Books

Books round up: Catholic gentlemen, Newman’s London, and the reality of heaven

Drink up! Except when you’re unhappy (Getty)

Sam Guzman, founder and editor of The Catholic Gentleman blog, has written a robust challenge to the pessimistic view of modern men as either wimps, inferior in every respect to women, or as thugs and abusers. The Catholic Gentleman (Ignatius Press, 177pp, £13.95/$16.95) is a fine reminder of what true manhood is (or should be) about: self-control, strength and integrity, in which leaving boyhood to become a man cannot be left to chance, ideology or the state.

Approximately 20 million children in the US live in fatherless homes; there are, of course, parallels with the UK and its current culture of gangs and violence. Guzman comments that, lacking the example of strong and caring fathers, “Many 30-something men are living very much like overgrown teenagers for whom manhood is an ideal they have no idea how to attain.”

There is also a chapter titled “A Brief Guide to Happy Drinking” – never when one is unhappy and always for the sake of conviviality, as well as numerous reminders that a Catholic gentleman is “permeated to the core by his faith”.

The book concludes with the unusual Litany of Humility by Cardinal Merry del Val. Catholic secondary schools should include Guzman’s forceful defence for discussion in Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education lessons. No “relationship” lessons are complete without his profound and provocative thesis.

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The wonderful news of Newman’s canonisation this coming October will kindle greater interest in his life. Joanna Bogle, in Newman’s London: A Pilgrim Handbook, (Gracewing, 88pp, £7.99/$11.95), has written a helpful guide to his links to London, alongside Oxford and Birmingham. Exploring all the places associated with Newman, she points out, among other sites of saintly interest, his birthplace in the City, commemorated by a blue marble stone; the family’s later home near Bloomsbury Square, where there is another large plaque; and Grey Court House, Ham, which Newman described as his “house of dreams” and which, now a school, also has a blue plaque.

Bogle rightly described these journeys, by tube, train, bus or on foot, as a pilgrimage – they are emphatically not meant to be a tourist trail, but a prayerful following in the earthly footsteps of a great theologian, prose writer and holy man.

Her slim book concludes with Benedict XVI’s homily at Cofton Park, Birmingham, at Newman’s beatification in 2010. On Newman’s view of education, the former Holy Father, a Newman lover himself, reminds us that “firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, [Newman] sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together”.

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Roy Peachey’s 50 Books for Life (Second Spring/Angelico Press, 134pp, £13.50/$24) is a rich, wide-ranging compilation. Some authors, such as Graham Greene, Georges Bernanos and François Mauriac are missing but this is only because Peachey has wanted to include less well-known authors while sticking within his strict limit. What this means is that readers are encouraged to discover Catholic literature they might not otherwise have known about, such as Chateaubriand’s Atala, the Etymologies of St Isidore of Seville and Wu Li’s Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church.

Each entry is given a couple of pages of introduction and the reasons for selection. These are a mine of information, brevity and interest. Of Wu Li, a 17th-century Chinese Jesuit, poet and painter, whose art is displayed in galleries around the world, Peachey tells us that his contribution is a series of 12 eight-line poems which “attempts to distil the essentials of Christianity into the shi style of traditional Chinese verse”, and that despite the difficulty of translating the allusive nature of classical Chinese poetry, we still get a “sense of
Wu Li’s incredible achievement”.

This excellent guide prompts us to remind our secular friends that the greatest literature – eg Dante – is deeply Catholic, alongside other surprising suggestions, such as Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

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Sister Mary Ann Fatula OP provides us with an eloquent, indeed impassioned, reminder of “the riches that await” those who die in a state of grace in Heaven’s Splendor (Sophia Institute Press, 144pp, £11.99/$14.95).

Using Scripture, particularly the Gospel of St John, as well as the testimony of the saints, such as John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena and Ambrose, Sister Mary Ann makes it clear that heaven is neither pie in the sky nor a place of human conjecture or projection but a state where “the mystery [of the Blessed Trinity] will enthral us forever”.

Her chapter “Dying in the Mercy of the Trinity” emphasises that “Absolutely everything in our lives, including the time and manner of our death and that of our loved ones, is enfolded in the loving providence of the Blessed Trinity.”

She points out that “demonic attacks can be particularly strong at the bedside of the dying”, and suggests the prayer to St Michael the Archangel composed by Pope Leo XIII as a means of banishing fear, anxiety or despair at such times.

On aborted babies and children who die without baptism, she is clear that God “is not bound by the sacraments [he] has created”.