Books

How the sacraments change lives

Rose Rea’s Spirit and Life: The Holy Sacraments of the Catholic Church (Sophia Institute Press, 256pp, £23/$29.95) is a beautifully produced book, with many superb illustrations of churches, chapels and liturgical occasions, suggesting that the Sophia Institute wishes to portray the beauty innate in the hidden glory of the sacramental life of the Church.  

Each chapter starts with a passage from Scripture, then the relevant excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, followed by commentary from a Church Father. Finally, there are reflections by people on how the sacraments have changed their lives. 

The sacraments are placed in three groups: those of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist; those of healing – Confession and the Sacrament of the Sick; and, finally, the sacraments at the service of communion, marriage and Holy Orders.  

The inspiration behind the book is to view the sacraments through Scripture, tradition and the magisterium, and show how these “outward signs of inward grace” impact on individual lives. 

Naturally, these last sections make the most impression on the reader: a mother reflects on the meaning of the life of her infant son who died after baptism; a seminarian relates how his confirmation saint, Martin of Tours, guided him gently towards his priestly vocation; a newly ordained priest describes his feelings on observing a friend celebrate his own first Mass; a man explains how Confession helped him to overcome his addiction to pornography. 

This book would make an excellent gift for a convert friend. My only caveat is that I had to search at the back for the captions to the photographs; it would have been easier to read them alongside the images themselves. 

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Roy Peachey, author of 50 Books for Life, has written an idiosyncratic and thoughtful volume on education. He is a teacher whose children are homeschooled, and his new book has the intriguing title Did Jesus Go To School? (Redemptorist Publications, 160pp, £9.95/$12.71).  

Parents will warm to his honesty as he states that he wrote the book “because I too am searching for answers; I want to understand my children better, I want to be a better parent; I want to make sense of education today.” 

Divided into three sections – Parents, Children and Education – the book focuses on the role of St Joseph, a man of silence, contemplation and action, whose example of silent fidelity to the commission of God would have impressed itself on his divine foster son. Peachey is insistent that “Without … inner silence, we are unable to give our children what they truly need, which is ourselves.” This is so true, but rarely stated, probably because it is hard: it means that we have to strive to “become who we are” before we can truly guide our children into becoming people of faith in their turn. 

As someone who has adopted children, Peachey is drawn to how we all become “children of God through the grace of supernatural adoption”, and what this means for healing the spiritual and psychological wounds we are born with.  

Asked what education is for, the author responds that “The goal of education is the love of God,” and this is surely what we want to transmit to our children. It is always a pleasure to read this candid and engaging author who does not shy away from grappling with fundamental questions about education. 

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Are there new things to be learnt about the life of St John Henry Newman? Probably not, but now that he has been canonised there will be a demand for a book such as Newman: A Short Biography (by Michael Collins, Messenger Publications, 96pp, £8.95/$19.76). It is slim but it covers all the salient facts of his long life, accompanied by black and white photographs at the start of each of the 12 chapters, of Newman, and places associated with him and eminent contemporaries such as Pius IX and the theologian Ignaz von Döllinger. 

The author, a Dublin priest and graduate of UCD, naturally pays much attention to this doomed endeavour, only one of many setbacks and seeming failures in Newman’s life.  

He quotes Newman’s dry observation: “As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life – but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion.” Collins comments that “perhaps in old age he reflected on the failures and saw that they spurred him on to greater achievements.” It is certain that Newman faced them with fortitude and resignation; his character and temperament were too resolute, heroically so, to be defeated by the many crosses he had to bear. 

Collins includes many vignettes that bring his subject to life, such as Bishop Ullathorne’s visit to Newman at the Birmingham Oratory when the cardinal was infirm and in his 80s: “The old man got to his knees painfully to ask the bishop for a blessing.”  

Ullathorne did not realise how weak Newman was. As the cardinal shuffled to the door to bid farewell to his visitor, he said: “I have been indoors all my life, while you have battled for the Church in the world.” True indeed.