Another Book To Read…

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I’m not sure I have time for a full review of this one, but a colleague just gifted me a copy of Alice von Hildebrand’s “Memoirs of a Happy Failure” and I devoured it in just a little over a day. It’s a quick and charming read!

Over the years I’ve felt that Alice is a bit of an acquired taste when it comes to theological reflections, but she really is a beautiful and holy person. What I didn’t realize was that throughout her career at Hunter College in New York, she suffered in many ways professional and personal due to the fact that she was not only a woman in academia, but also an ardent Catholic. This book was a collection of delightful personal reminiscences and vignettes about the many ways grace guides you through tumultuous circumstances. For anyone who is a Catholic teacher of any sort, this book is also an edifying look at how faith and commitment to Truth can convert the hearts of students, even the ones who seem the most hostile or disinterested.

Oh, and I hate to spoil the surprise, but she’s really not a failure. Good for you, Alice.

alice
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Book Review: The Extraordinary Parents…

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I might get run out of the blogosphere, chased by pitchforks and brown scapulars for saying so, but I don’t really like St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I’ve read her. I’ve tried praying to her to understand and appreciate her, and the warm fuzzy love just isn’t there. I acknowledge that she is a saint, and a great saint at that– even a Doctor of the Church. All these things I’m very happy to admit and I heartily recommend her to others I think would get along well with her personality. But I am not one of those people. Please don’t unfriend me.

However-

I do have a special devotion to her mother, St. Zélie Martin, and have had such devotion ever since I learned that she was not only a loving wife and mother, but she was a working, loving wife and mother. My own call has led (and continues to lead) me outside the home on a regular basis, so when I found out that she, too, suffered from migraines, was rejected from a religious community where she thought she had a vocation, AND was member of a Third Order (in her case, the Franciscans), I realized I needed to find out more about this woman.

In an effort to do just that, I took her name as part of my religious name, along with another (dare I say it?) “badass” Mom: Queen St. Margaret of Scotland. 

While I was perusing the book selections at the Portsmouth Institute Conference a couple of weekends ago, I saw a (relatively) new book about Zélie and her husband, Louis. The two are the first married persons to be canonized as a couple, so naturally their literature tends to go together. After being a little disappointed in Piat’s presentation of the Martins in “The Story of a Family,” I decided to give this new one a try. That was a very good choice. Should you be interested in learning more about Louis and Zélie, here are my few recommending thoughts on the book:

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Available on Amazon

The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin
by: Hélène Mongin (trans. Marsha Daigle-Williamson, Ph.D)
Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division (2015)

Despite the title, the narrative of this book does not suffer from the same hyper-fixation on Thérèse as I felt with Piat. In many presentations, it can be a struggle to get to know and love Louis and Zélie if you aren’t already a fan of their esteemed daughter; however, I felt Mongin did a wonderful job of showing how Thérèse was inspired by the witness of her parents, rather than treating the parents as secondary to their daughter. She emphasizes the grace of marriage as a source and fruit of their holiness, rather than seeing the Martin parents’ devotion as displacement for lost religious vocations that trickled down to be fulfilled in their children. Louis and Zélie did not “settle” for marriage: they are saints because of it. And so are their children. As Mongin notes: “The canonization of Louis and Zélie underscores that the family can be a place of love so strong that it testifies to the whole world of God’s love and that an ordinary life lived with God can bear extraordinary fruit.” (pg 159)

“The good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth”- St. Thérèse of Lisieux

The book is not so much a biography as it is a thematic look into the earthly lives of a wife and husband, mother and father, whom we now know to be saints. This format can make it a little difficult for the reader to piece together a firm timeline, though this deficiency can be aided by even a simple perusal on Wikipedia.  In this thematic approach, topics such as marriage, children and enterprise are all discussed through the lens of Louis and Zélie’s great holiness, showing that no matter what the situation, God always came first in their lives. Mongin manages to walk a fine line in her story-telling: showing the incredible virtue displayed by the married couple, while avoiding the hagiographical trap of painting Louis and Zélie as faultless in their earthly life, or perfect in their piety. She acknowledges that Zélie found it difficult to juggle her prayer life with work and the children (pg. 43)– something every parent can relate to. She also describes ways in which both Louis and Zélie were aware of their own faults of temperament and sought to correct them– a lesson we would all do well to imitate.

