They say that the book you most need to read finds you when you most need to read it. I’ve had that experience many times, most recently with Heather King’s book, “Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux.”
What is the real root of human loneliness? A flaw within our make-up? Inadequacy and sin? Or, does Augustine’s famous line, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” say it all?
At the end of every Roman Catholic liturgy, there is an invitation given to the people to receive a blessing. That invitation is worded this way: Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.
The idea behind that, obviously, is that a blessing can only truly be received in reverence, in humility, with head bowed, with pride and arrogance subjugated and silent.
Sometimes nothing is as helpful as a good metaphor.
In his book “The God Instinct” Tom Stella shares this story: A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari.
The Belgian spiritual writer, Bieke Vandekerckhove, comes by her wisdom honestly. She didn’t learn what she shares from a book or even primarily from the good example of others.
She learned what she shares through the crucible of a unique suffering, being hit at the tender age of 19 with a terminal disease that promised not just an early death, but also a complete breakdown and humiliation of her body en route to that death.
Taste, as St. Augustine said some 1,700 years ago, is subjective. That should be acknowledged upfront whenever someone recommends a reading list.
In my case, I need to state too that I’m not a full-time critic. It’s not like I’ve read 200 books this past year and these rose to the top. I read when I can, follow book reviews, am fortunate enough to live with academic colleagues who tip each other off on good books, and I have friends who will occasionally tell me that a certain book “has to be read.” From out of that, comes this list.
The Gospel stories about the birth of Jesus are not a simple retelling of the events that took place then, at the stable in Bethlehem. In his commentaries on the birth of Jesus, the renowned scripture scholar, Raymond Brown, highlights that these narratives were written long after Jesus had already been crucified and had risen from the dead and that they are colored by what his death and resurrection mean.
No generation in history, I suspect, has ever experienced as much change as we have experienced in the past 60 years. That change is not just in the areas of science, technology, medicine, travel and communications; it is especially in the area of our social infrastructure, of our communal ethos.
When I first began teaching theology, I fantasized about writing a book about the hiddenness of God. Why does God remain hidden and invisible? Why doesn’t God just show himself plainly in a way that nobody can dispute?
We all have our own images of greatness as these pertain to virtue and saintliness. We picture, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi, kissing a leper; or Mother Teresa, publicly hugging a dying beggar; or John Paul II, standing before a crowd of millions and telling them how much he loves them; or Therese of Lisieux, telling a fellow community member who has been deliberately cruel to her how much she loves her; or even of the iconic Veronica, in the crucifixion scene, who amidst all the fear and brutality of the crucifixion rushes forward and wipes the face of Jesus.
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