01 December 2013

Advent Reading

 I wanted to recommend a book for Advent this year, especially since we are using Matthew's Gospel. It is Pagola's The Way Opened Up by Jesus, a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

While the book does function as a commentary it is also very fine for lectio and could be used profitably during this season by anyone desiring to learn to know Jesus a little better while preparing to hear the daily Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass. Pagola writes in a way which opens our hearts to the truth of God revealed in the Son.

For each of us Christmas is a time when we commonly decry the fact that Jesus and the Way he proclaimed and made possible is not at the center of our holidays; instead we get crass commercialism, greed, selfishness, the exacerbation of social isolation and family difficulties, etc, etc. The problem  of course is that what Christmas does do is lay bare the fact that too few of us truly allow Jesus Christ and his "Way" to occupy the center of our own hearts. Pagola's book can help in this. (Get it soon, there are few copies left on Amazon!)

For those who would like to focus instead on the Sunday readings Pagola also has three slender volumes for each of years A, B, and C. Each is entitled Following in the Footsteps of Jesus with the appropriate year completing the title. Each is a selection of meditations on the Sunday Gospels. I would also recommend Pagola's Jesus, a Historical Approximation, but I think it is even harder to find than his commentary on Matthew. (Amazon was selling a used copy for more than $4,000! I have never seen anything like it, especially since it was originally published in only 2007! If you can find a library copy though, please do give this a read.)

Next, I recommend Pope Francis's Open Mind, Faithful Heart.  Another collection of meditations on Scripture Francis invites us to do lectio with him and to enter into significant prayer and discipleship more generally. Each meditation is profoundly Scriptural and shows both an extensive and intensive familiarity with these. Prayers accompany the meditations, some of which are really beautifully written and all of which invite us to personally claim as our own the way of Jesus Christ. I have found it a book one best works through slowly and reflectively.

And finally, for both Advent and Christmas reading I suggest two books. The first is Illia Delio's Humilty of God.  Sister Delio is a Franciscan Sister, well-known for her work on the way the new cosmology challenges and informs contemporary spirituality. Building on the work of Bonaventure and Francis, Sister Illia gives us an amazingly contemporary understanding of the humility of God which illuminates the mystery of the Trinity, the sacramentality of our world and selves, and of course, the essence of what we prepare to celebrate during Advent and Christmas, namely a God whose ineffable greatness is exhaustively embodied and revealed (that is, glorified) in the life of a human being. Sister Delio is completely comfortable with the paradoxes at the heart of our faith and is able to illuminate them so they are seen clearly and have a chance of taking hold of us.

While the writing is accessible and often beautiful, one line in the first chapter struck me especially when I first read it: [[If we could only see that God is there in the cracks of our splintered human lives we would already be healed. The humility of God means acceptance --- God accepts ordinary, fragile human flesh to reveal his glory so that we in turn may accept others as the revelation of God. Christ discloses the beauty of the world as the radiance of God. . . . The humility of God is not an abstract concept. It is how God expresses himself in concrete reality.]] This is a very rewarding book both theologically and spiritually.

The second book is Ruth Burrows', To Believe in Jesus. There are many fine book on Jesus out there and I could easily list half a dozen I have found excellent over the years, but this slender but rich volume is packed with material one can consider, pray over, grapple with and generally be delighted and nourished by. Sister Rachel puts knowing Jesus Christ (or, rather, being known by him) at the center of her spirituality, her theology of prayer, her notions of holiness, and so forth. This book is a profound meditation on many passages of Scripture (though they are usually left implicit). Her first chapter begins compellingly: [[ Do you believe in the Son of Man? To this question addressed by Jesus to the man he had cured of blindness, I am sure each of us would reply with a hearty 'yes'. We would be sincere, but we would not be speaking the truth.]]

During Advent it seems to me that one of the questions we must surely ask ourselves is this one --- and one of the answers we must also hear is Sister Rachel's. I have written before that each of us are always beginners in the arena of prayer, not least because God is eternal and therefore ever-new even while he continues to remake us into something new as well. The Humility of God spoken of by Sister Illia Delio is best matched by our own humility; Sister Rachel's book can help us with that! I highly recommend it!!