One feature of the narrative that I did not particularly like is the modern tendency to psychologize everything or go out of our way to situate certain attitudes in history.  A fault is a fault and from the standpoint of a fault-filled person, deflecting personal failings with phrases like “one must not interpret this action…” or “this would be much less traumatizing…” doesn’t quite accomplish the goal of making these saints feel like “real people.” Yet Mongin manages to do much less of this than Piat and perhaps such explanations may actually prove beneficial to readers who are tempted to imitate the saints in every aspect.

Overall, I found this book to be a quick, enjoyable and edifying read. Louis and Zélie are given their proper place as heads of this holy family, a much-needed example for parents who struggle with living out their vocation in the secular world. Furthermore, their active involvement in their communities serve as models for all Christians today. Perhaps the owners of Chik-Fil-A would find a kindred spirit in Louis, who refused to open shop on Sundays despite loss of revenue. The students placing crosses on the quad in memory of lives lost to abortion may find solace in the ridicule which the Martins sometimes faced from their neighbors for speaking so openly of God. The young mother facing cancer may be strengthened by Zélie’s firm acceptance of God’s will when all the prayers had not elicited a miracle.

We all have much to learn and love about this holy couple. Mongin’s text is a fabulous way to aid in that endeavor.

 

Lenten Lit

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My sister wrote a beautiful piece yesterday about learning to embrace a different “style” of Lent with little ones. You should read it, but the gist is: when you have a lot of external demands (as you do with motherhood), Lent shouldn’t be about beating yourself up for all of the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Instead, learn to offer up the daily things as means of sanctification and carefully choose which Lenten activities you can reasonably do. She mentions reading “Come, Be My Light” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I am always striving to read something theological/spiritual anyway, but during Lent I try to grab something that directs me specifically to Holy Week. I thought I’d leave a little list here of suggested Lenten reading and I hope you’ll leave me some suggestions in the comments!

“The Living Wood” by Louis de Wohl
De Wohl shows up quite frequently on my reading list– I don’t know how he managed to elude me until my mid-twenties. This particular tale of his recounts the story of Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. “The Living Wood” refers to the tradition that St. Helena was the finder of the True Cross, but the story is about so much more than that. How do we face adversity in life? Where is Christ when we need him? How can even our most selfish intentions be brought to serve the Almighty? A quick, engrossing read, 370 pages.

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son” by Jon D. Levenson
This text by one of the foremost Hebrew Bible Scholars in the world explores the Jewish contributions to the Christian narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Levenson is a devout Jew, with a special gift and penchant for Jewish/Christian relations. His text is thick, rich, challenging and ripe with passages for contemplation. Recommended for those with a strong Biblical studies background, 232 pages.

“The Everlasting Man” by GK Chesterton
How does Christ stand completely apart from every other religious figure, even when He appears to be so similar to many of them? What is the relationship of historical man and this God-man we call Jesus Christ? Chesterton’s gift for rhetoric and a happy turn of phrase are on prominent display in this text. But don’t be fooled by his fast-paced style– this text needs digestion, so be prepared to read and re-read passages as you ruminate, 276 pages.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis
You are never too old to revisit such an enchanting, heart-softening allegory. If you’d like a text that leads you to contemplation of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is none better than a text which asks you to do this through the innocence of childhood. Revisit Aslan and the stone table before Good Friday. Which character do you most identify with this time? 224 pages

“The Way of a Pilgrim”
I wrote not that long ago of viewing Lent as a pilgrimage: This Russian Orthodox classic is perfect for this time of year because of its call for and instruction in deep, interior prayer. Though written as a travelogue, the Way actually takes the reader on pilgrimage with its anonymous author, through the devotion of constant meditation on the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’). Join this monk as he seeks to “pray without ceasing”– can we follow in his footsteps? 208 pages

“Salvifici Doloris” Apostolic Letter, Pope St. John Paul II
‘Theodicy’ is the big word we theological-types use to describe the universal intellectual struggle we humans have in trying to understand good and evil. This text faces the specific problem of “suffering” in the Divine Plan: how can God allow people to suffer evil? Why did God choose to suffer for our deliverance? How do I find meaning in my own suffering and what must I do in the face of my neighbor’s suffering? A must-read for every Christian, but especially poignant as we approach Holy Week. Free on the Vatican archives, or 64 pages in print.

