As I write this column, I am in Massachusetts, the "land of my birth," where I have been blessed to step out of the whirlwind for a few quiet summer days of R and R. I should add a third R to Rest and Relaxation, as a vacation priority for me always is to catch up on Reading.
So, while I was tempted to wade into a moral reflection on headline news (e.g., the health care chaos in Washington vs. the Catholic principle that health care is a universal human right), I decided instead to share a little from my summer reading. I, for one, needed to take a brief breather from the complex array of serious issues facing our nation, while continuing to hold them in prayer.
As some who know me well are aware, I conclude most every day after Compline (night prayer) with about a half hour of bedtime reading. That is when I treat myself to fiction - usually a thriller - or a good biography. It is a wonderful way to distract my mind temporarily from work-related concerns before sleep.
But vacation gives me the opportunity to delve into more serious reading. This summer, I have been reading three books. First, in anticipation of our diocesan pilgrimage to Ireland this fall, I have been learning more about Irish history and Celtic spirituality. I recommend Esther de Waal's "The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination." This book shows how the Celtic way of praying drew upon its pre-Christian past as well as the full depth of the Gospel, touching not only the mind but also the heart and imagination. It is a great reminder that faith and prayer are meant to engage the whole person.
A serious and challenging read is Mary Eberstadt's "How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization." Everstadt begins with a good overview of various theories about the causes of secularization. Her own thesis follows, that it is the decline of family life that "helps to power religious decline." The positive way of putting this argument is that sound family life can and does lead to deeper religious devotion. You can see from reviews of Eberstadt's book that her argument has been viewed as both important and provocative. See for yourself. Secularization is real and daunting. Pondering its roots is a useful exercise, as is the situation of family life in our post-"Amoris Laetitia" Church.
The third volume I am reading is Chris Lowney's new "Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church." Lowney, a former Jesuit seminarian and then managing director at JP Morgan, currently chairs the large hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives. Lowney loves the Catholic Church, and is very concerned with what he views as its worst decline in five centuries. Lowney weds leadership theory to the call to missionary discipleship and summons the whole Church - all Catholics - to be, in the words of Benedict XVI, "co-responsible for the Church's being and action."
Lowney's concluding words are worth repeating here (which means, of course, that I fully agree with them!):
We are living the calling embedded in the baptismal promise. We are the ones that the Holy Spirit has put on the playing field at this moment of history. We might wish that there were more priestly vocations, or that the culture around us were not so secular and individualistic, or that the Church would move faster, or not have changed as much as it has, or that fellow Catholics were less obstreperous and saw things as we do.
But none of that matters right now. What matters is that we are the ones who are here, and we are here together, and God's Holy Spirit is here with us. We are the ones who are blessed and privileged with the mighty purpose of revitalizing our church.
And we will surely succeed (p. 169).
Speaking of revitalizing our Church, you will be hearing a lot in the months ahead about our diocesan planning that is the fruit of the recent national Convocation of Catholic Leaders on the Joy of the Gospel and missionary discipleship. Exciting stuff. Stay tuned!