“Saints Alive! The Gospel Witnessed” by Marie Paul Curley, FSP, and Mary Lea Hill, FSP. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2013). 327 pp., $14.95.
“Saints Alive! The Faith Proclaimed” by Marie Paul Curley, FSP, and Mary Lea Hill, FSP. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2013). 327 pp., $14.95.
“Letting Go and Letting God: 21 Centuries of Catholic Faith” by Kathleen Atkinson, OSB. Liguori (Liguori, Mo., 2013). 143 pp., $14.99.
“Saint” might be one of the most misunderstood words in Catholicism. As soon as one reads or hears it, there’s a tendency to think canonization and halos. Such thoughts may lead to expressing a lament, “I’m no saint.” But baptism makes Catholics members of the communion of saints. Thus, what most are trying to say is, “I’m not saintly.”
These three volumes feature the canonized and the potential-to-be-canonized, but the emphasis throughout each is on their holiness, their pursuit or embracing of Christ-centered lives. In other words, their saintliness.
In “Saints Alive! The Gospel Witnessed,” Sisters Marie Paul Curley and Mary Lea Hill, Daughters of St. Paul, experienced storytellers and catechists, build the profiles of their subjects around a relevant passage from Scripture. For example, the story of Matt Talbot — who was declared venerable in 1975 and is considered the patron of alcoholics and others plagued by addictions — is preceded by Verse 1 of Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. Luke: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come.'”
This method sets the tone for each of those featured, be they well known, e.g., St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Vianney, or the lesser known, e.g., Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido. Each chapter concludes with a prayer, information about the person’s life, and a quote from him or her.
“Saints Alive! The Faith Proclaimed” is similar in format, but is built upon the beatitudes and the sacraments. Again, the famous and less famous are offered as examples of how each lived the intent of a beatitude or sacrament. As does “The Gospel Witnessed,” this collection includes questions for personal reflection and group discussion, as well as Scripture references that one is invited to read, to reflect upon and respond to.
Those seeking deep insight into the individuals featured won’t find it here, nor should they expect it. What they will find, and might recognize if their childhood faith formation took place in the 1930s, ’40s or ’50s, are simple, inspirational stories about people who sought, and often overcame struggles, to live their Catholic faith. These are “feel-good” stories to be sure, but in accepting the authors’ invitations to pray and reflect on what they have read will enhance the readers’ spiritual experience.
In “Letting Go and Letting God: 21 Centuries of Catholic Faith,” Benedictine Sister Kathleen Atkinson presents one Catholic from each century of Catholicism who “challenge us today,” as she writes in her introduction.
A biography of each is preceded by a few words about the subject. Following the biography is a prayer and what is the most nourishing segment of each chapter — “Connecting with …” These few paragraphs serve as spiritual direction for the reader who is, in fact, trying to connect with the subject. The chapter concludes with a “reflect and pray” series of questions that can further nourish the reader.
Sister Kathleen’s style and presentation of material, while easy to understand, will probe the souls of readers. Should they allow it, readers will benefit spiritually. Word of advice: No sense rushing. Whether it is one of the well-known people of Catholicism, e.g., Pope St. Gregory the Great, or a lesser known, e.g. Macrina the Younger, readers should take their time with the material and consider how they will respond to what they have read.
With the upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, much attention will be given to sainthood. Certainly, a time to reflect on the communion of saints, but equally important on what it takes to be saintly in one’s everyday life. These three books will assist in that task.
Olszewski is general manger of the Catholic Herald, a publication serving the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.