Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, has written Faith Finding a Voice (Bloomsbury, 352pp, £12.99), a reflective book that mixes his public role as a homilist, preaching on important occasions, alongside more personal thoughts on what has shaped his own journey of faith. This includes reading the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart, John Henry Newman on The Idea of a University, the diary of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz, and meditating on The Nativity with Saints altarpiece by the Early Renaissance painter Pietro Orioli.
This eclectic approach to the spiritual life gives the cardinal’s book an attractive readability. Divided into four parts: “The Lure of God”; “Education for Life”; “Religious Dialogue and the Hope for Humanity” and, lastly, various homilies, the author reveals the teacher he says he would have become if he had not been ordained a priest. His style is clear, deliberate and informative, and aimed at ordinary Catholics who want to go deeper into their faith but need a guiding hand.
Nichols reminds us that early memories of faith are of seminal importance. Referring to his mother teaching him at a young age to make the Sign of the Cross, he comments: “Although unknown to me at the time, my mother’s daily act of love, devotion and understanding opened a treasure house of spiritual grace which will remain with me throughout my life.”
Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic (Sophia Institute Press, 144pp, £11.99), by Peter Kreeft, an American academic and prolific author on Catholic subjects, is a mixture of humorous remarks that only slightly conceal his more serious purpose: to persuade readers of the saving wisdom and truth of the Catholic faith.
His book is admirably short, based on Kreeft’s conviction that readers’ concentration span is limited and that brevity is the soul of evangelisation. Each chapter is barely two pages and one of them is only a few lines long. Chapter headings include: “For the Same Reason GK Chesterton Gives: To Get my Sins Forgiven”; “Because of the Personality of the Church’s Saints”; “For the Reason Walker Percy Gave: What Else is There?”; “Because only the Church Can Whup the Devil”. I could go on, but this gives a flavour of the author’s idiosyncratic approach.
I will quote the four-line chapter in full. Entitled “Because of the Movies”, it runs: “Hollywood knows that the alternative to secularism and materialism and scepticism and agnosticism and atheism and nihilism is Catholicism. Whenever they make a serious movie and religion is in it, it is always a Catholic church and a Catholic priest that they use.” If you know someone thinking of converting, but raising doubts, hand them this book – it might give them a gentle push into the abyss of divine love.
The author of Saints for the Family (Messenger Publications, 96pp, £8.95), John Murray, is an Irish parish priest. He has written a short work illuminating the lives of married saints in order to encourage their prayers and help for struggling families on earth.
They include well-known ones, such as Thomas More, Margaret Clitherow, and Louis and Zélie Martin, but also more unusual choices, such Karol and Emilia Wojtyła, the parents of St John Paul II, and Professor Jérôme Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome in Down’s syndrome and dedicated his life as a renowned scientist to the pro-life cause. He was deeply distressed when his discovery led to the deliberate early detection and abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome.
The family of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, if canonised, will be the first to receive this supreme honour in the Church’s history. The couple, along with their six young children, were shot dead by the Nazis on March 24, 1944, for harbouring eight Jewish people on their farm in south-east Poland. They have been honoured at Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations for their heroism.
On Islam by Fr James Schall SJ (Ignatius Press, 325pp, £13.50), subtitled A Chronological Record 2002-2018, is a book of articles written for online magazines, reflecting the author’s critical approach to the Muslim faith. He pays Islam the compliment of taking it seriously, writing: “Basically I think Islam is what it says it is, a religion that has an ongoing mission to subject all people to Allah.”
Unlike Islam’s multicultural defenders, Fr Schall sees the religion as “the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilisation has had . . . Neither our modern culture nor the modern Church allows us this frankness.” He would like to see a papal encyclical on Islam that takes account of its attitude towards reason, the difficulty of critical scholarship concerning the Koran, and a sober assessment of its militant history.