Arts & Books Books

Spiritual books: how to sanctify your daily life

'Viva Christo Rey!': Blessed Miguel Pro just before his execution in 1927 (CNS)

First published in 1946, when the future Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was Bishop of Lublin, Sanctify Your Daily Life (EWTN/Gracewing, 192pp, £15.50/$18.95) precedes the communist takeover of the Polish government (which happened shortly before he became primate of Poland in 1949). Nonetheless, Wyszyński would have followed events in Russia in the previous decades and known that atheistic communism, influenced by Marx and his “dictatorship of the proletariat”, was the antithesis of a Christian view of work.

Subtitled How to Transform Work into a Source of Strength, Holiness and Joy, the book, which has a foreword by Lech Wałęsa, the trade union leader who became president of Poland and who was a personal friend of Wyszyński’s, is a thoughtful and indeed inspirational reflection on man’s relationship first to God and, secondly, on how work is ennobled through this relationship.

Challenging the loose phrase, the “Protestant work ethic” – which implies that Protestant countries are more hard-working than Catholic ones – Wyszyński argues that Catholicism teaches man the true meaning of work, its dignity and necessity and how “work done with love helps to achieve man’s redemption”.

Communism – to which he never explicitly refers – treated workers as so many units of production. Wyszyński, who was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in 2017, always sees men and women as spiritual beings, whose need for spiritual and personal development is at least as great as the demands of work. Drawing on the papal encyclicals of the 20th century, especially Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the author appeals for workplaces that give people the conditions for human flourishing.

Contrasting the Christian approach to work with the pagan one, where work was done by slaves so that superior men could have leisure, Wyszyński explains that even before the Fall, stewardship of creation required the necessity of work – it was only after the Fall that work involved the “sweat of thy brow”. He refers to the dangers of “our technological age”, not knowing in 1946 how life would come to be revolutionised by it or by the predicted use of artificial intelligence. Even so, the principles laid down by the cardinal do not change.

Reflecting on the fact that Christ, who made his living from manual work until the age of 30, chose hardy fishermen to be his Apostles, the cardinal adds: “The Church is God’s boat in which the hardened, robust, fearless fishermen withstand the violent winds.” He was just such a leader himself, spending 32 years as primate of Poland, for long periods under house arrest, but never wavering in his confrontation with the communist authorities for the Church’s right to independence and her defence of the dignity of human beings.

***

Bright Wings, Dappled Things: Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ & Photographs by Fr Browne SJ (Messenger Publications, 176pp, £17.95/$44.95) is a selection of Hopkins’s most famous poems, illustrated by the black-and-white photographs of the Jesuit photographer Fr Francis Browne, who died in 1960 and whose legacy of images was only discovered 26 years later. It would make an excellent present for those not acquainted with Hopkins’s extraordinary poetry and who feel they need a guiding hand to understand it in all its strangeness and beauty.

In her introduction, Sister Jo O’Donovan conveys her own long immersion in the poems, writing with insight and knowledge as well as love. She quotes Hopkins’s revealing words to his friend Robert Bridges, who brought out the first edition of the poems in 1918, many years after the poet’s death from typhoid fever in Dublin in 1889: “Melody is what most strikes me in music and design in painting, so design, pattern or what I am in the habit of calling inscape is what I, above all, aim at in poetry.” Readers will find here the well-known anthologised poems, such as “God’s Grandeur”, “Pied Beauty” and “Felix Randal”, as well as all the “dark sonnets” of the Dublin period, 1884-1889, in which the poet entered into a deeper level of poetical expression, conveying a formidable tension between spiritual suffering and faith.

“The Wreck of the Deutschland” is given a whole section to itself because of its complexity and length. In her introduction, Sister Jo O’Donovan rightly describes it as “Hopkins’s greatest poem and a substantial proof that he was a poet of genius.” Bridges was to call it “the dragon at the gate that bars all entrance to later poems”. At the very least it provides a challenging introduction to Hopkins’s startling originality.

***

Blessed Miguel Pro SJ (1891-1927) is one of those saints, like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whose infectious joy and exuberant love of life could not be crushed by suffering and – in his case – eventual martyrdom. Padre Pro: Mexican Hero (by Fanchon Royer, Bethlehem Books, 155pp, £11.99/$14.99) is designed to introduce him to younger readers, providing glimpses of the devout, lively and loving domestic life of the Pro family and the irrepressible personality of the young priest who, facing the firing squad of the atheistic Mexican militia, called out calmly, “Viva Cristo Rey!”