Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Media Watch: Summer reading: ‘Images of Jesus,’ ‘Office of Innocence’
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
A pastor told me recently about prayer at his staff meetings. For prayer each week, he and his staff have been using a chapter from the new book Images of Jesus, by Father Anselm Grün, a Benedictine monk in Germany.
After finishing Images of Jesus I would have to agree that Father Anselm’s book is a treasure trove of short three- or four-page reflections on Jesus. It makes for an excellent catalyst for thoughtful spiritual reading or actual prayer.
There are 50 images of Jesus presented by the author. The images range from the offbeat – for example, the drop-out, the glutton, the drunkard – to the traditional: the Son of God, the crucified one.
Each chapter begins with an overview of the topic. Each chapter ends with possible reflection questions with which to pray or to examine one’s life. The main part of the chapter is a section, often using examples from European literature and thought, that merges with Scriptural sections to give us the well-rounded image the author seeks to communicate to us.
Sometimes Father Anselm goes into the Greek background of some of the images of Jesus. For example, under the theme of “Jesus the Vine” we learn of connections to Dionysus of Greek mythology. Then we are brought into the wedding at Cana and are connected to the death of Jesus. Father Anselm remarks that one of his fellow monks once said how different our vision would be, if Jesus had said, “I am a slimming camomile tea.” The use of the tea metaphor would have emphasized asceticism, self-centered health, self pity, and caution. The vine, on the other hand stresses Jesus as a source of ecstasy and flavor that gives us the taste of love and joy.
In his very interesting and helpful epilogue, Father Anselm presents a short but excellent section on the use of the Jesus Prayer, with its familiar words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
He also has excellent sections on Jesus and Eucharist, and interfaith dimensions of Jesus. The Benedictine’s final words center on a personal account of “What fascinates me about Jesus.”
Images of Jesus is a beautiful compendium of the different sides of Jesus that make up a full and rich composite of Jesus of Nazareth. For those seeking challenges to their lives as Christians, Images of Jesus asks core questions that challenge us just as Jesus did in the story of the rich young man. With the power of Images of Jesus we can only hope that more of Father Anselm’s books find their way to English translation.
Images of Jesus by Anselm Grun is published in hardcover at $19.95 by Continuum, New York.
Fifty years ago in high school my favorite fictional author became the English convert to Catholicism, Graham Greene. I grew to love his books, especially The Power and the Glory, which told the story of the Whiskey Priest in persecuted Mexico.
Thomas Keneally, the Australian author who gave us the monumental book Schindler’s List, has written a new thriller in the tradition of the Catholic novels of Greene. The book is titled Office of Innocence. Graham Greene even turns up being mentioned several times in this turbulent mystery set during World War II.
In the early ’40s citizens of Australia feared – with good reason, I suspect – an invasion of their country by the Japanese Armed Forces. Large numbers of American troops were assigned to Australia to help protect that country.
Within this world where fear and anxiety were high components of daily life, a new priest by the name of Father Frank Darragh is assigned to a parish in the suburbs of Sidney. Father Darragh is sincere, holy and energetic. He is determined not to fall into the hypocrisy he judges to be present in his pastor and older priests. Father Frank, who abhors being called that, feels that older priests have lost their ideals and cater to rich parishioners who provide much of the wherewithal to keep parishes going during a time of war.
Father Darragh becomes the most popular confessor in his parish in the tradition of the Cure of Ars. He spends long hours in the confessional. People come to him for personal counseling.
One of his parishioners seeking spiritual advice is the beautiful Kate Heggarty, whose husband has been captured in the European theater. She challenges his pietistic beliefs and becomes a powerful attraction to Father Darragh. He wants to save her soul and is drawn to her.
But Father Darragh’s world dramatically overturns as Kate is brutally murdered. The young priest becomes a suspect. Some of his choices – for instance, going to Kate’s home after the crime – raise his name to the top of the list of possible murderers.
Father Darragh is also torn apart emotionally by his efforts to help the American MPs catch a black soldier who has gone AWOL and is living with an Australian woman. He gains insights to how people of color were treated in the armed forces early in the war.
Continually Father Darragh wants to do the right thing and help people at the margins. In the process he angers his pastor and officials at the diocese. He embarrasses his mother and family as the tabloid press goes after the connection between the young priest and the deceased woman.
He is sent away for a retreat. After he returns from the retreat, Office of Innocence moves toward a crescendo of powerful plot, filled with people we have grown to know and care for. The book’s ending blew my socks off. It is an incredible story of grace and redemption that Graham Greene in his early period would have been proud of.
Father Darragh becomes one of the great priests of literature. He is thoroughly Catholic, wounded as a human being like all of us, and capable of extraordinary holiness.
Office of Innocence is thought-provoking to the core. The ramifications of its story in a distant land 60 years ago have all kinds of connections to the sad and troubled times we are living through in the Church today. That is what makes Office of Innocence so haunting.
Office of Innocence is published in hardcover at $25 by Doubleday’s Nan A. Talese imprint.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His media reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)