As we continue our Lenten journey, I thought I'd mention a few more books. One is a favorite of mine that I own and re-read every couple of years. The other is a library book that I read recently and have mixed feelings on; but it provides an excellent discussion piece, so let us begin!
So, Lenten things first. One of my Desert Island reads (this is what romance readers call their absolute favorite books that, if they were to be stranded on a desert island, they'd *love* to have with them) is Brian Murphy's The New Men: Inside the Vatican's Elite School for Catholic Priests. As you know, I love personal stories. This book is a collection of (I believe) 6 men studying for the priesthood. Each was selected by his diocese for the special honor of studying at the prestigious North American College in Rome. So...lots of pressure. Your diocese has forked over a considerable amount of money to sponsor you to go to Italy, and they expect you to come back a finely honed priest machine. The book starts out on their first day in Rome, and we meet each man and learn a bit about his background. Also, right away, we find out that the rector of the North American College at this point in time was none other than Timothy Dolan, current archbishop of New York.
I was drawn into this book right away. Archbishop Dolan is a wonderful beacon of the faith, and his role in guiding the men through the initial stages of their priestly vocation provides a gripping narrative. We spend an academic year following each man through his struggles and joys, and the reader comes to care about them, and root for them to find contentment in their vocation. At the end of the book, we find out that one of the men discerns that the priesthood is not for him, and that he should follow a different path. But...which one is it? This is *good* stuff.
This book went out of print, and it's a bit harder to come by. But you can still find some copies on Amazon, just click on the link above. Although this was not published by a Catholic press, the viewpoint is extremely orthodox; we don't hear any of the typical objections to the Catholic priesthood: "But isn't celibacy totally unrealistic?!" The struggle of real men to live out their vocation, yes, but no off-hand anti-Catholic remarks to be had.
The other book I wanted to discuss is a brand new book that I checked out of my local public library. It is Ed Dobson's The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do.
I love books like this. First off, I love spiritual memoirs, but in addition to that, I love this current trend of "a year of doing something." The journal-like quality of those stories really grabs me. So, I had high hopes for this book. That being said, I didn't like this book as much as I'd hoped.
From the title, I thought that the author, a Christian and a former pastor, would be spending a year of trying to methodically live out Jesus's message and teachings. Certainly, we all should be doing that, but his title and introduction seemed to imply that he wanted to spend a WWJD year, real structured-like. As well, in the introduction, he contrasts his book with another recent title, A.J. Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest To Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I've read Jacobs' book as well, and that one I really liked. A.J. is Jewish, and so he spent a year growing a beard, eating kosher, wearing tassels, and not combining cotton with linen. It was an engaging and humorous memoir.
Dobson's book, on the other hand, I thought would be focused on the New Testament, but yet we start out once again mired in Jewish dietary minutiae and tassels. I was baffled; I thought Dobson's book would be a Christian perspective on Jesus's complete message, yet he was determined to live like a first century Jewish man. It just wasn't at all what I expected.
The book starts out in journal form, and eventually switches over to a topical arrangement. I didn't like this either, as it felt choppy. Towards the end, he spends a lot of time talking about why he chose to vote for President Obama, and this just wasn't something I was interested in. Also, Dobson, while a good writer, just isn't as engaging as Jacobs.
That all being said, let me mention what I *did* like, and those things are significant. One of the things that Dobson explored was the use of prayer beads and ropes, including the rosary and the Orthodox chotki. *Loved* this. Now, in the Amazon reviews, a ton of people said things along the line of, "what on earth does the rosary have to do with living like Jesus? Jesus didn't pray the rosary. Jesus didn't pray to Mary."
Ah ha. Dobson actually goes into this in the book a bit. He came from a prejudiced view of the rosary, ("it's unbiblical to pray to anyone other than Jesus,") and subsequently realized that the rosary, via the spoken mysteries, is actually praying the scriptures and the life of Jesus. As well, he spoke to a priest, and came to understand that Catholics do not pray *to* Mary, but pray *with* her and ask for her intercession. Also, very importantly, Paul instructed us to "pray without ceasing." I think the rosary and using the chotki to pray the Jesus prayer silently are excellent mechanisms for carrying that out. Dobson's dawning of understanding on this issue is a beautiful witness.
In addition to that, through the book, I learned that the author, Ed Dobson, has progressive ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. I thought that reading this book provides a wonderful opportunity for me (and all of you!) to pray for him as he battles this cripping terminal illness. Above everything, what was clear to me from this book is that the author is a sincere, genuine Christian man, and I pray for his health and healing.