Monday, February 9, 2015

The Encounter (Saint Benedict Press)

Every Lent, I get asked for recommendations on what to read by my friends. I take this as high praise, as that is why I write this blog. I want people to ask me for advice about books, because I love books, and I love connecting people to the right book. For my Lent, I have two books I will be reading and meditating over. If you regularly read my blog, then you know the first book is 40 Days, 40 Ways. The other book, which I will be reviewing today, is The Encounter by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.

The Encounter is a genre of books that I have been gravitating toward lately. They aren't an official genre, but they are retreats given to the papal household every Lent (and sometimes Advent). I like to read these books, even if they are a bit difficult, for two reasons. Reason #1 is that there are so many introductory Catholicism books, it's nice to see one in the intermediate to advanced section. Reason #2 is that reading these books makes me feel like I was there when the retreat was given. I get to read what the Pope heard, and if it's good enough for him and edifying for him, then it must be for me too! The Encounter is the last papal retreat given to Pope Benedict XVI, and as I hold a special place in my heart for Pope Benedict, that makes this book all the more special to me.

In his book The Encounter, Cardinal Ravasi takes on a two-fold journey through the Psalter. The first path is upward and makes up the first part of the book, the Face of God. The second path is downward to see the Face of Man. Ravasi says that these two intersect at the crossroads of prayer. He then begins by explaining the four verbs of prayer. They are breathe, think, struggle, and love. He asks such simple questions to make profound points. "Why do I breathe? Because otherwise I would die. It is the same way with prayer." Ravasi then goes on to quote theologian Yves Congar who also spoke on this theme of prayer as breath. "If one lives in an environment of foul air, all of life is saddened; this is what happens with prayer, which needs a pure atmosphere, free from outside distractions, haloed in silence." These profound comparisons continue for the other three verbs with Mary's pondering things in her heart being the example for think; Jacob's nighttime wrestling being the example for struggle; and the intimacy with which we call God, Abba as the example for love. Ravasi then shows us several other places we see the Face of God, including the Word, the cosmos, the Jewish Temple, history and Jesus. Part Two, The Face of Man, talked about issues of human fragility, healing, and forgiveness to name a few of the topics discussed.

I was warned before reading this book that it was deep, and the person warning me was spot on. Ravasi references art, fiction, poetry, music, Jewish references, and Islamic references. Despite this wide array of deep references, Ravasi's expertise on the Psalms shines. He not only shows us his love for God, but also God's love for us! He also ably demonstrates God's eternal and constant call for use to draw closer to Him, and the best way to draw closer to Him is through breathing, thinking, struggling, and loving in prayer. This is a book I will be revisiting again through the season of Lent, reading it more slowly; meditating on it more deeply. If you are looking for a challenging, but fruitful Lenten read, I highly recommend this work. Just take your time, and don't be ashamed to re-read the chapters two and three times each so that it all soaks in!

This book was provided to me for free by Saint Benedict Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!