MERCY IN ALL THINGS Reflections on the Diary of St Faustina Kowalaska Éamonn P. Bourke Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2019 ISBN 978 1 84730 884 9 • €7.99/£7.35
In Evangelii Gaudium (126), Pope Francis writes: ‘Expressions of popular piety have much to teach us; for those who are capable of reading them they are a locus theologicus which demands our attention, especially at a time when we are looking to the new evangelisation.’
It’s fair to say that the devotion to the Divine Mercy, based on the life and writings of St Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), has become a staple of popular piety in our day. Countless believers have been enriched by the insights, simplicity and courage of a young Polish nun, who struggled to enter religious life, then lived her vocation in obscurity and illness, before dying at the age of thirty-three.
In this small volume, Fr Éamonn P. Bourke shows that this particular strand of popular piety has theological weight and substance. He does this in thirty short chapters, each of which has a threefold format. First, there is a brief excerpt from the diary of St Faustina, which is followed by a reflection, which in turn leads into a concluding section entitled, ‘For your prayer.’
This has been my first contact with the writings of St Faustina, and I have been struck by the simplicity and accuracy of her insights. Who needs ‘mindfulness,’ when one of our own saints can tell us, with candour: ‘For the Spirit of God to act in the soul, peace and recollection are needed’? Or again, in our screen-saturated environment, we could listen to Faustina describing how she overcame the distraction of the radio playing, each afternoon, in her convent: ‘Yet nothing disturbs me now, neither the talking nor the radio…’
To the saint’s rock-solid simplicity, Fr Bourke brings the sensitivity of the spiritual director (a role he has occupied on both sides of the Atlantic, as a director in the Ignatian contemplative vein). His reflections are down-to-earth, and his suggestions for prayer invite us to attend to the movement of spirits within us. How are you feeling right now? What experiences of your life are causing distress? What are you going through at the moment?
These and similar questions don’t merely invite us to introspection; in the Ignatian tradition, they help us to grow in sensitivity to how God works through the raw material of our emotions.
Two topics struck me particularly as I read: St Faustina’s emphasis on trust, and her note on how Scripture is to be read not only with the lips, but with the heart. Trust in God is at the very heart of prayer and discipleship, and Faustina sensed the Lord telling her: ‘The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.’ This is no mere saccharine piety – not when one considers that the biggest and most persistent temptations are almost all, in one way or another, fed by a lack of trust in the reality of God, in his goodness and mercy.
As for the insistence that Scripture is to be read with the heart, this is drawn out by Fr Bourke, in a short reflection that, without using the term, roundly endorses the practice of lectio divina - which rather makes the point that popular piety and the more mainstream practices of our Catholic patrimony drink from the same well.
A deceptively simple book. One I’m happy to recommend.
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL Sundays and Holy Days, Cycles A, B and C Leslie McNamara Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2019 Casebound with ribbon ISBN 978 1 84730 883 2 • €24.99/£22.99
In this issue of Intercom, the General Intercessions given in the Presiders’ Pages are all taken from this book. That’s a sufficient sample to enable the reader to make his or her own assessment, and in my case, the assessment is a positive one.
A collection of this sort puts prayers on the lips of the faithful, but that does not in any way make the prayers less ‘of the faithful.’ Prayer, including intercessory prayer, does not have to be original in content in order to be authentic and fresh, and this book is a real boon for priests, liturgical planners and readers.
For the most part, the typical liturgical order is followed: the needs of the Church; those in public office; those who are suffering in any way; specific needs and local concerns; the dead. This gives the book a solidity and dependability. This is not a ‘flaky’ volume, but one that can be used with confidence.
Prayer of the Faithful is very well produced. It is a solid, dignified, heavy hardback. It remains open on a flat surface. Not least, it has a built-in page ribbon. A real practitioner’s book!
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