“Little Talks With God” the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena
I’ve written about this text before and my preference for the new translation over the old. If you’d like a totally different genre, then this is it. My sister Dominican (and a third order at that!) and Doctor of the Church, Catherine, dictated these dialogues while in an ecstatic state, conversing with God about penance, obedience, sin and retribution and all sorts of other things besides. If you’d like a text which weaves together mystical experience, the Bible and the teachings of the Church, this one is for you. I also notice with much chagrin that this is the only text I have here by a woman. I must remedy that in subsequent lists, 188 pages.

You may notice that all of the purchasing links direct you to Better World Books. Of course you can purchase them through Amazon, but this business is near and dear to my heart, as it was founded by fellow Domers. Through collecting donations of used books and selling them online, Better World Books is able to fund literacy initiatives all around the world. Finally– a charity that allows me to give the gift of reading to others AND myself! Happy reading and blessed Lenten journey.

What are your suggestions for Lenten Literature?

Please let me know so I can add them to my personal queue!

 

 

 

 

Lent as Pilgrimage

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Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter

                                                                                     —- Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message 2006

Onward, fellow pilgrims! Let’s TO EASTER!

As part of my Lenten preparation, I’ve decided to reconnect with a text that I only read portions of during my time in undergrad. It’s called “Egeria’s Travels,” or “The Pilgrimage of Egeria” and it’s a first-hand account of a fourth-century Spanish woman, presumably a nun, who travels throughout the Holy Land.

The text of “Egeria’s Travels” has quite an interesting history, as do all ancient manuscripts that survive today. It seems that at one point, her text was fairly well-known, especially in Medieval Spain, since a 7th century monk gives reference to it in a letter. We know that a copy was held at Monte Cassino in the 12th century, because Peter the Deacon used it as a major primary source for his book on “The Holy Places,” though he does not quote her text directly. Unfortunately, however, we find no reference to her text after this. It was not until 1884 that the text was rediscovered in the Codex Aretinus, an 11th century document also composed at Monte Cassino, but housed in a library at the Brotherhood of St. Mary’s in Arezzo, Italy. Yet the text was not copied completely:  the Codex only contains about 1/3 of Egeria’s original text (the middle part). Why only that section was preserved is unknown, since we can reconstruct from Peter’s text many parts of her travels that are not accounted for in the Codex. Where did Peter’s copy go? Are there any other copies yet to be found? This is why we all still need good librarians.

The travelogue itself is a fascinating peek into the mind and life of a fourth century Christian woman. We know very little about Egeria herself (what her background was, how she came to read and write), but we come to know a bit of her personality as we read about all the holy places she visits and all the holy men and women she encounters. She’s very grateful to her guides, familiar with Biblical texts, inquisitive and supremely trusting. Egeria seems to possess an incredible amount of stamina and remarks occasionally about older people who cannot join her on certain excursions. She also has a keen ear for liturgical phrases and takes very seriously her responsibility to guard the Christian mysteries (the sacraments) from any hostile person who might intercept her messages en route back to Spain.

Perhaps most striking for the reader are her accounts of her participation in specific Jerusalem liturgies which eventually spread to all of the Western Church (e.g. the celebration of Palm Sunday before Easter, the veneration of the cross on Good Friday). These celebrations were strange and new to her, so for a 21st century Catholic who has participated in them every year since birth, her accounts give a fresh new look at what has become rote for most of us. Yet in the midst of novelty, the reader experiences a deep sense of connectedness with the ancient Church. Through Egeria’s words and experiences, we in turn experience a profound sense that while many things have changed in our liturgy, many things have been preserved.

I am hoping that walking with Egeria through her pilgrimage in Jerusalem will enable me to contemplate my own pilgrimage to Easter through these next 40 days. I hope to learn not only the facts of her travels, but also to learn to approach these liturgies with open eyes and a renewed sense of wonder at not only the “historical Christ,” but the active Living Christ, who watches over all of us through the Life of the Church. A Church which is a family of people, interconnected for better or for worse, traveling together to the Bridegroom.

So if I’ve managed to pique your interest in my new (old) friend, Egeria, I suggest finding a copy of her travels (I’m currently reading Wilkinson’s 1999 critical edition) or even clicking the link above to go to a free online translation. I’m sure she’ll have something unique and special just for you to meditate on as you continue your journey.

The Power & The Glory

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The last time I read “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene was in college. Anyone who knows me well would be able to tell you that I have a horrible memory for plotlines– a small bonus of which is that I can put a book down for a few years and, remembering that I liked it the first time, pick it up and rediscover it as something (almost) completely new!

