Spiritual books: by Francis Phillips

Cardinal Herbert Vaughan: a humble and sensitive priest

Christopher Carstens, director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin has, in A Devotional Journey Into the Mass (Sophia Institute Press, 131pp, £10) written on “how Mass can become a time of grace, nourishment and devotion” with insight, passion and originality. It is not the usual type of book on the meaning of the liturgy, nor does the author defend one rite of Mass against another, nor privilege one way of receiving Communion more than any other. His purpose is simply to awaken the average Sunday Mass-goer from his spiritual slumbers and persuade him or her to understand what really takes place at the altar.

“Active participating” in the liturgy does not mean “general activity” – it means active self-oblation in the response to the sacrifice of Christ being enacted on the altar. Indeed, Carstens’ whole argument is that we should steep ourselves in the Readings beforehand, listen with all our attention and then receive Christ at Communion with reverence and devotion.

Like Cardinal Sarah in his reflections on the appropriate stance of our communication with God, the author emphasises that “silence, both within the liturgy and outside of it, is necessary to hear God’s voice and to formulate our intentions and desires for God”.

And our participation in the liturgy is never merely to increase our personal piety. Carstens makes it clear that “the time spent in Jesus’s presence energises us to meet and address the needs of a disfigured, discordant and distressing world amid the spiritual warfare for souls”. This (slim) book is worth reading and then giving to a recent convert or to someone on the brink of that life-changing decision.

It is good to be reminded of the life and achievements of Cardinal Vaughan in Vaughan: His Life, Work and Mission by Fr Robert O’Neil (CTS, 69pp, £2.50). It was Vaughan who, on becoming archbishop of Westminster in 1892, initiated the building of Westminster Cathedral, and who in 1868 began the Catholic Truth Society, that enduring and familiar part of the Catholic publishing landscape. These are only two of Vaughan’s charitable endeavours. What is extraordinary is that, despite ill health, he achieved as much as he did.

O’Neil mentions that Vaughan was not a popular figure. His manner seemed brusque and his bearing, regal and aloof. He lacked the straightforward friendships and popularity that his predecessor, Cardinal Manning, discovered among London’s poor. Yet behind these deceptive appearances was a humble and sensitive priest who had dreamed of being a missionary in Wales, and who, as Bishop of Salford, modelled his living conditions on the personal frugality and humility of St Charles Borromeo.

It is fitting to put the CTS Heritage booklet, Who is St Joseph? by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan (CTS, 45pp, £1.50), alongside O’Neil’s. Vaughan had a lifelong devotion to St Joseph and compiled this collection from the prayers, meditations and novenas to the saint that he found most helpful. Convinced of the saint’s intercessory power, Vaughan placed all his most important projects under St Joseph’s protection. Others who have discovered this “silent saint” would agree.

The title of Michael Schmitz’s book Made for Love (Ignatius Press, 208pp, £10), in conjunction with its subtitle, Same-Sex Attraction and the Catholic Church, makes a profound theological statement that is almost wholly misunderstood in the secular world: that everyone, whatever their orientation, is made by God in his image and likeness for the purpose of coming to know and love him. Once you start from this position you begin to understand why the Church is more truly compassionate, merciful and forgiving towards those with same-sex orientation than its many critics would have us believe.

Schmitz is guided by Jesus’s words to the woman condemned for adultery: “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” His book is an attractive mixture of straightforward theology, personal stories and honest argument. The Fall, he observes, has darkened our intellect, our will and our emotions, thus, in many areas of our lives, we delude ourselves with false consolations. “When we experience an attraction to sin, the last thing we should do is believe the lie that “God made me this way,” he writes. This is the easiest, most self-pitying of excuses.

Instead, God’s “plan for your life is freedom, His plan for your life is redemption, His plan for your life is love”. We are not defined by our sexual orientation – we are defined by our relationship to God. He, not this world with its empty promises of self-fulfilment, is our destiny. As every disciple of Christ knows, it takes courage and perseverance to follow him.

This is a book of hope and encouragement for all who find themselves attracted to their own sex, with the consequent loneliness, guilt and confusion this realisation generally entails.