ANSWERS — Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions by Fr John Bartunek (Servant Books, 2014, supplied by Pleroma Christian
Supplies); $29.99. Reviewed by PETER GRACE.
After getting his degree in history, the author became a Catholic in 1991. He became a priest 12 years later. So Fr Bartunek not only
gives advice through this book, but has presumably also walked this path of seeking answers.
The book of about 140 pages is divided into five chapters, with eight to 11 subsections in each chapter. The chapters are Prayer, Spiritual
Formation, Overcoming Sin, Life in the World, and Catholicism.
The book is quite easy to read, although I found it suited me to read around 15 to 20 pages at a time, then pause for a while. At times
I wanted to think a bit about what I had read. An example is the chapter on spiritual formation.
Particular ideas in that chapter stayed with me, making me consider taking steps I had not thought of to promote spiritual growth.
I would say the author’s own spirituality is strongly rooted in Scripture. He makes the point that many Christians do not understand
the use of litanies, seeing them as long lists of “mechanically repetitive phrases”.
“So often we don’t have adequate words to express what is in our hearts. And so, we place those inexpressible sentiments inside the
words of a litany, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do the work of a good interpreter.”
He also encourages the reader to not be afraid of silence. “Gazing with delight … at God’s beauty and magnificence is in itself a prayer of praise …”
So here, behind Fr Bartunek’s thought, seems to be St Paul, who writes about not babbling as the pagans do.
Some of the author’s explanations are challenging, although they are not presented as challenges.
In the chapter on spiritual formation, he points out that we have a kind of default setting whereby we seek happiness in the good things of the world. These may be sensual pleasure, popularity, our achievements — all extremely superficial goods, he says. Or we may seek happiness in authentic goods, such as a healthy marriage and family, a job that allows us to build a better world, a simple, balanced lifestyle. But, he says, such a default setting is still wrong.
“Spiritual maturity, therefore, consists largely in learning to appreciate the goods of this world in a relative manner, as means to
an end. It means learning to desire God more and more . . .”
Written in a straightforward manner, this is a book that calls to be read quite slowly — not because it is difficult, but because a reflective approach gets the most out of it.
Peter Grace, married with two adult children, is the editor of NZ Catholic.