Friday, December 10, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again: Reviewing This Tremendous Lover

This is one of the most practical, down to earth books I have ever read about living one's Catholic faith in everyday life. Written by M. Eugene Boylan, a Trappist Monk, around 1945, "This Tremendous Lover" is actually a more timeless book than one might think. Human nature does not change from age to age and 1945 is not actually that long ago. Boylan clearly had practical experience in helping people look past their hectic lives in a culture often at odds with God. His insightful, accessible book gives straight forward advice on how to proceed toward holiness.

It is probably no surprise that Boylan always comes back to a few key points: knowing Jesus Christ in a personal relationship, turning away from pride, and embracing humility. He discusses seeking Christ through prayer, reading, in the sacraments, in conversation, and through our neighbor. He delves deeply into what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.

Because of its age, this book does have a few outdated assumptions that surface occasionally. For example, Boylan assumes that he must convince the ordinary person that their vocation is just as valid for seeking a deep experience with God as that of a priest or religious. That concept is one that we are all familiar with today, post-Vatican II, but at the time of original publication the point would have been very valid.

In the chapter about marriage and holiness, Boylan points out that the intimacies of married life are holy. Again, this is something that is nowadays taken to be a given and so might seem quaint as a reassurance. However, and this is an important point, even when the original assumption might seem old fashioned, Boylan's underlying theory remains sound. If one agrees to set aside prejudice against an attitude that might not agree with the way everyone thinks today, then the reader will discover a wealth of truth lying just beneath the surface for the taking. In continuing his discussion of married intimacies, Boylan says:
Let us once and for all get rid too of the notion, so harmful to the spiritual life, so heretical in its origin, and so widespread today, that there is anything intrinsically wrong in pleasure as such. God forbid! God made pleasure; man made pain. god share the pleasure of His creatures. All pleasure that is not inordinate, no matter how intense it is, can be offered to God. What is lawfully done to one's neighbor or to one's self is done to Christ. ... It is only when pleasure becomes inordinate—that is contrary to the will of God—that it is wrong. And no one can live without some pleasure, just as no one can live without some food and some rest.

Love demands expression, and love is nourished by expression, and that is true even of the most spiritual love. And the love of a man for his wife is a unique love and demands a unique expression, and God has provided an unique expression for it and has attached intense pleasure to it. And God has gone further still. For He has arranged that by that very act of expressing their love for one another, husband and wife become partners with Him in the work of producing a new creature. ...
This is the solid advice of a good theologian and a practical man. Surely this would have been very reassuring to those who read it when it was originally published. Just as certainly, in modern times it is beautiful to read such an outright declaration of the purpose of marital love and fidelity.

Time after time, Boylan gives practical advice that is elevated by a desire for his readers to find a deeper union with Christ. It is a challenge for any of us to fully live our lives seeking to follow in Christ's footsteps and learning to love him. With M. Eugene Boylan's help, we have a much better chance of finding the way with fewer missteps. Highest recommendation.

I received this book from Aquinas and More Catholic Bookstore.

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