Books

Spiritual books: by Francis Phillips

An image created by the Benedictine monk and author Fr Augustine Wetta (benedicteen.blogspot.com)

The author of Humility Rules (Ignatius Press, 130pp, £13), Fr Augustine Wetta, a Benedictine monk at St Louis Abbey in the US, has written a wise, humorous and self-deprecating book based on St Benedict’s classic Rule, which he describes as “a little-known but highly effective 12-step programme”.

For St Benedict, genuine self-esteem, in contrast to the modern cult of self-realisation, simply means self-abandonment to God. Starting each chapter with a quotation from the Rule, Wetta explains how to live out the true meaning of fear of God, self-denial, obedience, perseverance, repentance, serenity, prudence, discretion and reverence.

Each chapter ends with “Homework”, such as “Secretly do someone else’s chores” or “Spend an entire day without correcting anyone”. Wetta’s final direction is “Give this book away.” That is easily done: it makes a delightful present, not least because of the artwork, which has been “created by the author using art found on the internet”.

In other words, he has taken famous Old Master paintings of holy people, especially monks, and tweaked them so that they are seen riding motorbikes, skateboards and so on. Is this schoolboy humour? Or a reminder that true humility means being light-hearted, no longer weighed down by the ego and its heavy existential problems?

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Susan Tassone has written many books on devotion to the Holy Souls as well as on St Faustina’s personal revelations of the Divine Mercy, now universally celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. In St Faustina Prayer Book for Adoration (Our Sunday Visitor, 168pp, £13), she draws attention to the Polish saint’s love of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

It is apposite, having recently celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, to reflect on this great gift to the Church. As Tassone emphasises in her “personal note” to the reader, “You were created by God for adoration.” How better than to be guided in this form of worship by St Faustina who practised it constantly throughout her life?

The nun recorded many instances in her published diaries – extensively quoted here – of what being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament meant to her, relating on one occasion how “profound joy invaded my soul” during the Corpus Christi procession.

Tassone’s book, recommended by Cardinal Robert Sarah, whose own book, The Power of Silence, is itself a long reflection on silent adoration, is not meant to be read through at one sitting. Rather, it is to be dipped into and used as an aid in joining the Stations of the Cross, the rosary and other devotions to an act of adoration.

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Following on from Susan Tassone’s injunction to the reader, Fr Wade Menezes reminds us in The Four Last Things (EWTN Publishing, 116pp, £11) that “We must strive to become eternity-minded.” The four last things – death, judgment, hell and heaven – should be regarded not so much as fearsome future events but in the light of faith.

The author tells us that he prays “for the heroic virtue to be able to bear steadfastly all forms of suffering … while still living here on earth”, in order to avoid Purgatory. We should not, he admonishes us, resign ourselves to the inevitability of purgatory, but strive to avoid it altogether.

The importance of the sacraments, especially as we approach death, is constantly emphasised lest, like Cesare Borgia (killed in battle in 1507), we die “unprepared”. Dying well is also an occasion to evangelise. “Responding to death without fear can also be a wonderful witness to others”, who may not have any Christian beliefs.

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If Abortion Matters (edited by Anthony McCarthy, Philos Educational Publications, 122pp, £10) seems a curious inclusion in a spiritual books column, it is because abortion is, at root, a spiritual evil that can only be overcome by prayer. Published to coincide with the lamentable 50th anniversary of Britain’s Abortion Act coming into effect, the book answers all the common questions raised by abortion: when conception occurs, how life develops in the womb, the mendacious language used by those who call themselves “pro-choice” and – most harrowing of all – how abortions are carried out. This chapter’s contents are, as the editor points out, “disturbing and challenging”; one’s shock at reading the details never goes away.

Approximately nine millions abortions have been carried out in England and Wales since 1967, mainly on healthy young women for non-medical reasons. It is a shocking statistic which we can never become complacent about.

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A book of insight and understanding of the Blessed Trinity, Trinity: A Story of Deep Delight (by Anne Marie Mongoven OP, Columba Press, 140pp, £12.99), is marred only by the author’s need to apologise for the masculine language of Father and Son (the Holy Spirit is allowed to be gender-neutral).

Mongoven believes women feel demeaned by seemingly sexist vocabulary. I think this is a grievance almost wholly manufactured by feminists. St Augustine’s “Lover, Beloved, Love” provides a theological window into the relational aspect of the Trinity. Nevertheless, all over the world for the last 2,000 years, Christians have prayerfully made the Sign of the Cross using traditional terminology.