Spiritual Books round-up

Michelle Obama gives her stirring speech noting that slaves built the White House (AP)

Communion of Saints by Stephen Walford, Angelico Press, £17
Subtitled “The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ”, this book explores a doctrine that, as Walford suggests, went out of fashion after the Second Vatican Council: the communion among members of the Church on earth (the Church Militant), the Holy Souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering) and those who have achieved the Beatific Vision of God in heaven (the Church Triumphant).

If this doctrine seems quaintly theological, Walford argues with both scholarship and passion that it is central to the life of Christians on earth. Often, he writes, people seem to regard the Church “more like an NGO than the Sacrament of Salvation for humanity”. Indeed, he thinks it is essential “that we rediscover the richness of the supernatural life of the Church”.

Using Scripture, the Magisterium and the writings and revelations of the saints, Walford would like Catholics to understand that the phrase “communion of saints” means the highest interchange of mutual love – and that it is this kind of love, rather than the tolerant and polite acceptance of division among the Christian churches, that should inspire our conversations with those outside the Church and “with those asleep to the knowledge and love of the Lord in the geographic and existential peripheries of the world”.

Echoing Pope Francis, Walford emphasises that there is no greater mission in life than “the task of bringing the lost and wounded into [Jesus’s] presence”. Reflecting on the particular charisms of recent popes, the author thinks that the charism of Pope Francis is his genuine desire “to change the mentality that too often prevails in the Church: one of mediocrity and narcissism”.

He lists a tendency to judgmentalism, spiritual petrification and vainglory as the kind of creeping vices members of the Church are often prey to. To counter this tendency, so vividly pointed out by the Holy Father, Walford believes that we in the Church Militant need to experience personal transformation in Christ, reflecting Christ’s own mercy, humility and concern for the poor.

His section on purgatory is especially interesting, reminding us of its reality (in contrast to the “quasi-canonisations”: eulogies and secular songs that characterise many Catholic funerals these days). He quotes widely from the revelations and visions of the saints concerning the Holy Souls, in particular, Teresa of Avila, Padre Pio and St Faustina. All proceeds from the sale of his book will go to Aid to the Church in Need for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Hope for the World by Cardinal Raymond Burke, Gracewing/Ignatius Press, £9.99
This book takes the format of an interview, or conversation, with Guillaume d’Alançon. In just over 100 pages it ranges widely on different questions: the cardinal’s own vocation; crises in the world, including the Church’s response to the growth of Islam; how to proclaim the Gospel of Life and protect the family as ordained by God.

One of Cardinal Burke’s heroes is Pope St Pius X, who confronted the “aberrations of Modernism” and who, in the cardinal’s eyes, was a “fine example of a pastor of souls”.

In a remark that seems more relevant since the results of the US Presidential election have become known, as well as the actual percentage of Evangelical Christians and Catholics who voted against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the cardinal affirms that “even today, in the middle of a time of secularisation in society, America is still Christian. The Christian heritage remains.”

The first section of the book, dealing with the cardinal’s childhood influences, is in many ways the most interesting, depicting as it does a harmonious world of faith and culture and where, aged eight, he understood that without priests there would be “neither Eucharist nor Confession”.

Merrie England by Joseph Pearce, Tan Books, £20
Pearce, biographer of many famous Catholic figures such as Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton, has written his own “journey through the shire” in a wish to recreate England’s past Catholic culture. This volume is the result: a charming collection of personal preferences for particular cathedrals, snatches of poetry, quirky historical details and love of pubs and obscure railway stations.

At the tomb of Catherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral, Pearce reflects that “England is still called to the same heroic resistance” as Catherine showed. Outside Oliver Cromwell’s house in Ely he crosses himself “and says a Hail Mary for the roundhead’s soul”. At Llanthony Priory he recalls Tolkien’s words that, as a Catholic, he saw history as the “Long Defeat with only occasional glimpses of Final Victory”; and in London he discovers the church of Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane, off the Strand, “hidden in humility from the heedless hordes within yards of its doors”.