Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two Book Reviews: Compact Catholic Prayer Book, Mary and the Christian Life

I am not sure just how The Word Among Us knew that I had been needing these two books but they have printed resources that I have long been seeking. The answer, of course, is that I am not the only one who needs them. You just might find the perfect answer to a gift for first communion, a wedding, or a much needed resource for someone contemplating entering the Church.

The Compact Catholic Prayer Book
Prayer Before a Crucifix
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before your face I humbly kneel and ask you to fix deep in my heart lively faith, ope, and charity; true contrition for my sins; and firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender grief your five wounds; while I call to mind the words your prophet David said of you, my Jesus: "They pierced my hands and my feet; they numbered all my bones" (see Psalm 22:17).
I have been looking for "the right" Catholic prayer book for a long time and not found one that just suited my needs perfectly until receiving this one. A treasury of traditional prayers, this little book is one that I have been slipping into my "big bag" just in case I need quick reference to the Act of Contrition (yes, I still don't have it memorized) or I stop in for a quick visit to Jesus in the tabernacle and want a prayer or something for contemplation. It has clearly marked sections for Everyday Prayers, Prayer and the Sacraments, Prayers to Mary and the Saints, Classic devotional Prayers, and Prayers for Special Needs. Most of the prayers are traditional while a few are contemporary. The contemporary are clearly marked with the initials of the writer so it is easy to sort out which is which, if one desires to do so. Looking through it, I have found a wealth of prayer assistance that I didn't know existed, such as the many prayers and scriptures available to use before confession. There is also a basic examination of conscience included. The index is an alphabetical list of prayers which I have found very handy as well. Highly recommended.

Mary and the Christian Life by Amy Welborn
Flannery O'Connor, the great American writer who was also a devout Catholic, and who also suffered and died from the immunological disease lupus, once wrote that being sick is like being in a foreign country. This is true of any kind of physical, psychological, or spiritual suffering as well. there are borders, it seems. Maybe even fences and the border patrol.

So how can we help?

Look at Mary.

Be present. Don't hide, don't shut doors, and don't turn away, convinced that there is nothihg you could do or that there is no need for you.

Love, after all, is what John tells us over and over that Jesus is about. Love required, first of all, presence. sometimes our presence can lead to action, but sometimes presence is enough.

Of course, presence is hard. It is horrible to watch someone suffer; it is even worse when our hands are tied. Who wouldn't be tempted to run away? Even if we're not in the situation of the disciples, who literally feared for their lives, remaining with the suffering can make us fear for our lives in another way, as we face our own future, as we face the possibilities of pain that exist for all of us, as we are reminded of the suffering we may have survived in the past.

But given all of that, what is really the alternative to presence? It's running away, denial, closed eyes. It is fear.

We don't know what went through Mary's mind as she watched her Son suffer and die. We can guess, and writers through history have used their imaginations to describe what she might have been feeling. A minor but intriguing theme of some medieval spiritual writing was that as she watched Jesus die, Mary experienced the birth pangs she had been spared thirty-three years before.

But it's hard to say what she felt beyond the normal pain of a mother watching her son unjustly executed and the extraordinary pain of a sword through her heart as she went over and over the angel's promises so long ago.

Jesus said that whenever we encounter suffering, we encounter him (see Matthew 25:31-46). So it stands to reason that when we are present with suffering, we are present at the cross with Mary at our side. We watch her and we learn how to be present, which means how to love, simply and deeply ...
I truly enjoyed Amy Welborn's The Words We Pray and learned a lot from it so it is not surprising that I found a great deal of value in this book about Mary as well. The passage above gives a hint of the theological depth which she makes easily available to us, while showing clearly how Christ's first disciple, his mother, is a prime example of how to follow Him. Likewise, Welborn ties in Mary's life to our own so that we are given many examples of how the trials and joys of everyday life have much to contemplate that brings us closer to Jesus. As we are guided through the Annunciation, the Visitation, and on to Mary's appearance in the Book of Revelations, there are other contemplations on Mary included in appropriate sections. From Hilary of Poitiers to Caryll Houselander, from Thomas Merton to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, thoughtfully selected hymns and thoughts enrich the journey. As well, each section ends with "On the Devotional Side" which highlights a particular devotion to Mary. We are given not only the devotion itself, but the history and how it has influenced the saints as well as more current people. It is hard to imagine that such a complete resource can be only 150 pages but Welborn has done it beautifully. This is a book that I can use for my own enlightenment as well as being a perfect gift to those who wonder just what it is about Mary that attracts Catholics so. Highly recommended.

A pdf of the first chapter of the book may be downloaded here.

1 comment:

March Hare said...

At my local Catholic gift shop (A Little Peace of Heaven--isn't that a great name?) I discovered "My Pocket Prayerbook." It's under a dollar and like the book you found has many of the traditional prayers as well as parts of the Mass, how to pray the Rosary, prayers for the seasons, etc., etc. Best of all, it's small enough to tuck into my purse--it's about 3" x 2.5". I've given it as part of a Confirmation gift. Graduation would be good, too!