Despite this huge lapse in mental capacity, I am capable of remembering vignettes or certain aspects of a story very vividly. There is one scene from “The Power and the Glory” that remained with me, despite the rest of it completely fading away. Our itinerant “whisky priest” has just stumbled into the crude hospitality of an old man and his family. They give him a little straw mat to lie down on:

‘After five years there is so much to confess.’…

…’Can’t you let me sleep for five minutes?’ He lay down again…

…The old man said softly, ‘It would be a pity if the soldiers came before we had time…such a burden on poor souls, father…’ The priest shouldered himself upright against the wall and said furiously, ‘Very well. Begin. I will hear your confession.’ The rats scuffled in the maize. ‘Go on then,’ he said. ‘Don’t waste time. Hurry. When did you last…?’ The old man knelt beside the fire…

…The priest leant against the wall with his legs droawn up beneath him, and the rats accustomed to the voices moved again in the maize. The old man picked out his sins which difficulty, blowing at the fire. ‘Make a good act of contrition,’ the priest said, ‘and say-say- have you a rosary?- then say the Joyful Mysteries.’ His eyes closed, his lips and tongue stumbled over the absolution, failed to finish… he sprang awake again.

‘Can I bring the women?’ the old man was saying. ‘It is five years…’

‘Oh, let them come. Let them all come,’ the priest cried angrily. ‘I am your servant.’ He put his hand over his eyes and began to weep. 


I read that passage again tonight, with an infant collapsed and snoring happily in my lap. These past few weeks have truly been difficult: my husband is working 14+ hours each day, Emmie has discovered that three is the perfect age to be awful in every way, Sofie has gotten fed up with being home and is SO ready to leave me for kindergarten, house-hunting has thrown me for a thousand loops and Isaac has not only battled infections and pre-teething, but is now in the the throes of his four-month cognitive leap (fussy, not sleeping well, needing to be held and entertained ALL THE TIME). I am no itinerant whisky priest, but I am a stay-at-home mom with a grapefruit shandy tonight. And I think we understand each other perfectly.  

True Devotion?

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Having finished re-reading ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ I was looking for another book to devour.  As I went to the bookshelf, my heart kind of sank because I realized it was full of the same books it always is. I wanted something new. I wanted something challenging. So I raided the office library and found a copy of “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. Actually, we have about twenty copies laying around, so I grabbed one and brought it home.

On sale at Catholic Company

Boy, is this text challenging.

I may have said this before, but I’m kind of a reluctant Dominican when it comes to the whole ‘devotion to Mary’ thing. I believe this is why God has called me along this path; because without Fr. Dominic’s prompting, I might never grow to embrace her as I should. I’ve never really felt a strong connection with her and sometimes I really don’t understand those who do. I don’t deny that theirs may be the right relationship to have with Our Blessed Mother, but it does make me a little envious that for some people it just seems to come so joyfully and easily. But when I read things like:

“It is Mary alone who has given to the miserable children of Eve, the faithless, entry into the terrestrial paradise… or rather, since she is herself that terrestrial paradise, that virgin and blessed earth from which Adam and Eve, the sinners, have been driven, she gives no entry there except to those whom it is her pleasure to make saints.” — paragraph 45

… I get a little uncomfortable. I won’t unpack this paragraph here because I do believe that St. Louis de Montfort does not overstretch into the heretical and I trust the numerous qualifications that underly this statement to be taken for granted in his writing. But still– could we come up with a better way to say this? It just seems… imprudent.

As I was thinking all of these things the other night, I was struck by a very vivid memory.

I went through a very short period in high school when I brought my Bible with me and arrived early, so that I could sit in front of my locker and read from the Gospels before the day started. Now: I went to public school, so perhaps this was particularly odd and perhaps I did it partly in a show-offy “look at me the hypocrite while I pray” sort of way. I was admittedly a punk…

…But I also remember that I was truly thirsting for God’s Word. I was having a really rough time (who wasn’t?) and I really wanted to learn who Jesus was and WWJD and all of that.

As I was reading through John’s Gospel, I came across these quotes:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from life to death.”- Jn 5:24

 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” — Jn 6:51

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” — Jn 8:19

“Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day.” — Jn 12:48

John’s Gospel is full of this stuff. And as I actually read these words, I felt this strange emotion stirring inside me. It felt unjust. It felt pompous. I remember thinking, “This Jesus is totally full of himself. Why is everything about Him???

