Book Review: Saint of the Day

Our pastor included  Saint of the Day (6th edition, Leonard Foley ed.) on his recommended reading list this past Advent.   I’ve never gone wrong in taking his advice, so when the book showed up on the Catholic Company’s review list, I saw my big chance.    The result was consistent with Father’s track record: Not something I would have chosen myself, but I’m glad to have given it a try.

Saint of the Day is a compilation of lives of saints spanning from the time of Jesus through our day.  Most entries are about one page front and back, and include a brief biography, a reflective commentary, and a quote which is either from that saint, or which is connected in some way with that saint’s life and teachings.   There are also entries for most (but not all) of the event-related feasts.  (Think: the Visitation or the Immaculate Conception.)

To answer the most common question I received while reading this book:  No, there is not an entry for every single day of the year.  So, for use as a daily devotional, it will meet many readers’ needs far more precisely than we would like to admit.

Because the entries are brief, the editors naturally had to be selective about what information to include.  The general pattern is this: If it is expected that the average reader already knows about the saint, the focus is on analysis and spiritual lessons to be learned.  If the saint is either relatively obscure or relatively new, the entry provides more concrete biographical details.  Certain major saints and events don’t make the book, either because they are too specialized (St. Genevieve – Patron Saint of Paris) or so well known they needn’t be discussed at all (Feast of the Incarnation).

I  found the book most helpful for learning about new saints — especially those newly canonized, but also some of the more obscure historic saints.   I found that if I already knew quite a lot about a saint, invariably the editors had chosen to leave out some crucial detail I thought terribly important.    I was also frustrated with some entries that omitted even bare biographical details such as where the saint lived, in favor of more reflective commentary.  For example, the entry for “Teresa of Jesus” never tells us that this Teresa of Avila — I was only sure they were one and the same because I happened to have The Way of Perfection sitting on the bathroom counter,  which work was mentioned in the “Teresa of Jesus” entry.

I was very happy to confirm the commentary is all 100% straight Catholicism — neither to the left nor the right.  Because the book was assembled from the work of many contributing authors, and because my mood is highly changeable, sometimes I found the quotes and reflections a little wanting, other times they seemed to be dead-on.  For many entries, the related quote comes from a papal encyclical or other modern church document. I found myself  frustrated at times by their ponderous style, but also glad the editors chose to introduce the reader to these momentous and undeniably relevant works.

I’m still looking for the perfect one-volume, general-interest saints book.   Saint of the Day takes an honest stab at that effort, and if it isn’t perfect, I wasn’t able to find another book on the shelves of my local catholic bookstore that did as well.   For the fairly informed catholic adult looking  for a combination devotional and historical brush-up, this is a sound choice.  It probably will not be the one book that meets all your needs, but it is reliably catholic, and certainly does what any good saints book will do:  it points you in the right direction.

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