On Checking Out a New Book, and Checking Out in General
Normally I approach a new book by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski with great anticipation and enthusiasm. His books offer an abundance of Catholic substance and riches. But this time the anticipation was lacking. To be honest, I approached his latest offering, Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion, more with a feeling of fear mixed with indifference.
You see, I have mentally checked out. I have mentally checked out of Pope Francis’ Catholic playground. He has taken away my Mass. He has taken away the public pride and joy that comes with being a Catholic. He has armed the Church with a legion (for they are many) of episcopal minions to do his bidding. And he has been a constant source of frustration and pain infecting the faith of my family. Lord have mercy on him and all, but I have mentally checked out, at least temporarily. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to ignore it.
Nevertheless, I decided to build a metaphorical bridge and get over myself. Or, at least, I put my mental block on hold. Yes, I did in fact pick up Kwasniewski’s new book. Of course I did. Thanks be to God I did.
My first thoughts as I began the book were as follows: If I ever write a book, I will never, EVER, get Leila Lawler to write the foreword for it. I'm joking, I think. Yes, Lawler wrote the foreword for Ministers of Christ. Her foreword is good. Really good. It was an absolute delight to read. It would surely overshadow anything I could ever say. Thankfully, her foreword was written for a Kwasniewski book. He came out all right in the end.
In terms of the actual book, it was not at all what I was expecting. I simply expected a thorough review and analysis of Pope Francis’ post-synodal (his 8th synod? 11th? I forget…) attempt to formalize having women in the sanctuary. In reality, what I got from this book was far more than anticipated.
In short, the book has it all. Yes, there are foundations given concerning the human body, being male/female, the priesthood, Church history, “Incarnate realism”, and, ultimately, how this all relates to Pope Francis’ meandering path towards women deaconesses. Kwasniewski is a teacher at heart, after all. In this regard, Ministers of Christ offers compelling and convincing argumentation refuting the latest theological gimmick from the Vatican. This intellectual excellence is what readers have grown to expect from a Kwasniewski book - may we never take this blessing for granted.
But, as stated, the book is so much more. It is the how-to for living an abundant Catholic life within the body, vocation, and epoch God has provided you. A few examples: There is outstanding advice given on how to handle the Church crisis (as learned from Arian times), a thoughtful analysis on why to avoid the term “God’s sons and daughters”, and even a chapter written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. The chapter on active participation is a complete gem. The chapter on veils is a must read for anyone who has any questions on the topic. The section on St. Therese of Lisieux is very touching; the chapter on the Josephs very necessary. Finally, Kwasniewski’s explanation that the traditional Latin Mass, by its very nature, is the opposite of current gender theory truly hit home - no wonder so many people want to see the TLM banned. In short, each subsequent chapter brought more and more to the table, challenging me personally to live a more abundant Catholic life, all while providing an inspired roadmap to do so. It was a feast for the mind and soul.
My fear and indifference melted away as I read Ministers of Christ, or, I should say, as I plowed through Ministers of Christ. I say this because it is a smooth read, and the 300+ pages flew by rather quickly. Yet it is one of those books - and I don’t say this about many - that I will pick up and reread. Inevitably, it is because Kwasniewski hit upon an idea, a notion, a longing, a hope and a prayer, deep within my overwhelmed and overburdened soul. As I read I pondered some deeper questions of life...
Who are we?
What has become of us?
Why have I checked out, mentally?
What am I supposed to be doing?
Where is God in all of this… mess?
To all of these questions that prayerfully arose throughout my reading, I will simply offer a few words from Kwasniewski himself:
“All of us are far too consumed with the idea of ‘working for God.’ We have to learn to rest in God. What is eternal life? It is the most intense activity: perfectly resting in the Father” (p. 205).
And one more:
“This, I believe, is the primary lesson that St. Joseph, the man of silence, the man of prompt obedience to the divine Word for which he was intently listening, would wish to teach us today. Perhaps he would say: ‘Given a choice between another hour at the human office and the recitation of part of the Divine Office, choose the latter. It will be better for you, for your work, for the Church, and for the world” (p. 208).
In other words, maybe the key to all of this… this mess… this activism… this destruction… this loss of male and female… this loss of purpose… this loss of peace… has been our loss of prayer. Step by step, may we... I... recover what it truly means to pray… to have life… to have it more abundantly.
No, I did not expect the book to take me, in my own mind, where it did. But I am most thankful that it did. Now, I can only hope others will allow themselves the same.