Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Lure of the Saints -- book #22

I found this one thanks to Julie D. at Happy Catholic. I will say that this was a highly interesting book. I was thrilled to see, from an "outsiders" point of view, the beauty of Catholic tradition. I am a cradle Catholic who spent several years searching (and attended a wonderful PCA church for 10 years) and finally came back to Catholicism -- all of which is simply to say that I look at these issues from "both sides". The Catholic worldview is something I never "lost," so the terminology, practices, and ways of approaching life are not foreign to me... and yet, since I spent much of my "formative years" (high school and college) learning from Protestant authors and preachers, I still find myself at times wanting "black and white proof" that these sorts of practices are acceptable.

I think the author did a good job providing a fairly well-balanced view of the saints and devotional practices, while highlighting the excesses that some believers have fallen prey to. On the whole, however, he presents devotional practices in a very positive light. He shows how he, while remaining a Protestant, incorporates many of these in his life and finds his spiritual life so much richer for it.

"Why do you need all that extra stuff?" an evangelical Christian friend recently asked me when I told her about the book I was writing. She also knows of my interest and participation in other traditionally Catholic devotions. "Why isn't the grace of God enough for you?" she asked. I explained that she was talking about salvation -- being sure that you've got it -- and I was talking about moving on, after salvation, and finding deeper ways of building a relationship with God.

Our Protestant rationalism can be misguided and overreaching. I sometimes wonder where all our certainly comes from. Where the Catholic Church is a reality unto itself -- a set of traditions and beliefs and a body of believers -- Protestantism, when it means that the individual conscience is more important that traditions, beliefs, and a body of believers, can become a reality only in the mind.

From the past, we can learn spiritual practices that offer us ways for head and heart to meet at last. My life in Christ involves my whole body -- my emotions and my actions as well as my intellect -- but I am only recently realizing this kind of faith, below my chin. That is why I love the saints: they are my guides to multifaceted faith.

And in a later chapter:

...popular Catholic author Scott Hahn writes, "Catholics don't just hear the Gospel. In the liturgy, we hear, smell, and taste it."

Where the Protestant approach to the Spirit is to analyze its meaning, the Catholic approach to the Spirit is to imagine its depths. Where the Protestant mind stops and pulls the strands apart, the Catholic mind makes further connections and intertwines the strands. My own approach to the Spirit and my own mind are clearly of the Protestant sort, but I wish it were not so.

...until the complete comes... I want to learn to love God with my whole heart, mind, body, and spirit. I want to attain "the grace of devotion," as St. Francis de Sales so beautifully phrases it, and it seems to me that I will need to move beyond my Protestant imagination in order to do it

This is not to imply, however, that this book is simply a "rah-rah" piece for Catholicism. There were several quotes from the saints themselves that made me uncomfortable, and a few practices that seemed to border on the superstitious. He also titled one chapter "The Radical Triumph of the Protestant Idea," which highlighted the enormous impact of Luther's ideas on the Western world.

In the end, I am comforted in the fact that the author seeks to incorporate both faith traditions in his own spiritual life. I know that I, for one, am deeply indebted to the PCA church I attended for so many years. I was taught by some wonderful people who love the Lord and seek to follow Him faithfully. I would not be the Christian I am today without them.

In spite of some reservations, I give this book 4.2 stars (4.5 was too high, and 4 was too low...)


Julie D. said...

Boy, oh boy, do I understand those reservations as I share them. However, for the many non-Catholics I know this seemed to be the best book around for helping understand a lot of those devotions.

Ouiz said...

I agree. The book was well-written and the author evidently holds many of these traditions in high regard, but some sections truly made me cringe...

Still, I thought it was a fascinating book -- thank you for sharing your review with us! It was your review that piqued my curiosity.