Books

Fr Rutler’s guide to avoiding mediocrity

Accompanying Christ: Mantegna’s rendition of the Crucifixion

Fr George Rutler, well known to Catholic readers on both sides of the Atlantic, famous for his pithy wit and wise counsel, is one of those voices crying out for truth in the confused wilderness of modern life. His new book is Grace & Truth: Twenty Steps to Embracing Virtue and Saving Civilisation (EWTN, 160pp, £11.99/£14.99), and his “Twenty Steps” are accessible to anyone who wants to recharge his or her commitment to Christ and not merely lament the times or engage in negative conversations.

“How to avoid mediocrity and embrace virtue” is Fr Rutler’s opening sally, distinguishing between the Golden Mean and mediocrity with which it has been confused. “How we redefine the good to justify our sins” helps us to see that “if we cooperate with evil … the human spirit has to deny that what it is doing is evil”.

“Christ Passing By” or “How everything depends on recognising Christ”, reminds us of the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, called down from his tree by Christ, and how “It is only when we invite [Christ] into our souls by confessing our sins that he invites us into His Heart.”

This brief summary is simply an encouragement to read the entire book.

***

Richard Q Greatrex, an Anglican pastor, has written in Stations of the Resurrection from Easter to Pentecost (Redemptorist Publications, 125pp, £12.95/$16.95), his own prayerful set of “Stations” to encompass the 40 days Jesus spent on earth following His Resurrection. They include The Women at the Tomb, Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Lord, Supper at Emmaus and At the Sea of Tiberias.

Greatrex includes well-known paintings and sculptures as visual aids for each Station, by artists as varied as Gauguin, Duccio, Henry Moore and Paul Nash (though I would not have included the naked figures, representing Ss Peter and John, by Elizabeth Frink; they are a distraction). The aim is to remind us that the Gospels contain many stages to accompany the followers of Christ, those of hope and wonderment as well as grief.

***

Subtitled “Reviving the Ancient Tradition of Mary Gardens”, A Garden for Our Lady (by Felicity Surridge, Gracewing, 100pp, £9.99/$12.99) is a lovely short book for all gardeners who would like to create a devotional space for flowers particularly associated with Our Lady. The author relates the ancient history of Marian flowers and plants, alongside charming coloured illustrations by her husband, Malcolm, a professional artist.

Medieval legends relating to Marian plants are included as is their particular symbolism: the crocus was the “penitent’s rose”; the sword-like leaves of the iris made it “Mary’s sword of sorrow”; lilies of the valley were “Our Lady’s Tears”; marigolds were “Mary’s Gold” and so on. It is the perfect way to pray as you plant.

***

Carmelite, author and illustrator Elizabeth Ruth Obbard continues her series of books on Carmelite saints, such as Teresa of Avila and St Thérèse, with Song in My Heart (New City, 120pp, £7.50/$11.99) – a meditation on the Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross.

Using the translation of the Spiritual Canticle by David Lewis (1901), she follows each verse with her own explanations, designed for the ordinary reader who may need guidance to find his or her way through St John’s exultant and deeply mystical verses. I would recommend the book, with its deliberately naïve illustrations by the author, as a gentle way to become familiar with this spiritual classic.

***

Susan Tassone, who has done so much to bring the writings of St Faustina to public attention, and to remind us of the reality of Purgatory, has published another book on the mystical experiences of this Polish nun, who was a favourite of St John Paul II, entitled Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections (Sophia Press, 348pp, £10.47/$15.99).

The prayers and reflections are short and intended to be read each day of the year; in other words, to become a daily good habit.

One example, for the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which falls on June 29 this year, entitled “In the final strife” has this extract from St Faustina’s diary: “O Mary, my sweet Mother, to You I turn over my soul, my body and my poor heart. Be the guardian of my life, especially at the hour of death in the final fight.”

***

From Red Earth (by Denise Uwimana, Plough Publishing Company, 220pp, £12.99/$18) is a graphic account of the genocide of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda by the Hutus in the spring of 1994, told by a survivor.

What singles out this poignant and often heart-stopping story is the author’s strong Christian faith. Uwimana has to undergo a painful personal spiritual journey to forgive those who killed her husband, leaving her a widow with three young sons.

Other Tutsi tribe members lost all their family members. Her account reminds the reader of the single most challenging aspect of our faith: to forgive our enemies, especially when they have engaged in acts of unbelievable cruelty. Uwimana reminds us that “Mass evil can break out anywhere that one group despises another.” Western countries, she implies, are not immune from a temptation to crowd violence.