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Let Peter Kreeft and Mother Angelica Tell You How to be Holy

April 15, AD2016 3 Comments


I’ll admit to being star struck at Mother Angelica’s funeral. Not just at Jim Caviezel, the famous EWTN personalities, or the sturdy pillars of the Church, but at all the future saints who were in attendance; both VIPS and those of us in the nosebleed section.

Fr. Joseph Wolfe’s homily emphasized that most of us who were gathered at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament (and joining through the media) shared the desire to become saints. He echoed what Mother Angelica once said:

            “Where most men work for degrees after their names, we work for one before our names: ST. It’s a more difficult degree to attain. It takes a lifetime, and you don’t get your diploma until you’re dead.”

That’s not to say the Mother Angelica fans and mourners are all immaculate and sinless as Our Lady. But the point being: if a person desires sainthood, that is enough to count as the very first step to sainthood.

Dr. Peter Kreeft’s latest book “How to Be Holy,” affirms this premise and goes on further to dish out excellent but manageable advice on the ambition for sainthood. In 35 succint chapters, he outlines key principles on the spiritual life: weaknesses and failures, detachment, suffering, duties, love and holy sex, oro et labora, etc… Remarkably, Dr. Kreeft doesn’t present faith and reason with a monotone in a boxed lecture hall as you would expect a theology professor should.

Dr. Kreeft, a prolific author and renowned theologian at Boston University, describes his book as “a festooning of The Abandonment to Divine Providence” (by Jean Pierre De Caussade). It is suitably sub-titled because the unrivaled logic and profound theology on sanctification based on Jean Pierre de Caussade’s work is adorned with picturesque imagery, witty word play, contemporary analogies, conversational slang, self-deprecating comments and anecdotes, and unexpected humor that is characteristic of Mother Angelica’s shows.   Its not how I remember my theology classes, but how I wished theology was taught.

How to Be Holy is Not Your Grandma’s Abandonment To Divine Providence

I’ve only read a portion of De Caussade’s Abandonment. In Catholic circles, Abandonment is a favorite classic for all who are serious in the spiritual life, but it was too long (and somewhat dated) for this constantly interrupted mother of four to finish. So when Dr. Kreeft’s modernized and abridged version was offered for review, I grabbed it like a sleepless mama holds on to a mug of Café Mocha, with whipped cream.

“How to Be Holy” is more condensed than “Abandonment” but that doesn’t mean it is short on gems. No, oh no, oh NO. Each chapter had a bank of wisdom to unpack, that I would often close the book and let my soul sip on a tasty sentence or two: writings on manhood and femininity, resolving Mary versus Martha complex, dealing with difficult personalities, and spiritual warfare. I have ear marked so many pages that I intend to return to in the future. I found myself reading and reading favorite paragraphs like:

            “When and where can we see God? God is everywhere (He is ubiquitous, or omnipresent, not limited to time); and everywhen (He is eternal, not limited to time); and therefore in order to live in reality, we must see and find him everywhere and everywhen, in what de Caussade calls “the sacrament of the present moment”; that is, we must “practice the presence of God” everywhere and everywhen, as Brother Lauwrence says.

The downside: How to be Holy has an unbalanced pacing. The first half of the book languished in its explanations of who God is and “why” we want to become saints while the second half of “how” to become saints was left wanting.  Its a safe assumption that readers who pick up How to be Holy don’t need to be thoroughly convinced of God’s goodness and the desire for sanctification. If they are like me, they will find the first half redundant and wish that Dr. Kreeft dwelled more on the meatier second half. Either that or they will sign up for his classes, collect his other books or purchase Abandonment. 

One more thing I must mention is that the author associating God with guru and the references to new age were somewhat off-putting.  If the readers can get past that however, they will discover that How to be Holy is a tremendous help to  their spiritual life and a terrific addition to their intellectual cache.

I have recommended How to Be Holy to many friends and family because by the variety of its topics, I’m confident it has answers for anyone who has taken a step on the path of sanctification, no matter where they are on the road. I’d give it a four and a half stars out of five.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Anabelle Hazard is a practicing Catholic, non-practicing attorney, learning homeschooler, penniless novelist (of Catholic novels “Written in the Sand and Stars” & “Fireflies Dance”), and unpredictable blogger at Written By the Finger of God.

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