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Book Review: Reform Yourself! How to Pray, Find Peace, and Grow in Faith with the Saints of the Counter-Reformation

Reform Yourself! How to Pray, Find Peace, and Grow in Faith with the Saints of the Counter-Reformation by Shaun McAfee 

I have to admit at first glance I was a little intimidated by the title of this book and wondered if I would be able to follow the contents between the covers. On one hand, I do find history interesting and I strongly feel that to learn where we are going we often have to study those that came before us, but on the other hand, I know I can easily get lost in the details of dates, events and times and totally miss the point. Fortunately for me, author Shaun McAfee took me on a journey through the lives of ten saints that lived during the sixteenth-century and opened my eyes to new pathways for spiritual growth.

In looking over the notes I took while reading, a strong theme that jumps out at me is that the saints in this book were extremely devoted to prayer (I know that seems obvious), but another huge part of their lives was humility (once again David Niles is vindicated). An additional take-home point from this story is that obedience is crucial during our walk with God and as St. Jane Frances de Chantal points out sometimes obedience means accepting our limitations. In today’s culture it seems we do not want to admit our weaknesses, but as I learned sometimes identifying our inabilities helps us to grow closer to our Lord. I think St. Jane Frances de Chantal summarizes it best by her quote “Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t share something that struck me from each saint in this book, but please know there are spiritual gems throughout this story. I appreciated how the author included where to read more about each saint, as well as, providing the reader with a variety of prayers to conclude each chapter. Although some of the reading is technical the organization of the book allows the reader to logically follow the lives of the saints.

St. Frances de Sales encouraged open, honest and tactful conversation focused on winning souls for Christ rather than winning arguments. St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed the Anima Christi often (one of my favorite prayers) and summarized his devotion to God as prayer, fasting, discernment, penance, and service to neighbor. Saint Teresa of Ávila felt alone as a teenager and stressed being free of sin through frequent confession in order for a soul to discern God’s will. St. Robert Bellarmine advised if you wanted to master something then you should teach about it and instructed living with meekness and humility. St. Aloysius Gonzaga focused on physical exertions like sleeping on the floor, fasting once a week and completing mental exertions which were counter-cultural acts (one thing he would do was dress in disguise and go in public and beg). Pope St. Pius V trusted greatly in the Rosary and boldly stated: “All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics.” St. Philip Neri was known for his sense of humor and when false accusations came against him he treated his enemies with kindness and they grew to love him. St. John of the Cross was strongly influenced by contact with St. Teresa of Ávila and spent 9 months in a monastery jail for his attempts to reform the Carmelites and stressed completing your work through obligation, not pleasure. St. Jane Frances de Chantal suffered terrible interior trials but suggested in prayer that we should speak sincerely to God from our heart. St. Charles Borromeo was devoted to the veneration of relics and as a pastor highlighted the need to first preach by the way you live.

Overall this book is an excellent resource for spiritual growth following the model of saints that lived during a trying period of time for the Catholic Church. What is refreshing for this reader is that through studying the saints I gained new insight on how to better serve God, family, and neighbor. Despite my initial intimidation at the title, I am glad I was able to finish this book and learn how to start reforming myself.


By: Kent Keithly

Husband and fortunate father of four

 

 

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