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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Windows Into the Life of a Priest

Fr. Robert Lange's memoir, Windows Into the Life of a Priest,  brought to mind a literary theme called the hero's journey. Like the archetypical hero who sets off on a journey of self discovery and growth that is often painful, Fr. Lange has also walked a difficult path from youth to the priesthood and beyond, a life filled with successes and failures, joys and sufferings. It's a journey he shares by opening wide the windows into his life.

Why does Father share this intimate portrait? He explains:

These pages are written to focus our attention on the abundant personal love that God has for each of us....Through all the years of our lives, God's love is a constant. It never wavers. It never decreases. Even is we do not feel his presence, seek his presence, or even care if he is present in our lives, he is there. Our Lord's purpose for creating us is so that we may be with him in heaven at the eternal banquet, which will be the fulfillment of all our hopes and desires, where we will understand that we are unconditionally loved.....I wasted many years of my life by not practicing my faith....I deeply desire to give hope to those who feel inadequate in life, as well as to those who do not know that their lives do indeed have great meaning for our eternal, all-loving God. Even the most hidden or wretched of lives is precious to Our Lord. 
And Father's journey is, indeed, one that offers hope. He describes two near death experiences as a child, high school years that included an attempted sexual assault by an older boy, ridicule from contemporaries, and a long struggle with stuttering because of the trauma he experienced. His road to the priesthood was neither quick nor easy, but once he heard the call in what he believed was a locution he persevered like the patron saint of parish priests, St. Jean Vianney. His journey involves all the gripping adventures one could expect from the hero in a novel, but it's all true.

Father attributes his priesthood and protection from death (physical and spiritual) to the Blessed Mother to whom he was dedicated at his baptism. In the chapter, "Under Mary's Mantle," he summarizes the Blessed Mother's motherly interventions throughout human history and urges the reader to put his trust in her. In a later chapter he describes a pilgrimage to the approved apparition site of Betania, Venezuela with his sister and her husband, Charlie, who was dying of cancer.  Getting there was preceded by a harrowing trip on an icy mountain in Virginia. Father's description of the trip and its many blessings is itself a chapter of hope and a revelation of Mary's great love for her children.

Windows Into the Life of a Priest is a short book, about 150 pages, but it is filled with wisdom and insight. Fr. Lange writes with an engaging, down-to-earth style. One might be sitting in front of the fire in his mountain cabin chatting about the events of his life. But there's a purpose to the chat. Early in the book, Father calls himself a GP, a General Practitioner of souls so to speak. Near the end of the book he describes his priestly vocation saying, "my job description is to take your hand and put it into the hand of Jesus so it does not slip out." What a goal! And what a blessing for those whose lives he touches.

I heartily recommend this charming little book which will take you inside the life of an "ordinary" man who describes himself saying, "I am not a holy person or a gifted speaker, nor am I the brightest light on the block." What comes through in his book, however, is the image of a humble priest, a good shepherd completely dedicated to God and eager to bring the flock home to the sheepfold.

With Christmas just over the horizon, Windows Into the Life of a Priest would make a lovely gift for young men who might consider the priesthood, those curious about why someone chooses a religious vocation, or anyone interested in the spiritual life. I think it would also make a great hostess gift for Catholic friends during the Christmas season. Father offers many practical suggestions for growing in virtue and holiness. What could be a greater gift for friends and loved ones than to help them peer into the window of an ordinary life transformed by the grace of God.

You can read more reviews and order the book at Amazon.

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