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THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: A Fall Harvest of Catholic Reading

10/15/2021 | Comments

We have another chance this Advent. After nearly two years of death, sadness, and separation from those we love, we have another chance this Advent. We have the chance to get it right. “Of all the seasons of the year, Advent offers us perhaps the clearest sense of adventure and journey. It is a season for resetting our horizon, reframing our movement toward fullness in Christ. And even though Advent is brief, it is filled with spiritual riches.” So writes Father John Burns, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, both scholar and retreat director, but most of all a priest of Christ in the Catholic Church.

I tell myself that I have a choice this Advent: I can get caught up in the annual rush of shopping, decorating, and parties (after all, I have already given up the obligatory Christmas cards and annual Christmas letter), or I can intentionally slow down and take a few minutes each day to remember who this season is really about — Jesus. I do believe I have found a little book that may indeed help me get there, too.

In “Adore A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation,” Father Burns and Catholic illustrator and painter Valerie Delgado bring the coming of Jesus to our imaginations and our hearts. This little book will help you reclaim the sacred sense of longing and joyful hope that is the enduring heart of Advent, focusing on a new theme each week — vigilance, preparation, nearness, and Emmanuel — that you can link in some meaningful way to your own life. Each day we journey deeper into the meaning of Advent with a scripture- and liturgy-based meditation, stunning art specially created for this book, reflection questions, a prayer, and convenient journaling space. Oh come, let us adore him!

Study groups may find this compact guide helpful to their Advent meetings, discussions, and prayer groups; my wife and I will find direction for our prayers, and hope even in these times. It is precisely because we are so busy and distracted with the material consumerism that our wealth brings us, we simply cannot tear away from the harried pace of it all, that we need this Advent journey. We need to encounter the quiet, the sense of safety, and the sabbath-rest of the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and share a type of sacramental participation in their preparation for the birth of our Savior. I found myself lost in the meditations of numerous saints, in the lovely illustrations by Valerie Delgado, and in the kind touch of Father Burns. If you need a bit of a pull on your mind and heart to rediscover Advent, perhaps Adore may be for you, your family, or your scripture study.

Our other selection for fall reading is “Prayer as a Political Problem” by the late Cardinal Jean Danielou.

Decades before secularism and atheism wrested control of Western institutions, the late Cardinal Jean Danielou foresaw their ominous ascent. While most of the Church was reveling in the optimism of Vatican II, Cardinal Danielou courageously sounded the alarm over the rise of these twin evils and the damage they would inflict on both the Church and prevailing culture.

Christianity, he wrote in 1965, is in grave danger of being overwhelmed by the concurrent rise of seductive technologies, secularist doctrines, and atheistic ideologies. Modern society is allowing less and less space for the religious dimension of man, which is creating conditions that place the survival of the Christian people very much in doubt.

But the surging secularism of privileged elites is not what concerned Danielou the most. Rather, he feared the de-Christianization of the masses and the effect that would have on society — and on civilization itself. Why? Because when a Christian people is subverted and destroyed, it can be built back up again only through a long, painstaking effort. Proliferate distractions — with sports and side hustles and wall-to-wall streaming — and let’s not forget to pad that child’s resume with more programmed sports on Sunday as well (we’re told that our child will never make it to a good school and sports program if we don’t sacrifice all our Sabbath/Sunday time); the death of the soul by a thousand distractions — Danielou saw it coming and warned us that we could lose our collective soul along the way. These currents are difficult to swim against, but swim and exert and prioritize we must.

In “Prayer as a Political Problem,” Danielou explains the conditions that are necessary to build and maintain a Christian people. He explains why civilization requires that the Catholic faith be truly rooted in society, with her teachings and sacraments available to all. He argues that we must make great strides now to change the shape and pattern of society if we are to preserve the common good of mankind. If this fails, our last remaining option will be to create oases of smaller, protected Christian communities where faith and vocations can develop and survive.

There is much work to be done before the flower of Christendom can bloom once again. This little book provides an indispensable primer on how it can be done, as well as the impetus to begin doing it. As Cardinal Danielou explained:

“I have chosen this heading (the title ‘Prayer as a Political Problem’) deliberately, because there can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man; that there must be a dialogue between prayer and the pursuit and realization of public policy . . . there cannot be a civilization within which prayer is not represented; besides, prayer depends on civilization.”

The point from which the central argument of the book begins is the danger in which Christianity stands of becoming a small sect of the elect and ceases to remain a religion of both poor and poor in spirit. This may indeed prove to be inevitable, Danielou observes, for the civilization is increasingly snuffing out the religious dimension of humanity. A secularism that categorically rejects the spiritual nature of creation and humanity a priori will inevitably split the temporal from the spiritual.

We can only wonder what words Danielou would use to describe his native France today, the secular takeover of institutions left and right in today’s world, and his consolation that in smaller communities (think The Benedict Option, but 50 years ago) the Christian faith would endure. That we should live to see these times makes every aware Christian want to rekindle prayer and holiness of life. 

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