Friday, March 11, 2011

Good reading for Lent - Robert Barron's The Strangest Way

In this wonderful book, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path, Fr. Barron sets out three paths by which to walk "the strangest way" - those of finding the center (making Christ the center of our lives); knowing you're a sinner; and realizing your life is not about you. In describing each path, the author draws intelligently on theological and literary sources to give us a sense of the richness and profundity of the Christian faith. The book is not primarily a polemic against the dumbed down, accommodating, secularized, New Agey, or syncretistic strains of modern(ist) Christian spirituality, although these tendencies are duly noted by way of making the contrast to an alternative orthodox, adult spiritual practice.

In this respect, Barron distinguishes the spiritual search approach, whereby we seek the divine, to the "hound of heaven" understanding in which God's love pursues us. In contrast to an emphasis on the subjective, the interior, the psychological, the private experience, Barron emphasizes the Christian path as one walked in communion with the Church on earth in which the liturgy, the summit and source of Christian spirituality, unites us with the heavenly liturgy. It is a path that involves, especially in Lent, practices like prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the physical and earthly as well as the spiritual and supernatural--combined in the Incarnation, and in Christ's real presence in the bread and wine made with human hands.

In all this, Barron achieves at least two things supremely well in my view. As the title suggests, he makes the familiar strange, helping us see with new eyes how different Christianity is, with its representation, not of human bliss but of a crucified man as the expression of God's broken heart, his outpouring of love as well as of our sinfulness and need for it.

Secondly, the book offers both an intellectually rich and satisfying orientation to Christian, specifically Catholic, spirituality and at the same time a guide to walking the Christian path with specific practices to follow as we do so.

This wonderful, challenging book is an excellent accompaniment to Fr. Barron's DVD, Untold Blessing: Three Paths to Holiness which covers the same material in lecture format that is brilliant and somewhat more popular. There is a study guide to accompany the DVD. Fr. Barron also presents the second path, knowing you're a sinner, in another DVD, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues, a superb meditation on Dante's Inferno (The Divine Comedy, Volume 1, Hell).

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