Page 14, 1st June 2007

1st June 2007
Page 14
Page 14, 1st June 2007 — SPIRITUAL BOOKS FRANCIS PHILLIPS
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Organisations: French Academy
Locations: New City, Paris

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SPIRITUAL BOOKS FRANCIS PHILLIPS

Sacred Dwelling: A Spirituality of Family' Life by Wendy Wright, DLT 110.95 Marriage and family life need help these days. The sacramental theology of marriage needs proclaiming ever more eloquently and the daily living out of the sacrament needs more support than in the past. It does not require Bob Dylan to tell us times have changed. Wendy Wright, author of studies in Christian spirituality as well as being a wife and mother, has turned her attention to the "domestic church", a phrase often used but little understood. For the author "it enfleshes the Word of God in a distinctive way"; it means that family life is sacred in itself, and not just a poor relation to religious communities.

Most families, she agrees, "seem not to feel their very family-ness as sacred". What with the spiralling mortgage, the school-run, computer games competing with parental authority and, lately, uncollected rubbish, it is not surprising. The author writes of her own experiences of motherhood and homemaking, interspersed with italicised passages of a more poetic intensity. Particularly thought-provoking is her chapter on "hospitality" which, she emphasises, is not the same as "entertaining". She cites Dorothy Day, who established "Houses of Hospitality" for the poor and homeless in America and who stated that "every home should have a Christ-room in it so that hospitality may be practised." Perhaps, in our squashed, modern living spaces, a "Christ-corner" might be a more realistic option. Wright recognises that not all families live in "communion"; they can exhibit patterns of pathology such as co-dependency, domination and abuse. Further, she rightly points out that "self-denial" in married life makes no sense "if a person has no healthy 'self" to deny". Yet she is also right to affirm that healing and growth are possible in every situation.

Definitely a book to be pondered by those in the front line of family life, along with some wine and a footstool for tired feet. Unfolding the Mystery: Monastic Conferences on the Liturgical Year by Dom Hugh Gilbert OSB, Gracewing £9.99 Religious communities are also families. Here, the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey addresses his brethren in a series of informal talks that highlight aspects of the Christian calendar. It is good for lay people to be reminded that they do not live for work, for weekends or for holidays, but according to the great feasts that give meaning to our sometimes frenetic lives. Dom Hugh suggests that modem culture "restricts the public expression of religion to definite times and places — this is unnatural." Indeed so; but prayer is always the link between the two. As the author states: "Lack of prayer is the single great cause of the world's unhappiness."

Now that our mandarins have decreed that "happiness" should be taught in schools. I would suggest this book as an essential text. The Abbot recalls the memory of one of Pluscarden's (re)-founding fathers, the late, much-loved Dom Maurus Deegan: "He regularly inveighed against the pursuit of 'happiness'... but he was a joyful man."

Dom Hugh's reflections are enlivened by his wide reading; he refers to Lord Wavell, author of the classic poetry anthology, Other Men's Flowers, Caryll Houselander, Kipling and Sigrid Undset, whose historical novel, Kristin Lavransdatter, I have always thought an over match for Walter Scott, the Wizard of the North — who is doubtless the preferred bedside reading of Alex Salmond.

Overlook Much. Correct a Little: 99 Sayings by John XXIII, New City 0.95 Why do some Catholics go misty-eyed when this Pope's name is mentioned? Coming after the austere, unworldly Pius Xll made him seem a welcome contrast. Then he had a short, dramatic pontificate, leaving the way open for his memory to be misappropriated by those who invented false hopes for Vatican II and pinned them to his white cassock. In fact, as a reading of his Journal makes clear, John XXIII was deeply pious, conservative in temperament and a man of unaffected simplicity.

He was also lovable, as this short volume amply demonstrates. As Paris nuncio in 1946 he visited the French Academy and was offered a narrow chair. Being a man of wide girth he observed ruefully: "This chair is big enough for only half a nuncio." Other gems include: "I am not a goodlooking pope — just look at my ears" and "when I see a wall between Christians, I try to break off a brick."

I could quote from every page, such is his combination of charm and humility, but this would spoil a genuine treat for those busy people who are in need of spiritual nourishment but too fatigued (or unhappy) to digest richer fare.




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