I wasn’t astute enough in my reading or even capable of stepping outside of my own little world at the moment to realize that these were exactly the charges that led so many people to reject Him. He was just a guy. They knew his mother. He sounded like He was claiming to be God, to be doing things that only God can do… this man was crazy!

Years later, I stumbled upon this famous quote of Lewis:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

YES. This is EXACTLY what I felt and now I am grateful to have had that experience because it eventually forced me to confront Jesus as either a lunatic or the true Son of God: at some point, I had to make the choice. Thank God I was able to profess the latter.

So as I read through this book about devotion to Mary, part of me wonders if I’m not experiencing the same sort of tension? I’d like to say “Oh well, some saints are really devoted to Mary and others aren’t… or at least their devotion takes a very different form and that’s OK,” but maybe there’s something of her son hidden in her as well. Maybe all of this unsettling talk about Mary will eventually force me to acknowledge something that up until now I’ve been denying. I’m not sure.

For now, I plan to trudge through the book and pray that I will be able to see and learn whatever Christ and His Blessed Mother desire of me. The Rosary has already taught me much about her and I am sure there is much more to learn, so I pray that God will, if nothing else, at least reward my persistence.

What about you? Have you read “True Devotion?” What was your experience like? 
Do you ever feel uncomfortable reading about Mary, the saints, or even about Jesus? What do you do? 
Do you have any less-intense suggestions for texts that could help ease me into this one?

Lit Review

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I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot here about the books that my kids and I are reading, so consider this a “first” of many literature reviews to come!

Yesterday, I visited the Carmelite Chapel at one of our local malls (yeah, you read that correctly) for mass and stopped in the gift shop to pick up a visor clip after I inadvertently left ours in another car. Whenever I’m in such a shop, I can’t help but poke around in the books section– specifically, I like to look at the children’s books.  I ended up purchasing a couple of Lives of Saints books.

I can already hear the groans.
Another book about the saints?! How many can you possibly have? Aren’t they all the same holy roller drivel with dated images where all the girls look like porcelain dolls and all the guys look like gladiators?
So I thought. But the answer is apparently ‘no.’

I stumbled upon a series by Aquinas Kids (love ’em already…)

These are the two books I picked out for the girls.  The first thing you may notice is that the features of these faces are remarkably beautiful– and DIFFERENT. Michael Adams’ illustration work is simply gorgeous. I could gush all day. I mean, look at his depiction of Mary:

Each book features sixteen saints and a cost of only $1.50 each, I’m pretty sure the buyer comes out the winner. Big time.  
The mini biographies are not as strikingly beautiful as the images, but they are nonetheless very well-written and I don’t mind reading them– which is more than I can say for some other saint books. And while there are other collections that I think rival this one in illustration and perhaps surpass it in text (Ruth Sanderson’s “Saints: Lives and Illuminations” comes springing to mind), the portable 5.5″ x 7.5″ size makes it very easy to tuck in a diaper bag or let the kids bring along in the stroller. THAT’S a huge plus. 
To top it all off, my girls are simply enchanted with them. Even now, they are carrying them around the apartment. S has latched on to Saint Lucy in particular and E loves Saint Kateri.  These are already a “favorite” book for mass and I cannot recommend them enough. 
Other titles in the series: 

PSA: When a New Translation Helps

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I wrote a while back about my adventures reading St. Catherine of Siena’s “Dialogue” and how reading Louis de Wohl’s book about her (“Lay Siege to Heaven”) actually helped me slog through it. But I’ll admit that on the whole, I wasn’t left with a very nice taste in my mouth.

First of all, the “Dialogue” is kind of a weird and uncomfortable format for me.  According to reports, she dictated the majority of it while in a prayerful trance– so when you talk about what “she” says in the Dialogues, you end up saying very awkward things like:

“What Catherine says… or, rather… what Catherine says that God says to her? How should I say this?”

“God says in the Dialogue… well, I mean… this is what He says to Catherine and it’s technically private revelation so you aren’t’ bound to accept this as what God directly says… I mean…Goodness this is hard.”

I didn’t ‘hate’ the text, but it didn’t really resonate with me, either. It just felt… flat. And that’s not really what I wanted when picking up a spiritual text.

Then, my formation director (she’s so great!) suggested I take a look at a different translation of the work, entitled “Little Talks With God” by Paraclete Press.

