Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: Audrey

When you read the pages that follow you will see how Audrey was privileged to have that heightened sense of God's presence, and how that led her to do things "here and now" (learning her French verb tables, doing a sacrifice to console Jesus...) ... But the most winning thing about Audrey is that she doesn't lecture you. She just seems to invite you to sit down on that hospital bed beside her, she cuddles up to you like any little girl her age, and with the simplicity and depth of her actions she invites you and shows you how to love more sincerely, more simply, more completely. ...

I am sure you will enjoy reading about Audrey, and I am also sure that something in this book will change you.
Father Anthony Bannon, from the introduction to Audrey
I told Chris Cash from The Catholic Company "surprise me" when he wrote asking what book I'd like. He did. I inwardly groaned when I received Audrey -- True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith. One look at the title tells us that we are looking at a story about a "holy little one" who surely has died from some lingering illness or other. I was falling prey to the standard preconception (imagine that! my besetting sin, surely) about how holiness is shown. Never having a connection with St. Therese of Lisieux, her story nevertheless flashed through my mind and I resigned myself to reading a saintly, "too good for this world" story. However, I'd agreed to read and review the book so I picked it up and prepared to soldier on.

"Audrey" exposed me to a sort of holiness I'd never seen so well expressed as in this book. As recounted in a series of vignettes, we see how Audrey naturally expressed God's grace in her life from the time she was a small child. Her parents' repeated mystification at this in their faithful but normal family, her siblings' lack of a similar gift, and Audrey's own very human nature all serve to emphasize just what a gift of God this was. Gloria Conde's skill at unveiling Audrey's joie de vivre and growing faith are apparent as we, too, come to see and believe Audrey's self-sacrificial love for Jesus, her pouring out of herself in prayer for others even as she suffers physical pain.

Perhaps most telling of the fact that Audrey's faith is God's doing, is her mother's sudden realization that the most famous child saints she could think of had all suffered trials from illness. Following this presentiment came the painful diagnosis of leukemia. It is then when we see Audrey's faith blossom and how others in praying for Audrey are actually blessing themselves. I was especially touched by her small brother's satisfaction in being allowed to suffer for his sister when he is chosen as a bone marrow donor. His mother perfectly captures the feelings of a heroic boy tilting at dragons for Audrey's sake. As well, in the midst of pain and suffering, we are not allowed to forget Audrey's human side. The practical joke she plays on a nurse soon after being put into a sterile bubble makes us laugh and remember that Audrey is still a child with high spirits that cannot be quenched.

Told in an unsentimental style, Audrey's story contains great grace, courage, and faith. It is one that I highly recommend to others, especially if they, like me, cynically doubt a small child's holiness except as a reflection of others' sentimental projections. Audrey is the real deal. This morning I found myself asking for her intercession for a special intention as well as thoroughly enjoying thinking of her getting to know our two children in heaven. I will not soon forget her story ... or her prayer from shortly before she died.
For mothers who have lost a child, so that they will understand that this child of theirs is a small servant of Christ in heaven.
Father Bannon was right. This book has changed me. Thank you, Chris, for choosing better than you knew.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Audrey - True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith.

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