Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Catholic Book Club: The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality

This month I read The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality: A Drink Called Happiness, by Paul Murray OP. As a Third Order Dominican, this book had a lot of personal meaning to me.

Let me preface my discussion by saying that I'm definitely the type of gal that has difficulty reading spiritual classics and other what I would term "heavy" non-fiction. I do think that I still *need* to read those things sometimes regardless, but my preference is for books that put the material into an easier to digest, lighter style, while still imparting spiritual truth. And this book does that in abundance.

The author starts off by describing St. Dominic and Dominican spirituality, and this information is so fascinating even for non-Dominicans. I think most people associate Carmelites with prayer and contemplation, and Franciscans with simplicity and works of charity, but what do people associate with Dominicans? My impression is that Dominicans are sometimes seen in a harsher light, because they're known as preachers. But by "preachers" we don't mean IN YOUR FACE! thundering at the pulpit, or anything like that. Dominicans are also known for their charism to truth and to study, and I think that this paints us a bit as "old fashioned" nerds with our noses in books all of the time. So I appreciated his summary of Dominican thought right at the outset, and his emphasis on how Dominicans are as relevant today as 800 years ago, and how they are much more gentle in approach than one might assume. He also inserted some interesting little facts, like how the Dominican order has never fractured and split off into multiple groups like other major orders.

The author then addresses three themes that he believes permeate Dominican history and spirituality, which are (1) happiness, (2) study, and (3) immersion in the Gospel, drawing parallels between these themes and a feast of good food and wine. That's certainly a pleasing and relatable parallel, and as such I read this book much more quickly than I would have originally thought. He discusses a lot of Dominican saints and how they exemplified these three themes with their lives and writings, some of whom I hadn't heard of before. Others, of course, are well known to all us, including St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Martin de Porres.

One of the things that I really liked about this book was how accessible it made the saints feel to me. The author discusses their lives and their struggles, and it makes one realize that even saints didn't have an easy time of navigating their spiritual life. There are some endearing anecdotes included about many of them. At the end of the book, the author includes a short biography of each saint mentioned, which is an incredibly helpful reference to keep track of everybody and when they lived.

The author also does a very good job of discussing Dominican charisms in the context of the early days of the order, but emphasizing how these things are still so relevant today. For example, in a discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas and his immense love for studying, the author addresses how study can be a form of prayer, and as such an all consuming desire, a form of the Gospel mandate to pray without ceasing. The final chapter, "Dominicans Drinking" (don't you love that?) is my favorite, and the author really brings home the passion of the early Dominicans for the Word of God. "Holy drunkenness," we should all aspire for this!

I really loved this book, and I'm so glad that I read it. It's not as easy a read as a spiritual memoir, but it is incredibly approachable and accessible for such a topic. It was a pleasure to read.

Over our time together, I will certainly select other books on Dominican spirituality for Catholic Book Club (hint: I already have several downloaded to my Kindle :)), but if there are books on other religious orders/Catholic spiritual traditions that you wish to recommend to me for the club, please do leave a comment!

And so, for those that did read New Wine, have at it in the comments! Leave your thoughts on the book, I'd love to read them!

Next up for Catholic Book Club is Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux, by Heather King. I have this all downloaded by my Kindle, and will be reviewing it on Wednesday, October 23rd. You'll notice that I updated the right sidebar for Catholic Book Club to announce our December selection:  A Catholic Christmas, by Kathleen Carroll. This is available both in print and for Kindle (which is how I'll be reading it) and I'm so, so excited to read about the roots of our Christmas celebrations, other important feast days in December, and related traditions one can practice in their home. This is a shorter book (we're all busy in December!) and I modified our usual date from the fourth Wednesday of the month to the third Wednesday, because I'm doubting you'll all be reading this blog on Christmas Day!

I hope that you're all looking forward to reading these books as much as I am. :)


  1. "...'old fashioned' nerds with our noses in books all of the time" is just the fitting description of myself! :p
    Holy drunkenness, this is a fun concept, a bit Chestertonian too.


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