Thursday, August 16, 2018

'Inspiration from the Saints' by Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh: review

Because on the Internet one can never be sure what most people will come out with next, there are only a few blogs that I trust enough to recommend to others.  One of them is the Irish Papist blog (, a miscellany of essays, spiritual reflections, invigorating yet always charitable polemic, occasional fiction and even poetry (rhyming! metrical!).  A few month ago its author, Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh, brought out his first published book, published by the Angelico Press and entitled 'Inspiration from the Saints'.  St Paul's bookshop next to Westminster Cathedral were able to get it for me very quickly, but I have only just got round to reviewing it.  It is written in the same conversational, fireside style as the blog and there is certainly inspiration to be had from it — inspiration that is both reassuring and disconcerting. 

It is reassuring because it shows, with its arrangement into chapters named according to human experiences ('Childhood', 'Sinners', 'Prayer', 'Mirth'), how similar the saints are to the rest of us.  The saints had all these experiences too. There is as much variety among them as among ordinary sinners, not only in their age, origin or the era in which they lived, but in their temperament and character, in the suffering they saw around them or faced themselves. They were and are not identikit mannequins sent to taunt us with their sanctity, but our living and breathing brothers and sisters, who have differed from us merely by having answered God's call to greatness in its fullness.

What is disconcerting is the gradual realisation that if the saints are just like us, there is no reason why we, too, could not be saints. The book — always in the same companionable way — jolts the reader into a new awareness of the plausibility of sainthood for us all.  Saints are what we are meant to be, and would be, if only we co-operated with God. Our origin or station in life does not matter: we might be rich or poor, married or unmarried, lay or ordained, outgoing or withdrawn, young or old, bookish or practical-minded. So too are the company of saints.

A lot of work has gone into this book, both into the research and the crafting, but it wears that craftsmanship lightly. A thoroughly recommended read, the first I hope of many appearances of Ó Ceallaigh's work between its own two covers. 

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