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Book review: Bishop Morneau opens our hearts

By Sister Jean Peerenboom, OSF

A New Heart: Eleven Qualities of Holiness by Bishop Robert Morneau.(Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y.; $12}

I feel as if I’ve just come off a retreat with Bishop Morneau. A New Heart speaks to the heart and releases the joy of God that exists in each of us.

It is set up as an 11-week reflection, each week exploring one gift or virtue: purity, humility, love, faith, courage, joy, praise, gratitude, kindness, hospitality and hope. Each page can take three minutes to read, but three hours to digest.

Each week begins with a reflection on the topic; each day has a passage from a relevant writer, a reflection from Morneau and a suggestion for action.

Morneau takes secular and spiritual writers, such as Thoreau, Gandhi, Thornton Wilder, Pope Paul VI, Emily Dickinson, Dag Hammarskjold, Meister Eckhart, Ronald Rolheiser, and even Al Capone contributes a line. He combines these with his own lyrical reflection, followed by something we can do to get at the holiness in our own lives. This approach brings together our spiritual and secular lives.

The result is that we get to know our own hearts more intimately and thus, we are brought closer to God. In just a few minutes a day, we know the joy of God in our lives. It feels like retreat to me.

The first week, for example, is on purity: “A Pure Heart that I May See Thee” is the title. In his reflection, Morneau talks about purity and freedom as “twins, inseparable if not identical. Narcissism destroys purity: excessive self-preoccupation stains the eye and the soul in its being for others. Purity lived is liberation. No longer is the soul enslaved by passion or self-seeking … When freedom comes with its twin, purity, we live simply and directly.”

The action for that day is a recommendation to fast for one day a week. “Fasting and the discipline of selective eating can help prevent the mind from being enslaved to the appetites,” he writes.

Another action suggests pausing for 15 to 30 seconds “before writing a letter, making a phone call, opening a door for an encounter and ask that what is said or done might take on the quality of pure, transparent honesty.”

In the week on love, he really speaks to the heart. The reflections on love made me smile as they brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. “Life is not life without love,” he titles day five.

The book is deeply reflective, yet written in direct, simple language. I can hear Bishop Morneau’s voice saying each word as I read, for he writes just as he talks. It is truly a joyful book.

Sister Jean Peerenboom is the former religion/books editor from the Green Bay Press Gazette. Sister Jean is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. She writes a monthly book review for the Holy Cross Family Blogspot.

To read all of Sister Jean Peerenboom's book reviews, click here.

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