Bishop's reflections prod readers' spiritual lives in practical way
"Love Never Fails: Living the Catholic Faith in Our Daily Lives" by Bishop Donald Hying. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2021). 187 pp, $16.95.
Sometimes when reading reflections, one can almost hear what the author is saying. When they are published, it's as though the printed word is transformed into an audiobook. That is what the reader will experience with Bishop Donald Hying's "Love Never Fails."
Bishop Hying, who heads the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and previously served as an auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee and as bishop of Gary, Indiana, asks thought-provoking questions.
In a chapter titled "Spiritual Spendthrifts," he asks, "How can I ever really know the joy of salvation unless I lift up my experiences of anxiety, dread, sin and isolation to God on the cross? Can I really appreciate the gift of my life in Christ until I have somehow been painfully uprooted from my complacent self-sufficiency?"
He draws upon a variety of sources, quoting Scripture, Robert Frost, G.K. Chesterton, Henry David Thoreau, Pope Francis and a number of saints, including Augustine, Teresa of Avila and John Paul II, not as an academic exercise but to make a point.
"Love Never Fails" is inspirational but never preachy.
When Bishop Hying writes about concerns throughout the church, e.g., providing excellent faith formation for children, youth and adults; parishes that are "lively, flourishing, welcoming and loving," and where celebration of sacraments is done well; and living the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, he invites but doesn't lecture.
When he calls gratitude and thankfulness "hallmarks of the mystical journey," the reader can almost hear Bishop Hying's words aloud:
"Let your life be more about praising than complaining, more about what has been given than what is lacking. Gratitude and humility contain the great secret of joy and peace. ... What we are searching for has already been given. We just need to reach out and receive it and then pass it on."
Numerous times he mentions his family, growing up as the youngest of six boys in a home where the rosary was recited every evening. He speaks of love and admiration for his parents and notes how their example and the environment in which they raised their sons had an impact upon his vocation to the priesthood.
In an All Souls' Day reflection, he writes about his 10-year-old brother Patrick, who died of liver cancer.
"Going through my own sorrow and watching my parents grieve up close as a 6-year-old forever marked my heart and life. ... Our sorrow and loss as a family gradually healed through faith, prayer and the kindness of family and friends, but the experience both wounded and transformed us," he writes.
He continues, "As painful as it was, my brother's death blessed me. This tragic experience opened me to ask the big questions and brought me to a richer faith, gave me a deeper compassion for the suffering of others, and granted for me a powerful intercessor in heaven. ... I feel that my vocation to the priesthood was nurtured by the tragic death of Patrick."
Bishop Hying's stories can make a reader cry, but they can also make one laugh.
In a reflection on Pentecost, he writes, "I'm afraid that if Pentecost happened today, instead of immediately going out to evangelize, the early church would have formed a long-range study committee, wrote up long plans on how to evangelize and organized countless meetings. Thankfully, they did none of that!"
The chapters devoted to Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter provide more of the "speak-to-the-heart" material that is a consistent thread throughout the book. Priests and deacons in need of homily material might cull ideas from what the bishop writes.
In a chapter titled "Everyone is Called to Evangelize," Bishop Hying relates how he heard Matthew Kelly speak about his book "Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic" and that he was so "fired up" by what the author said that he ordered 5,000 copies of the book and gave them away.
"Love Never Fails" prods readers' spiritual lives in a pastoral, practical way. They may say, "I've read all that," but one can be certain they haven't read it the way Bishop Hying presents it. They might not be moved to buy another 5,000 copies, but they will certainly share what they've read with others.
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Olszewski is editor of The Catholic Virginian, biweekly publication of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.