THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: Fall Harvest: Classic Catholic Spirituality & Memories of Benedict XVI
by Deacon Rick Bauer
Father Matthias Joseph Scheeben (1835–1888) was a German Catholic theological writer and mystic. The generations that followed Scheeben regarded him as one of the greatest minds of modern Catholic theology, but his writings have not always been available to the lay reader.
Scholars have regarded him both an important yet unappreciated theologian of the past 150 years; his rebirth in study was greatly propelled by Pope Pius XI, who in 1935 encourage study of the theologian’s works. Hans Urs von Balthasar noted that Scheeben was “the greatest German theologian to date.” Theologian Scott Hahn recalls a presentation on Scheeben called “The Best Theologian You’ve Never Heard Of.” In Hahn’s forward to one of Scheeben’s books, he recalls meeting two popes in his life thus far, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Not knowing what to speak about, Scott asked each pope how they liked Father Matthias Scheeben, and for both popes, Hahn’s inquiry was greeted with a smile of deep familiarity and fondness.
In Scheeben’s book “The Glories of Divine Grace” (TAN Books, 2023), 420 pages of thought and study are focused on the graces of God, divided up into five parts: What is Grace, Union with God, How Grace Works, The Effects of Grace, and How to Grow in Grace. The book is worth the effort to read and study since the author reflects the conviction that few people — including most Catholics — ever give sanctifying grace (the initial grace we received at our baptism) much thought. Just like oil in an engine, it’s when we have doubts about our state of grace that we even wonder much about grace at all. Father Scheeben’s insights into the glories of divine grace reveal a man who knew this gift intimately and cherished it wisely. The palpable sense of God’s grace indwelling within us is one of the major themes of this work, as the author relates “the Father works continually and the Son does likewise, but the Holy Ghost is given to us in order to renew, continue, and perfect in use what our diving Savior taught and left with us” (p.83).
At a time when the hidden arguments buried within a systematic theology are more debated by critics than reflected upon by the faithful, “The Glories of Divine Grace” is a refreshing discovery of the mysteries and promises of God’s abundant graces, thoroughly manifest in the life and sacraments of the Catholic faith, boldly and joyfully presented to the world. If you are craving for something deeper and more thoughtful, and you don’t mind the manner in which writers of English used to write, and you have the time to carefully parse each page (or paragraph or even sentence), you will be richly rewarded.
We appreciate and honor the disciples of the kingdom who labor at TAN Books, as they bring us treasures from a 2,000-year-old-faith that are new and brilliant. Using the Magisterium AI (magisterium.com) software tool — the best free use of artificial intelligence I’ve seen — to search for the best Catholic books written on humility, we find a six-book listing that includes “An Introduction to the Devout Life” and “The Treatise on the Love of God,” both by St. Francis de Sales. We also find “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” (1980 collection), a treatise on the wisdom of the spiritual life, especially humility. We also encounter “The Cenobitic Institutions,” by John Cassian, a Christian writer. Finally we have “With Burning Anxiety,” by Pope Pius XI, written in 1937. While not solely focused on humility, this encyclical emphasizes the compatibility of humility with self-confidence and heroism. It defends Christian humility against the attacks of reformers who misunderstand it as a pose of self-degradation. More modern books on humility include “Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem” by J. Augustine Wetta (Ignatius, 2018). These books can provide further insights and practical guidance on cultivating humility in daily life. While all these books are powerful and challenging, they are probably easier for me to read than to emulate true humility in daily life.
“Humility of Heart” (TAN Books, 2010) by Father Cajetan da Bergamo is guided by the observation that “God will certainly save the humble of spirit” (Psalm 33:19, p.60). Father da Bergamo, one of the great Italian missionaries of the 18th century (1672-1753), created a true classic on the study of humility, replete with exemplars of the saints and insights into Sacred Scripture. From every direction, he marshals up examples of why this virtue is paramount in the lives of all saints and of all those on the way of perfection. Pope Benedict XVI said that “his writings have this rare quality in our day, that they satisfy the intellect and the heart; their solid doctrine in no way dries up their tender devotion, and their devotional sweetness in no way detracts from the perfect solidity of their doctrine” (from the Introduction).
The text is full of insight and provokes a deeper self-analysis. Cajetan writes, “the proof of true humility is patience; neither meekness of speech, nor humbleness of bearing, nor the giving up of oneself to lowly works, is a sufficient indication by which to judge if a soul is truly humble” (Section 61, page 76). For those seeking a deeper reflection of he who was “meek and lowly”, Father Cajetan’s book is a true classic.
Few popes have been so misrepresented and maligned for their steadfast defense of the truth as Pope Benedict XVI. After a spate of quickly published books on Benedict’s papacy, we are starting to see earnest and authoritative personal portraits aimed at love and not accusation. Such is the record (replete with hundreds of color pictures, some from the pope himself) that Msgr. Alfred Xuereb provides. In “My Days with Benedict XVI” (Sophia Institute Press, 2023), one of Benedict’s personal secretaries shares an intimate look at the daily life of the late pontiff and his witness to the faith. This book serves to set aspects of the historical record straight, as Msgr. Xuereb elucidates never-before-shared details of his spiritual father’s holiness, which will help you grow in yours.
From his first days serving as Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary to the last moments of the pope’s pontificate, Msgr. Xuereb openly shares personal memories of laughter and tear-filled times, such as the pontiff’s abdication. You will see what it was like to spend Christmas and Lent with Pope Benedict XVI, and you will read rare and fascinating details about his personal meetings with international dignitaries of both Church and state. Msgr. Xuereb was the “second secretary” to Benedict during his 2005-2013 pontificate and remained on as secretary to Francis for the first months of his papacy. Francis then placed Xuereb in his new Economy Ministry before making him ambassador to Korea and Mongolia, where Francis just made his first-ever papal visit. In addition to commentary and explanation, we are treated to many wonderful photographs of Pope Benedict’s life and ministry.
All of which suggests Xuereb remained on excellent terms with both popes Benedict and Francis, as his memoir “My Days with Benedict XVI” makes clear. For a fond look back on the life of this wonderful man (my wife Mary and I had a few personal moments with Pope Benedict XVI, so yes, I am biased!), this is a wonderful keepsake.
(Send comments, reactions or book suggestions to Deacon Rick Bauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.)