I recently finished Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s St. Therese – A Treasured Love Story which contains a group of sermons by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheed centering on the life of St. Therese. These were preached on the one-hundreth anniversary of St. Therese birth in 1973. The book calls them novena talks, but there are eleven of these talks that were preached at church in Dublin, Ireland after an invitation from Fr. Linus Ryan, O. Carm.
Being a lover of all things Carmelite and having read extensively on St. Therese I was not sure what to expect from the Archbishop Sheen on the subject of this great saint. I am also quite a fan of the good Archbishop, his books, and his wonderful television series and so I expected that it would be an enjoyable read. I had not know that Archbishop Sheen himself was a Third Order Carmelite and how much of a devotee he was to St. Therese.
The book starts with a short introduction and then short biographies first of St. Therese and then Archbishop Sheen. This foreword and the book has been put together by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR who is the Vice Postulator of Archbishop Sheen’s cause. The middle of the book has several pages both of St. Therese and of Archbishop Sheen and even includes a picture of a young Fr. Apostoli with the Archbishop.
Even though I have read several of his books I don’t think I have ever read any of his talks and this book shows that I have missed out by not doing so. All I can really say is wow, what a powerful preacher he is. He has the ability to teach you what you might already know or be familiar with as if it was something brand new causing you to see it fresh. Each talk is centered around a topic such as mercy, suffering, humility, intercession, fighting the Devil, etc. The talks are full of personal anecdotes and stories to illustrate the topic along with as you expect much from the writings of St. Therese. I also found it interesting some of the comments he made about the trends in modern theology and religious life of which he was definitely not a fan. Regardless of what he is talking about though he does it with great humor while at the same time driving the points home.
This is a highly worthwhile book for fans of either Therese or Archbishop Sheen. The official site for the cause of the canonization of Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is selling these books to support his cause.
Another book I recently read was Mystics, Mavericks & Miracle Workers: A 30-Day Journey with Some Saints by Jason Chatraw and Eric Sandras. I though it might be interesting since it was a 30-day devotional that bases it self around the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. John of the Cross, St. and St. Ambrose of Milan. For each saint there are five chapters each representing a days spiritual reading that starts with a short bio on the saint and then something from their writings, a Biblical quote, three or four other quotes and then a reflection from one of the two authors and finally a couple of questions for the reader.
The first quote used after the reading from St. Bernard of Clairvaux was from the Oracle to Neo from the movie The Matrix. Now I thought that was rather cool and the quote did fit in with the topic, but the book goes down rapidly after that. The sections I referenced earlier were divided into Saint ??? thoughts, God’s thoughts, thoughts of others, Dr. E or Jason’s thoughts, and finally your thoughts. I thought this was a little cutsey, but a minor criticism. Where the book falls apart is mainly in the reflections by the two authors. Both authors are Protestants with one being a pastor and the other a freelance writer and small groups pastor. But I figured a book willing to seriously take on some of these great saints especially one as deep as St. John of the Cross would be able to provide some thoughts to help to amplify and understand what was meant by these saints in their writings.
I must be spoiled by some of the great spiritual reading I have done and the level of spiritual insights others have on the lives of the saints. My pastor Fr. Leon can speak on St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross as if he knew them in life and is so familiar with their writings and has such a deep prayer life that he can help you to dive deeper into their writings. The effort of these two authors while not horrible is just not up to the level one might expect on a book to guide you on a journey with as the book say “some” saints. Their thoughts are full of references to their gas-guzzling SUVs, Starbucks, MacDonalds, and other references to modern society. While certainly it sometimes is quite useful to use examples from every day life to help us better understand a subject, I didn’t often find that these example were helpful. The reflections on the saints covered by Jason Chatraw were better in quality to the other other, but just not ready for prime time. In a chapter after St. John of the Cross is talking about the night of the senses and the ways of purgation we get the example of the author being told by his realtor to get a pressure-washer to clean his driveway in order to sell his house. Maybe not the worst comparison, but it just seems so mundane after reading St. John of the Cross’s words.
Event the scripture interpretation used under God’s Words annoyed me. Through parts of the book they used a translation called The Message that is one of those laughably bad modern translations that translate things such as “There is a time to shut up and a time to speak up” and has Saint Paul talking about “cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage..” I think it is the same thing that annoys me both about The Message translation and the reflections in this book and the attempt to be excessively modern and hip. I got the feel of fast-food reflections and not the nutritious spiritual reading I am use to. Not to say this is a horrible book, but with all the great spiritual reading available in the same 30-day devotional format it just isn’t in their league.
Now it is interesting that two Protestant pastors have written this book that is so centered around Catholic saints and includes multiple quotes from other Catholic Saints and people like Blessed Mother Teresa. The authors have pretty much a Catholic view of salvation at least as it regards it being a process and if it introduces Protestants to the writings of these great saints then I say good on them, but Catholics and others already familiar with the spiritual treasury of the Church should pass.
Jeff, I had a similar experience (to reading the last book in your post) several yrs ago. Its hard to say without sounding disparaging but I was the only Catholic in a hospital CPE class full of protestant chaplains. They were a wonderful, open group of people but the book that the instructor picked for the semester was on the need for personal confession. We spent an hour a couple of times a wk discussing this book. Finally, I just had to say: you know, this is great stuff but every fourth grader in Catholic schools had to know this before they made first confession when I was growing up. They weren’t offended but surprised because so much of the content was ‘news’ to them. It always makes me feel like they’ve been robbed somehow.
With regard to Archbishop Sheen’s talks/novena on St Therese, I have them on tape. They are great! His skills at delivering a talk are excellent. I agree. The stories throughout the talks are wonderful to listen to. I really enjoyed his discussion of “transference,” wherein he told the story of a boy carrying his brother who was asked, “Isn’t he heavy?” The boy responded, “Heavy? No, he’s not heavy. He’s my brother.” I love that line. “He’s my brother.” The application of this to a theological understanding of transference and offering up our suffering is another gem in the collection.
Thanks for reminding me. I try to listen to it once a year during the last week of September. I failed to this year. Will have to pull it out during this Christmas vacation.