teens, he was forced to separate from his fiancee for years without contact (save once) and almost lost her to another man, and suffered many illnesses and wounds while at the front lines in World War I–losing all save one friend in the war.  Yet, his mother’s sacrifices increased his fervor for the Faith, his separation and reunion with his beloved purified and strengthened their love, and his suffering in the war increased his understanding.

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Suffering does increase understanding.  How well could Tolkien have written The Lord of the Rings without this experience?  Could he have written the romance of Luthien and Beren?  How much less penetrating his academic articles?  Truth and wisdom are great possessions.  Can anyone doubt that Tolkien was anything less than happy in dramatically reading the first fifty lines of Beowulf before new classes?

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All these lives are happy and according to God’s will.  One might judge Padre Pio’s life to have been more according to God’s will because he’s a canonized saint, but that is speculation: we shall not know until we have arrived in heaven, and I am certain that we shall see all three of them there!  What we can be sure that Padre Pio would not have been happy as a teacher of Old English, Tolkien as a jeweler, or Louis Martin as a monk.  Each person was made to be happy in a different fashion, but all of these lives are focused on Christ and following the Will of God: your salvation and happiness.