November 5, 2009

Book Review: The New Men

One of the brothers passed on to me Brian Murphy's The New Men: Inside the Vatican's Elite School for American Priests. It's not a new book, but I liked it so much that I want to recommend it.

I started the book because I thought I might learn something about the mysterious high echelons of the diocesan priesthood here in America, or at least something about what it's like to be a seminarian. As a religious, especially one who studied not in the seminary but at a "school of theology" where a lot of my most interesting and intellectually challenging classmates were Catholic laywomen, I'm pretty ignorant of both topics.

If you are also interested in a glimpse into these hidden worlds, I don't think this is the book for you. I didn't feel like I learned much about seminary life or the elite clerical world. Fortunately, though, The New Men does something much more valuable and interesting.

The chapters, set loosely around the liturgical year, follow the lives of a handful of first-year seminarians at the North American College in Rome. We also meet their rector, Timothy Dolan, now archbishop of New York. They are grateful, prayerful, and in love with God. Their lives illustrate the very varied backgrounds and personalities out of which the Holy Spirit draws vocations.

They also struggle mightily. They pray and reflect as they wonder if they can accept priestly celibacy, or if they can even 'do it.' One works through the question of being called not to the diocesan priesthood but to the life of a monk. Another tries to make a responsible discernment about where he is meant to be, only to run afoul of some the ugliness of church politics. Not without some agony, each works to know what of himself he needs to bring to his vocation, and what of his former life must be left behind and cut off. They work on their prayer. To see this last element, which most of us (quite rightly) keep so private, is one of the real treasures of the book.

I would recommend the book to anyone who would appreciate an insight into the joys and struggles that go into the discernment of a vocation in the Church. Priests and religious do not just fall out of the sky or hatch somewhere fully formed. These seminarians knew much joy and wonder, but some wrenching struggles as well.

As I finished the book on the bus today, I found myself wanting to pray for the men I had met, to thank God for their willingness to be on the journey with the Lord. I suppose that most of them would be priests now, though some not. Probably at least one of them will reappear as a bishop one day. Whatever it is they are up to in the Lord, I thank God and them for the humanness, honesty, and love of God. To be a witness of these is the real gift of The New Men.


Warren said...

The Kirkus review on the Amazon website is rather odd.

"... secular readers curious about the moral psychology of priestliness, and the vocation to goodness in the modern world, will do better to read the classic work of fiction on these topics: George Bernanos's The Diary of a Country Priest."

Um. Yeah. A book published in 1951 will do more to illuminate me on why, in 2009, would anyone want to be a priest? This reviewer has the nerve to call the author "sentimental"?

A shorter review, from the same perspective: "Not to my tastes, and not to yours either. Move along.".

It's funny. Now I totally want to read it.


qualcosa di bello said...

thanks for the heads-up on this. i study privately every summer with their language instructor & i want to be sure to take a copy for her with me on my next visit. (plus i want to read it myself!)