Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery by Father James Martin, SJ

Finding good Catholic fiction is sometimes hard. Look no further, Father Martin has hit the mark with his new book The Abbey. There are characters in this fiction story that we care about due to Father Martin's power of description and his insight into their minds and hearts. There is Anne, who has lost her son 3 years ago at just 13 years of age. Her heart ache is palpable and you can relate to her loss. She rents a home to Mark who is a handyman carpenter at the local monastery and their interaction brings her face to face with the Abbot, Father Paul. The Abbey of Philip and James is a part of her memories of her parents, herself as a child, and ultimately how she sees God and religion. Through her experiences at the abbey with iconographic Marian art and heart to heart conversations with Father Paul you experience her spiritual journey. There are sessions of spiritual direction with Father Paul even though Anne does not recognize them as such and she doesn't know why she is drawn back there time and time again. Each of the characters grow spiritually on their journey throughout the story with their relationships that develop between them.
The book is more about asking the right questions than it is about finding the answers. The characters are changed at the end but it is open ended enough for us to fill in the end for ourselves. Anne wants to know how to talk to God and how to know when God is speaking to her. Perhaps we have all had these questions at one point or the other. The dialogue is beautiful between Anne and Father Paul. The conversations between Anne and Mark seem purposefully clumsy and so appropriate for their thoughts that are going through their heads. I loved the quote from Thomas Merton "“The first and most elementary test of one’s call to the religious life—whether as a Jesuit, Franciscan, Cistercian, or Carthusian—is the willingness to accept life in a community in which everybody is more or less imperfect.” Father Paul is honest about religious life and the challenges and joys of living in community. But being a Secular Franciscan myself made me appreciate this quote from the book "But people on the outside faced pressures that sometimes made it harder to remember God. For one thing, there were the constraints of time. That’s why Paul believed mothers and fathers and doctors and lawyers and teachers and janitors—at least many of them—were holier than monks. They had to make room for God in a world that often crowded out God.
I would definitely recommend this book to you. You definitely won't be sorry. The story is realistic and hopeful. To be Father Martin's first novel it is promising and definitely delivers what it promises in the subtitle: A Story of Discovery.

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