Book Review: Eric Sammons’ Holiness for Everyone

Eric Sammons sent me a pdf review copy of his new book, Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva, not because we’ve ever met or even know each other on the internet, but, I gather, because I really liked his first book, Who is Jesus Christ?  (Which I wholeheartedly recommend.) He’s smart that way.  I like this one too.

What is isn’t:  We have to start here, because it’s easy to guess wrong.

  1. Eric Sammons is not a member of Opus Dei, and this is not a how-to book on being a member of that organization, nor an account of that group’s history.  Opus Dei barely gets mention, other than to recommend two reliable books on the topic.
  2. This is not a colorful anecdote-laden biography of St. Josemaria.  The chapter that tells his life focuses is on his spiritual development — the details that help you understand the saint’s approach to holiness for ordinary people.

What it is:

St. Josemaria Escriva is a 20th century saint whose spirituality is very much in line with St. Therese of Lisieux, whose Story of a Soul was a bestseller during his formative years, and  Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, who was his contemporary and likewise informed by the spirituality of St. Therese.  Basic Catholic practical holiness — what you see in the lives of every saint across all of history.

St. Josemaria’s particular charism was the insistence that saintliness is not for the vowed religious only — an error of his time, and still a struggle among Catholics today.  We tend today to either fall into the get-thee-to-a-nunnery trap, or just dismiss saintliness as something that hardly matters anyhow.  St. Josemaria’s contention, and Eric Sammons’ as well, is that it is possible for you and I to actually be holy.  And that there are specific steps we can take to cooperate with God’s grace in working towards that goal.

As with Who is Jesus Christ, Sammons’ text is packed with information and insight, but still approachable for the average reader.   It covers similar territory as Christian Self-Mastery, but far more readable than that classic.  I personally found every chapter to be helpful for me — life-changing, even.

Who would enjoy it?  I’d recommend this for older teens and adults who want to be challenged with practical ways to grow in the Christian life.  This is not mere inspiration: expect to be pushed to make specific resolutions about your prayer life and penitential practices.  There are discussion questions at the end of every chapter, making this a great book club choice.

This would make an excellent post-confirmation course for 11th and 12th graders — either taught in a high school religion class, or as a parent-teen book study.  (Also think: Post-RCIA discipleship group.) Because the text ties to free, online additional reading (Escriva, assorted Encyclicals), it would be easy to make a rounded-out senior-high religion curriculum using this book.

This is an ideal introduction to the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva.  I picked up a (print) copy of The Way while I was reading this book, and coming to it already well-versed with how Catholic spiritual training works, I find The Way to be awesome.  I’m thrilled to have been pointed in that direction.  But I’d caution you: Do not read The Way without first reading Sammons’ book or some other similar work.  Taken out of context, St. Josemaria’s collected comments are a recipe for scruples, misunderstanding, and stomping off in a fit of exasperation or despair.  Combined with a healthy, balanced view of Christian spirituality, enlightened by a work like Sammons’, The Way becomes the perfect ’round-the-house spiritual cattle-prod  — think Imitation of Christ, Football Coach Version.

Conclusion: Highly Recommended for Catholics for ready to grow in their spiritual life, and looking for an approachable, step-by-step walk through how to go about it.

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