Reviewed by Francis Etheredge married with eleven children, three of whom are in heaven.
The duty of a priest is to remind people that ‘life is short, death is certain, eternity long’ (Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, PPS)
In the course of a day with eight children at home with lockdown, growing vegetables in the garden in buckets and tubs that need regular watering, writing, struggling to accept the almost constant “carry on” and interruptions in the course of a working day – an easy read is an absolute gift!
Bishop Fintan has given us almost the perfect example of a piece of writing that takes the reader through a variety of deceptively plain views, each of which opens a little and a little more on the life and work of St. John Henry Newman: A man of our time who met and followed God. It was Einstein who said ‘If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough’; and, in the case of Newman’s vast output, there are both easier and more difficult aspects to his work but, in this introduction, we are met time and time again with a gentle and invitingly readable introduction to his life and work.
Given that the title of Bishop Fintan’s introduction to Newman is A Perfect Peace, the book as a whole is practically embraced between two thoughts which, while applying now, open upon eternity: peace and the priest. On the one hand, I presume the prayer at the end of the book is the Bishop’s own prayer, which ends with the lines: ‘‘Lead us safely to port and a share in the perfect peace of God’s Kingdom. Amen.” Thus the title of this introduction to Newman, which is A Perfect Peace, both offers a reminder of Christ’s gift of peace that the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14: 27) and, perhaps, a promise that if we allow Newman to guide us through the difficulties of each day we will both experience that peace now and scent, as it were, the ‘perfect peace of God’s Kingdom’. On the other hand while introducing us to a wide-ranging variety of Newman’s own thoughts and prayers, many of which were rooted in his life’s work of educating lay people, Fintan quotes the saying: “The duty of a priest is to remind people that ‘life is short, death is certain, eternity long’” (Newman, PPS). Thus in the disquiet of our lives, amidst the jumble of our day and in the course of all our comings and goings, it is good to recall that the mission of a priest who helps us to prepare to meet Christ in the ‘perfect peace of God’s kingdom’.
In the end, then, this book samples enough of the life and work of Newman to give us an ample starter which is both sustaining enough to encourage us to carry on, whatever our vocation, or to go deeper into that stillness in which God is to be found more and more fully: ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46: 10). As a pastor of his flock Bishop Fintan is leading whoever reads his book, through a sermon in the very gentleness of its words, towards that Perfect Peace to which we are called – one and all, Bishop, priest and educated laity; and, given that educating the laity was basic to Newman’s own vocation, Bishop Fintan has taken up his own part in that “particular work” through this book and, as I understand it, there is more to come.