What we’re reading this month: February 2022

The books that U.S. Catholic writers have enjoyed this month, including “Saving Grace” and “St. Dymphna’s Playbook.”
Arts & Culture

Saving Grace

By Kirsten Powers (Convergent Books, 2021)

To say that grace is in desperately short supply in our public discourse is one thing. To delve into the hard work of identifying why and what can be done about it is quite another. This is the admirable project CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers sets for herself in Saving Grace.

Few of us likely have experienced political fervor and cultural divides on the scale and intensity that Powers has. As a regular member of political panels across the spectrum, she has received hate mail and threats and has been told by the police to upgrade her home security based on serious online targeting. Most would not turn this into the impetus to better understand radically different points of view, let alone look inward. Thankfully Powers is not like most, and Saving Grace offers rich insights drawn from sociology, psychology, theology, and her own hard-won wisdom.

Powers opts for a type of personal storytelling that illuminates how she has embraced and sustains a disposition of grace toward others, without compromising her beliefs or deeply held values. This is accomplished through changing our perspective; acknowledging our tendency to “other” or even demonize people with different views; and recognizing our own frequent “confirmation-bias.” It also entails deeper personal work, such as processing past traumas, creating boundaries, and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation when we have wronged others. She applies these to real-world examples that show just how challenging these situations can be.

The text is also enriched by a thoughtful engagement with her Catholic faith. Particularly helpful is her consideration of Jesus’ engagement in healthy conflict. Passages like these reveal her nuanced approach while still encouraging us to not just ask for grace, but to offer grace.

—John Christman, S.S.S.

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St. Dymphna’s Playbook

By Tommy Tighe (Ave Maria Press, 2021)

As someone living with mental illness, I am skeptical of religious books about mental illness. St. Dymphna’s Playbook was no different. When I began, I was certain that I would come away disillusioned by more advice to just “pray it away.” But from the start, Tommy Tighe says, “This is not meant to be a self-help book. . . . My hope is that this book provides the impetus for our Catholic church to bring our mental health struggles out into the open without stigma and with a plan for moving forward.”

He divides the book into five sections: Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, Relationships, and Grief. Within each section are chapters dedicated to individual mental health struggles like OCD, PTSD, fatigue, and abusive relationships. Tighe explains each phenomenon, offers practical advice in moving forward with the issue, and suggests avenues to seek help, which he backs up with credible research.

Tighe is a mental health professional, but he doesn’t come off as preachy or overintellectual. Instead, he makes each chapter relatable by sharing experiences from his own mental battles and giving advice from the Bible for each situation to show that “God is there, silently suffering alongside us.”

He follows up each section with “what the saints have to say,” showing us how different saints grappled with the same illnesses. (St. Óscar Romero was diagnosed with OCD, and St. Padre Pio dealt with severe anxiety.) I came away thinking that maybe the saints are more relatable to those of us who are mentally ill than we think. While you won’t find a how-to book or personal memoir here, you will find an avenue to begin a dialogue on mental illness within your community. As Tighe says, “We have to . . . let people know that they aren’t alone, and normalize not only the sharing of our experiences but also the experiences themselves.”

—Bri Rooke


Briefly Noted:

Sin

By Gregory Mellema (Notre Dame Press, 2021)

In this concise treatment, Mellema summarizes the traditional theologies and contemporary ethics regarding the concept of sin.


Feed the Wolf: Befriending Our Fears in the Way of Saint Francis

By Jon M. Sweeney (Broadleaf Books, 2021)

Learn to befriend your fears and uncertainty in these dark times with advice from the life of St. Francis.


Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle

By Danté Stewart (Convergent Books, 2021)

Stewart describes a Black man’s journey out of the violence and microaggressions of the American church and into the healing pursuit of true faith.


This article also appears in the February 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 2, page 39). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

About the author

John Christman

John Christman is an artist and often writes on the subjects of art, theology, and spirituality.

About the author

Bri Rooke

Bri Rooke is an editorial assistant at U.S. Catholic.

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