(Following is my column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post.)
To paraphrase Marcus Welby, M.D., I’m not a theologian, nor do I play one on television.
And while I do plenty of reading and reviewing of Catholic books in various genres, consider me firmly in the “normal layperson” category. Believe me, I can be just as intimidated by a heavily theological book as the next Catholic. Despite that, I’m like many people, who strive be able to know and understand better the rich intellectual history of the Catholic Church and her saints.
It can be good to have a “translator” to help bridge the gap between important Catholic thought and normal readers like me. Here are some good recent books to help us to branch out.
The idea behind this book is brilliant—who better than the saints and the lives they led to explain key tenets of our faith? But it’s Vogt’s execution is what makes this book a stand-out.
Each social justice theme is highlighted through two saints; usually one better-known, one less so. For instance, for the justice theme of rights & responsibilities, Vogt profiles both St. Thomas More and St. Roque Gonzalez, a Paraguayan Jesuit. And the theme of life & dignity of the human person uses the lives of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, as well as St. Peter Claver.
Vogt explains why he uses saints to illustrate the themes of social justice:
“Catholic social teaching should be well-known, well-understood, and, most of all, well-practiced. The saints knew this best and so it’s the them we turn.”
Each saint profile is both succinct and packed with detail about how he or she lived a heroic life, told through the lens of one of the social justice themes. Helpful sidebars quote from church documents and tell other stories to bring social justice alive. It’s a great combination.
I, personally, have always been a little intimidated by St. Thomas Aquinas, even though he is a doctor of the church and for many the theologian. When my husband and I were dating in Washington, D.C., we sometimes attended a St. Thomas Aquinas study group led by a saintly older Dominican priest. But I use the word “we” loosely, for while everyone was very nice, the discussion was often on a different plane than my non-philosophical mind.
I wish more than 20 years ago, I had had for translation, The One Minute Aquinas: The Doctor’s Quick Answers to Fundamental Questions” by Kevin Vost, Psy.D. This new book is a great bridge from St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian and doctor, to the rest of us.
In “small, digestible portions” Vost offers an outline of St. Thomas’ major works and his wisdom in counseling others. What I love best about The One-Minute Aquinas is that can pick up the book at any point, rather than read it as a start-to-finish. Finally, I’m able to (slowly) learn at my own pace about this great saint and how his mind worked.
I am intrigued by St. Teresa Benedita of the Cross (St. Edith Stein), but I’ve never known how to start reading her writings. So I was delighted to find Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women by Anne Costa.
Costa writes beautifully about how she came to love Edith Stein (known now as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). It’s part biography, part spiritual memoir of both Edith Stein and Costa herself, and a great introduction to this fascinating 20th century saint.
I found myself writing down quotes as I read, both of St. Teresa herself as well as Costa’s insightful journey of knowledge.
Costa writes at one point about Edith Stein, pre-conversion, being strongly impacted by a woman coming into church for a visit: “What strikes me most about this encounter is that, as intelligent and knowledgeable as Edith was and as satisfied as she was with her ever-widening circle of friends, she never closed her mind or heart to new ideas and experiences. Her keen sense of observation and engagement with the world around her wasn’t just an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual one.”
And finally, a wonderful quote from Edith Stein:
“It all depends on having a quiet little corner where you can talk with God on a daily basis as if nothing else existed..and regarding yourself completely as an instrument, so that you treat your most frequently demanded talents, not as something that you use, but as God working through you.”
Quirky aside from me. When I wrote the first line for this column, it never occurred to me that it wasn’t Marcus Welby, M.D. (actually, actor Robert Young) who spoke those famous words, so much a part of my cultural knowledge is that concept. It turns out I was wrong, but I’ve kept it in since most people make a similar mistake. Here is an article to get you started, and here’ s a link to a video of one of Robert Young’s decaf coffee ads.