“The Holy Spirit writes no more Gospels except in our hearts. All we
do from moment to moment is live this new Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
We, if we are holy, are the paper; our suffering and our actions are the
ink. The workings of the Holy Spirit are his pen, and with it he writes
a living Gospel.” —Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J. (1675–1751)
These words, from a French Jesuit, inspired the title of a new book from Orbis: A Living Gospel: Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives. Because I am actually the author, I cannot personally attest to its quality. But here is what others have said:
• “In this beautiful book, Robert Ellsberg shares the gift of the saints—not unreachable, perfect people, floating in prayer, but real human beings who lived close to the ground, who sought to follow Jesus despite their own flaws, their moments of doubt and disbelief; in other words, people like us…We come to know Jesus through those who love him. And through their witness we find the courage to take one step, and then another, along his path of discipleship.” —Sister Helen Prejean
• “Drawing on a lifetime of reflection on saints and holy lives (including those he has known), Robert Ellsberg calls our attention to the deepest function of such: to help us recognize the patterns of grace in our own lives, and to respond more faithfully to our own call to holiness.”—Richard Rohr
I have written several previous books on the lives of the saints. In this work I have reflected on how the story of Jesus is reflected in the stories of such lives—not only in moments of grace, but also in times of struggle, doubt and uncertainty. I draw in particular on the stories of a number of figures who have played an important part in my life, including Dorothy Day, with whom I worked at the Catholic Worker during the last five years of her life; Thomas Merton, who wrote that the problem of being a saint is the problem of becoming one’s “true self”; Henri Nouwen, who said that the task of being a Christian is to see your own story in relation to the story of Jesus; Flannery O’Connor, the writer whose published letters many years ago inspired me to become a Catholic; and Charles de Foucauld, the desert hermit who struggled to invent a form of discipleship based on the “hidden life” of Jesus in Nazareth.
Pope Francis plays a prominent role in the book. I begin by reciting a moving “creed,” composed following his ordination as a priest, in which he writes, “I believe in my life story.” I draw extensively on his document Rejoice and Be Glad, in which he writes about the universal call to holiness, which is simply “the fullness of Christian life, the fullness of love.” And I conclude with extended reflections on his concept of a “journey faith”—a faith guided by discernment, tested by doubt and uncertainty, in which we must be open to ongoing conversion as we encounter God along the path before us.
In reflecting on the lives of holy people as a kind of spiritual text, we may become more adept at reading our own story in the same light: recognizing the patterns of grace in our own lives and responding more faithfully to our own call to go deeper. To the extent that we answer that call, our lives become “a living Gospel.”
To find more information on the book, or to purchase, please visit OrbisBooks.com
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