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Catholic Courier

Posted: December 21, 2009

Retreat books provide spiritual shots in the arm

By Mitch Finley
Catholic News Service

Joan of Arc: God's Warrior -- A Seven-Day Retreat by Barbara Beckwith. St. Anthony Messenger Press (Cincinnati, 2007). 94 pp., $9.95.
 
St. Paul: Called to Conversion -- A Seven-Day Retreat by Ronald D. Witherup. St. Anthony Messenger Press (Cincinnati, 2007). 130 pp., $12.95.
 
Another World: A Retreat in the Ozarks by C. William Claassen. Sheed & Ward (Lanham, Md., 2007). 187 pp., $17.95.
 
Double-dog dare you to read the long first paragraph of Barbara Beckwith's Joan of Arc: God's Warrior -- A Seven-Day Retreat, based on the famous French saint, and be able to put it down. Here it is:

"Joan of Arc continues to fascinate us centuries after her life and death. She is a bundle of contradictions: simple yet sublime, an illiterate peasant who held at bay the powerful and learned, a mystic whose earthy response to her visions was to inspire an army, a girl soldier who remained a virgin, a feminist long before the women's movement, a political prisoner who remained resolute yet wavered at critical times, a fiercely independent pawn of historical forces beyond her control, a glorious military hero who ended up a failure, betrayed by her friends and burned at the stake by her enemies."

Author Beckwith, managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, guides the reader through seven days with St. Joan (1412-1431), each day with its own theme. These include "Listening to Mystical Voices," "Expanding Gender Roles," "Trusting in God" and "Battling the Church."

Each "day" includes meditations and prayers on the theme for the day, drawing on secondary sources about St. Joan of Arc. Enriching the content of the book are the author's many visits to sites in France associated with her subject.

This is a book that will lend itself beautifully to any actual retreat, of course. But anyone willing to set aside 30 minutes for seven days will find that this book will give his or her faith and spirituality an invigorating shot in the arm.

Of course, anyone is free to simply read Beckwith's book, and such readers may find themselves wanting to read it more than once. It's an ideal book for reading groups and book clubs, as well.

Similarly, in his St. Paul: Called to Conversion -- A Seven-Day Retreat, Sulpician Father Ronald D. Witherup provides seven days' worth of material that focuses on Paul as a guide in the ongoing conversion that lies at the center of the Christian life. Following an excellent introduction to Paul and his writings, the material for each day includes reflections, prayers and excerpts from the Pauline texts.

Father Witherup is provincial superior of the U.S. province of the Society of St. Sulpice, and formerly he was a professor of sacred Scripture and academic dean at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif. His obvious skills include, however, an ability to discuss the writings of St. Paul in ways that the average reader will appreciate.

This isn't a Scripture study resource, of course, but rather a book to use in retreat and other spiritual-enrichment contexts.

One of the fine things about a book such as this one is that it presents its material in ways that bring together the insights of Scripture studies and uses them to nourish in the reader a spirit of prayerfulness. This is a book that anyone will appreciate who wants to both understand St. Paul better and nourish his or her spirituality.

Most who make retreats at Trappist monasteries come away from the experience with more than enough in heart and mind to write a book, if they were of a mind to do so. C. William Claassen, author of Another World: A Retreat in the Ozarks, was of a mind to do so, and the result is a book that both Catholics and those otherwise oriented will appreciate and enjoy.

Claassen, apparently a spiritual seeker for many years, spent retreat time at Assumption Abbey, one of the most remote Trappist monasteries in the U.S., located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri.

Chronicling the daily life of the monastery, and adding his own observations and reflections, Claassen also shares with the reader the results of interviews he conducted with individual monks.

Another World is, among the countless books published each year, a standout volume, a wonderful book that deserves countless readers.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books for Catholic readers, most recently The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between (The Word Among Us Press).

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