Paraclete Press

What a difference! Gone was the “macerations of the flesh” talk and the flowery, mystical prose that I’ve come to associate with overly-saccharine 19th-century French popular piety (*cough* Therese *cough*). This translation rang less with impenetrable mysticism and more with rational, though lofty, metaphor– which admittedly is much more palatable for me.

The best part, though, was that I realized halfway through that my previous reading of St. Catherine had been hindered by the fact that I generally read modern translations of the Bible (NRSV preferred, or NAB). I was shocked to realize that “Little Talks” was ripe with Biblical parallels– mostly from the Pauline Epistles– that were totally lost on me in the old translation.

I cannot speak to the scholarly accuracy of this modern translation, so if you are looking to study Catherine formally, I can’t say one way or another whether it wold help. -BUT- Reading through this version was, for me, a far more positive and enriching experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a more “accessible” personal reading of St. Catherine.

St. Catherine of Siena and Me

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FINISHED!

I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath to see when I would *finnnnnnalllly* finish the “Dialogue” by Catherine of Siena and…

…oh. You weren’t? Okay. Well, that’s fine, too.

I started reading this book way back in January, at the recommendation of my formation director.

You can get the full text here

At first I was really excited. I think the thought process was: “Catherine is a Dominican. I love Dominicans. She’s a Doctor of the Church. I like Doctors of the Church. This is a dialogue. I’ve read Plato’s dialogues and liked most of them…ergo, this should be great!”

It was not like Plato’s dialogues. 
It was like slogging through mud.
At times, it didn’t even “feel” like it was written by* a Dominican. 
Obviously, I am not a holy enough person to read this book. 
Much to my chagrin, I found the text to be incredibly similar in voice and style to The Story of a Soul, the great spiritual work by Therese of Lisieux.    

I had tried reading “Story of a Soul” last year (coincidentally, at the very same time both of my sisters had also picked it up), but again, it was like slogging through really dense, poorly organized, saccharine mud. I actually had to force myself to read it as a discipline, thinking that at least the seeds would be planted and maybe they’d bear fruit later.
Again: I am clearly not holy enough to read these books. 
What the astute blog-follower may notice, however, is that I have also just finished reading “Lay Siege to Heaven,” an historical novel about St. Catherine of Siena by the incredibly talented Louis de Wohl.  
I could  should write an entire post about the great craftsmanship of Mr. de Wohl, but I haven’t the time here.  Suffice it to say that the book was excellent– so excellent in fact that after finishing it, I found it much easier to pick up the “Dialogue” and I even somewhat enjoyed it.  
Why am I writing all this? 
Because I realized something: I may not be spiritually ready to read Catherine or Therese in their own words and really get much out of it. Their personalities are obviously too different from mine. St. Thomas Aquinas may be a dense read– but by golly he’s organized and logical and I loved his stuff the first time I read it. Coming to know who these women are, though, to think about their lives, their historical situations, their families and their friends is a very good way to begin accessing a little bit of their particular expression of “holiness” without being blinded by it. Coming to love St. Catherine through de Wohl, I found myself capable of imagining a person speaking to me through those dense, mud-like pages.  If I was going to find her unintelligible anyway, I might as well picture her as an unintelligible sister. Or a friend. Or a mother.
It made me realize the great value of literature like de Wohl’s– to excite imagination in the way we read and understand the saints so that we can gradually come to imagine the strangest of all phenomena: holiness. God. Christ. The Sacraments. Faith…
This is no new idea– Chesterton, Tolkien, de Saint-Exupery and every hagiographer of any Irish saint EVER knows this. I have been writing some children’s books based on this idea**– but this was the first time I felt the tangible results of what has up until now been just a theory in my heart.  
So thank you, Louis de Wohl. Thank you for introducing me to the great personalities behind some of our greatest saints so that I could hear their words more clearly. I pray that you are already in their ranks. I hope that you’ve had many great conversations with them about your books. 
What are your favorite books about/by saints? Have you ever had trouble learning to love a particular saint? Who resonates with you?
*Okay, so technically, the “Dialogue” was dictated by Catherine while she was in ecstasy, so she didn’t write it. Nor were the words necessarily hers because the claim is that God spoke through her during His part of the Dialogue. But I hope you get what I mean. 
** I’ve already submitted one to publishers– PLEASE pray for me as I continue to pursue this!!