It will soon be Lent and I have been reading Characters of the Passion by the late Fulton J Sheen, first published in 1947 and now reissued by Angelico Press. The ‘characters’ Sheen analyses are Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, Claudia (Pilate’s wife) and Herodias; in his inimitable style he conveys much wisdom such as, writing of Peter, “The most interesting drama in all the world is the drama of the human soul”. Only a priest, accustomed to the sublime sacrament of Confession, will truly know the truth of this statement. And, alluding to another portentous incident, he remarks “The crowing of the cock was such a childish thing. But God can use the most insignificant things in the world as the channel of His grace.”
Of Judas, Sheen observes, “It is not enough to be disgusted with sin. We must also be repentant.” Judas was appalled by his betrayal – but it led to self-hatred rather than redemptive sorrow. Of Herod, we learn that “Thus do people who have no religion become addicts of superstition” – demonstrated in our own times when both science and superstition fill the vacuum left by the retreat of Christianity. And why did Our Lord refuse to speak to Herod? “Because the conscience of Herod was dead….Probably the worst punishment God can visit upon a soul us to leave it alone” – in its own hellish isolation,
And making a fascination comparison between Claudia and Herodias, Sheen reminds us that “Everyone in life has at least one great moment to come to God.” (The legendary later life of Claudia has been finely fictionalised in The Wife of Pilate, a story by Gertrud von le Fort (Ignatius); I don’t think anyone has tried to imagine the fate of Herodias.)
At 71 pages, this little book is a great read. It prompted me to ask Angelico Press some questions. The directors, John and Kari Riess, began in 2013 with the purpose of “bringing back into print Catholic “classics” as well as scholarly books and children’s books that were no longer available.” Kari relates, “We soon became involved with many contemporary authors and new works, Stratford Caldecott’s All Things Made New being our first “new” publication.” Now the bulk of their list is new works though they still make do classic reprints.
What is their criterion for selecting books to publish or republish? Kari explains that they are especially interested in “works that offer avenues into the spiritual life, as well as works that engage the modern world in its myriad aspects. We look for books that might help to heal the rift between theology and spirituality, books that build bridges between different perspectives both within and without Catholic tradition and that combine ways of knowing the Faith with ways of living the Faith.”
She adds, “We try to appeal to a broad readership. Though we do not always agree with all aspects of an author’s perspective, if we feel that he or she has something important to contribute, we work to find a way to publish it.”
I am curious to know what their most popular titles are. Kari answers unhesitatingly, “Without question, our biggest seller has been In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart: The Journal of a Priest at Prayer by a Benedictine Monk” – which, incidentally, I have blogged about. Also on their list of recent bestsellers is a book-length interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph over the Darkness of the Age.
My final question: do they find it a challenge running a small Catholic publishing company in today’s media world? Kari reflects, “At a time when people are bombarded with information and stimuli in every aspect of their lives, it can sometimes be difficult to ask them to pay attention to yet another new book. But we think we have succeeded in identifying a few niche audiences looking for something a bit different in a Catholic publisher” She also thinks that technological innovations involving digital printing and on-demand publishing “have encouraged the growth of smaller presses and have made it possible to publish without enormous up-front costs. The decrease in overheads makes it possible to start and run a small company with a modest amount of initial investment.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.