Book Review: A book with charisma

Cardinal Dolan’s “Called to be Holy”

By J.E. Helm
The Sooner Catholic

One might imagine a book written by someone with a Licentiate of Sacred Theology, someone who served as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, to be a bit – well –  stuffy. Nothing could be further from the truth in Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s book, “Called to be Holy.”

Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, has written extensively and frequently has been described as a man with charisma, someone who can arouse enthusiasm in people who meet him, people who know him. His book, likewise, creates in the reader this same kind of enthusiasm for what Dolan is really writing about, namely, a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Called to be Holy” is an adaptation of the first section of his highly popular book, “Priests for the Third Millennium.” In his forward to “Called to be Holy,” Dolan explains that the chapters in “this little book” were originally conferences he gave to priests and seminarians while he was rector of the North American College in Rome, published as “Priests for a Third Millennium.”

Certainly, there is something scholarly about the book. Each chapter is prefaced by a short selection from the New Testament, and the cardinal quotes and refers to a long list of saints and scholars: Pope John Paul VI, Karl Rahner, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Saint John Paul II, Saint Padre Pio, Theresa of Avila, Cardinal Newman and many more.

In Ch. 4, “Humility,” he explains that “Saint Thomas Aquinas says in the ‘Summa Theologica’ that humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us: knowing that every good we have comes from Him as pure gift; that we depend on him for everything.”

In writing on penance in Ch. 8, he tells us that “Saint John of the Cross says: ‘I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven, and the name of the river was suffering … and I saw the boat that carries souls across that river, and the name of the boat was love.’”

If the cardinal can easily relate these lofty ideas to his readers, it is because he himself stands soundly on a broad base of human experience. There are real-life stories on almost every page, vignettes that evidence that this is a man who has lived life fully.

Dolan tells about a seminarian “just a year behind me” who died of cancer, about visiting a parishioner with Lou Gehrig’s disease, about a mother he saw dash out into traffic to save the child who had bolted from her side, about a 90-year-old lady he took Holy Communion to, about meeting Chinese Archbishop Dominic Tang who had been imprisoned by the communists for more than 20 years, about being called to the morgue to identify the body of a man who had committed suicide, whose young wife “could not bear to identify.”

In Ch. 10, “Obedience,” he writes about a young sister who was the principal of his parish’s grade school whose “congregation was collapsing, reorganizing, closing apostolates and in seeming disarray.” He asked her what she thought her future would hold. She replied, “I don’t know and I really don’t care. How freeing it is not to have to worry about my future. That’s the gift of obedience.”

Cardinal Dolan swings easily between the ethereal and the mundane. He tells us that “A pursuit of religious studies will enhance our faith. Fides quaerens inttellectum (Faith seeking understanding), as Saint Anselm defined it.” Fortunately for his readers, Dolan translates the Latin.

Then, the Cardinal can turn right around and explain that externals like “apparitions, miracles, prophecies, stigmata” only enhance our faith; true faith must depend solely on Jesus Christ. These signs and wonders, “They’re only the sauce, not the pasta,” Dolan writes. In Ch. 6, “Human Formation.” He presents Saint Thomas’ concept of how “Grace builds on nature.” God’s grace “transforms our nature,” he writes, but “we must supply the raw material.”

All of the things that he writes are about God, about knowing Jesus Christ, about becoming saints.

“I can never cease to speak of Christ,” he writes in Ch. 1. He stresses the importance of daily prayer, daily Mass, spiritual reading and regular confession. He has specific steps to increase and protect our faith, and he outlines the pitfalls on the road to humility.

He gives “the three essentials the Master himself taught for faithful prayer,” namely, “patience, perseverance, and persistence.”

In his final chapter, Cardinal Dolan prescribes “Devotion to Our Lady.” “Veneration of Mary is Christological as we observe the old maxim that goes “Ad Jesum per Mariam” (to Jesus through Mary).

Cardinal Dolan served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as chairman of Catholic Relief Services.

J.E. Helm is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.