This, for example, is O’Neel’s introduction to the life of Blessed Ivan Merz (1896-1928): “Ivan’s parents were what we would call today ‘cafeteria Catholics.’ They followed church teachings that were to their liking and loved material things. They evidently believed in the ‘eighth sacrament’ of holy osmosis: the one in which you drop your child off at religious education classes and expect the faith to sink in without any effort on your part.”
Such language, which nurtures righteousness instead of humility, is never appropriate when writing about saints.
In “The Four Teresas,” Gina Loehr writes in an engaging, clear style about the life and lessons of Sts. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Each chapter concludes with a thoughtful reflection on “living the lessons,” points for consideration and ways to become more like the saints. These mix traditional spiritual disciplines (meditation, daily Mass, monthly confession, an annual retreat, praying the Liturgy of the Hours) with simple habits like making the sign of the cross when passing a Catholic church or offering a prayer of thanks for the grace of baptism.
Loehr’s concluding chapter draws out the overarching themes of these great women’s lives: surrender to God’s will, devotion to Mary and holiness in daily life.
Given the book’s ambitious themes and relative brevity, Loehr has given us a serviceable presentation of Catholic spirituality that would be appropriate for individual reflection or a women’s study group.
In “Mystics in Spite of Themselves,” the late R.A. Herrera, a retired professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University, writes eloquently about four mystics who were forced to leave the cloistered environments that had enabled them to attain “elevated heights in the life of the spirit.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Anselm of Canterbury and Ramon Llull “proved it was possible to live in the world and not be immersed in it, no matter how onerous their duties or sustained their activity,” Herrera writes.
“Mystics” is an erudite study that assumes (and requires) a basic knowledge of Western philosophy and would be most suitable for undergraduate classroom use. Still, the book is fluidly written and its felicitous style makes parts of it accessible to even a general reader.
The book ends with a harrowing vision of a Western world in crisis and a plea to “follow in the wake of our saints” and “turn inward while attempting to strengthen the outer ramparts of society.”
Not everyone will agree that we are “prisoners of a corrupt and corrupting society, abandoned by both man and God,” but no one can doubt the intelligence and passion that informs Herrera’s plea for humility.
Linner, a freelance writer, lives in Medford, Mass.