Book Review: Mentors for the New Evangelization

mentorsThis past summer at the St. John Bosco Conference I picked up a copy of Sr. M. Johanna Paruch’s new book, Mentors for the New Evangelization: Catechetical Saints of North America (Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University, 2013). I’m glad I did — the books is a treasure trove of inspiring stories from the saints of North America who evangelized and catechized the continent.

The book focuses both on familiar names (St. Juan Diego, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Ven. Fr. Michael McGiveny) and lesser-known saints (St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, Bl. Marie of the Incarnation).

Each chapter focuses on one or two saints and includes a biographical sketch, a reflection based on the life of the saints, questions for further reflection, and a prayer. The biographies are straight-forward if leaning towards hagiography. The reflections and prayers would be ideal for use in a small group setting or retreat for catechists; I can imagine a catechetical leader presenting information on each saint and then leading a period of reflection based on the material.

Mentors for the New Evangelization is an ideal resource for those who wish to know more about the history and persons behind catechesis in North America. It would make a great addition to any catechetical library.

“The saints as a class are the least gloomy of people”

You really can’t say much that is positive about sanctity until you first get rid of the odd-ball ideas in circulation. So let’s deal with some of these absurdities first.

It’s hard to tell who could have first dreamed up the idea that the saints were overserious, morbid people, not laughing or smiling much, because life looked too glum from where they sat. Someone did dream it up, though, and the calumny persists, so that people who are bubbling over with youth and good spirits are naturally revolted by the idea of such “sanctity.”

And they should be. I wouldn’t say there has never been a saint who didn’t have his gloomy moments because, since they’re human beings, there have probably been as many types of saints as there are types of human beings. For the most part, though, the saints as a class are the least gloomy of people, because sanctity leads to happiness and joy, and only those on the road to hell have a right to be gloomy.

– Joseph T. McGloin, SJ, Burn a Little! (or, what’s LOVE all about?) (1961)

Book Review: Saints Preserved

Thomas J. Craughwell has written a very interesting book: Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics. It consists of entries on various saints with a little history of their relics: the saints’ possessions or body parts that have been preserved.

In the early Church, the mortal remains of martyrs were taken for burial, and Masses were celebrated at their tombs on the anniversaries of their deaths. Over time great churches were built on these spots (St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is a good example) and soon even non-martyrs recognized for their virtue and holiness were honored in this way.

Not all the relics mentioned in the book are body parts; they also includes various church’s claims to possess the nails that held Christ to the cross (along with other objects connected to the Crucifixion); the Shroud of Turin; and the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (which, according to legend, was painted by St. Luke on the Holy Family’s kitchen table).

The stories behind the relics demonstrate the remarkable connection the faithful have with the saints. Many relics survived times of persecution only through the heroic efforts to smuggle them out of threatened churches to safety.

One of the book’s aims is to “de-mystify” relics. To non-Catholics relics can seem macabre, silly, or even superstitious. In his introduction Mr. Craughwell does a good job of laying out the Church’s understanding of relics and the proper veneration due to them; this would be a useful section for those not familiar with relics to read.

If I have one complaint it is that most of the entries have less to do about specific relics and consist mainly of biographical information about the saint in question. I would have appreciated more in-depth information about the relics themselves, especially if any miracles are connected to them. I also would have liked more pictures, although I understand the economics of publishing enough to know that too many pictures can be cost-prohibitive.

One other caveat I’d like to add: in the introduction Mr. Craughwell mentions that there is a busy online market in relics. While this may be true, it is against Church law and a sin to sell sacred objects and relics — so please don’t try to buy them online!

Despite these drawbacks Saints Preserved offers a unique insight into this rarely-discussed aspect of the Church’s veneration of saints — and an interesting read, too.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book for free through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program.

Confirmation Candidates Reflect Unity in Our Diversity

This past Sunday, on Pentecost, our bishop confirmed 44 adults from around our diocese at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. As the diocesan director of catechetical ministries I had the privilege of being the œbehinds-the-scenes  guy sending out directions, checking in the candidates, and handing out nametags.

Witnessing the Rite of Confirmation is always profound, but I found myself especially moved this time by the diversity of candidates who came forward “ in ethnicity, age, and geography. Some were barely out of high school, others had grandchildren. Some were born in Africa or Central America, others have lived their whole lives in Illinois. Some traveled hours to come to the cathedral, others just a few minutes. Those 44 adults truly represented a cross-section of the faithful in central Illinois.

That is one of the things I love about belonging to a œcatholic  (universal) Church “ it not only tolerates, but embraces the diversity of its members. Look at the saints! No two are exactly alike. Just like last Sunday’s confirmandi the saints reflect the great diversity in our Church. They come from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Some died or were martyred at a young age, others lived to be quite old. Some lived cloistered lives, others ministered in the city streets.

Yet the saints also shared a common goal and a common mission: to be holy and to make the world holy. Their lives, though different, were animated by the same Spirit “ the very Spirit shared by the confirmandi. Even in our diversity we are bound together in the Church for a common purpose. We may all serve that purpose in different ways, but we share it nonetheless, for there is

one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
– Ephesians 4:4-7

Cross-posted at www.dio.org.

On the Feast of St. Patrick

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Patrick. In our secular culture, St. Patrick (and his feast day) is remembered simply for his connection to shamrocks, leprechauns and green beer. In fact, St. Patrick was a native of Britain. While still a teen Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland; he spent six years there as a slave. After escaping and returning home, Patrick had a vision. As he later wrote:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish.” As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea — and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.

Patrick, now a bishop, returned to Ireland where he baptized thousands, ordained native priests, and converted the sons of kings. He won over the people who had once enslaved him and is now the patron saint of the Emerald Isle.

Like the Irish of the 4th century, our diocese is waiting for a bishop who will “come and walk among us.” It has been extraordinarily heartening to see and hear of the many people around the diocese who are praying for our new bishop through intercessions, litanies and the Eucharist. Whoever he is, our new bishop has been cloaked in the prayers of the faithful and entrusted to the care of our Blessed Mother. And we pray that, like St. Patrick, he will teach us to walk in the joyful company of the Triune God.

Lord God,
you are our eternal shepherd and guide.
In your mercy grant your Church of Springfield in Illinois a shepherd
who will walk in your ways
and whose watchful care will bring us your blessing.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.