Written by writer Timothy Lusch, who, I think, captures well the essence of my book. This review appeared in the excellent online Catholic magazine, “Catholic World Report” in December of 2023. Read on!

The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Beyond litanies and lives to fidelity and holiness

Shadows lengthen over our civilization. But, as Randall Petrides writes in How the Saints Shaped History, “Christ’s lordship over his Church and history gives us every reason—even a duty—to hope.”

December 11, 2023 Timothy D. Lusch The Dispatch 2Print

(Image: www.osvcatholicbookstore.com)

“Saints preserve us!”

It never occurred to me, growing up, why my mother said this as often as she did. It seemed merely a coincidence that followed some misdemeanor one of us kids committed (which graduated into a felony if you lied about it). Now, of course, I realize she was, in raising the lot of us, on her own path to sainthood. It was an invocation born of exasperation. My father, on the other hand, was more interested in us being saints in this life, particularly in his presence. He tended to use more colorful—and more exciting—language when exasperated. Which, I now recall, was all the time.

As a boy in Catholic school, the saints held a strange but limited appeal. Bizarre names, extraordinary deeds, steadfast courage, faraway kingdoms—this was the stuff of mythology. Or comic books. Learning about them was the best part of religion class.

But it was a trap.

Once you learned about St. Monica, for example, patiently praying for her son Augustine, you were charged with the knowledge that you should not behave like the profligate and profane young Augustine and you should persevere in prayer even if it seems God is ignoring you. Neither of these paths held much attraction for an impetuous and wayward youth.

But somewhere between strangeness and steadfastness, the saints—in all their colorful variety—exhibit a unitary fidelity to Jesus Christ. It is this that gets through to the child, assists the adult, and comforts the aged. It is this that challenges us and changes us. It is how the saints shaped history.

Randall Petrides’s new book explores the movement of the Holy Spirit over the ages in and through holy men and women. It is a unique work. Flip through a Catholic catalog or wander about a Catholic bookshop and there will be biographies and hagiographies, devotional booklets, litanies, and lists of patron saints. But you’ll not find a book quite like this.

Petrides structures the book chronologically and does a superb job of chunking down large periods of time into short chapters. Names of saints are in bold for ease of reading and reference. And, for those of us who struggle to keep the Benedicts, Theresas, and Ignatiuses in some kind of intelligible order in our minds, Petrides includes color coded timelines that put the saints in their respective places. It will be particularly helpful for homeschool or college study. It is also a beautiful book. The pages are of thick stock, the illustrations and iconography well-placed, and it feels weighty in the hand.

Of its many terrific qualities, the most exhilarating for the reader is the relentless unfolding of the Holy Spirit in lives as disparate and distant in time and place as you can imagine. It is glorious (and overwhelming if you sit with it for a bit) to witness the singleness of purpose with which the Spirit moved in each soul that responded to the call of Christ. One begins to see less what the saints accomplished and more what the Holy Spirit accomplished with them and within them. This informed the thought of the historian Christopher Dawson who, as Petrides points out, saw Church history as cyclical, encompassing periods of “trouble, crisis, decline, and then renewal.” It wasn’t only the saints who led the church in times of renewal, but it was always the saints.

One significant example is St. John Damascene (675-749). Petrides rightly points out that St. John (of Damascus) lived and worked entirely in lands under Muslim domination. Many Christians did, of course, but few were as influential as St. John. It is particularly interesting that he waged a spirited—and ultimately successful—campaign against iconoclasts in the West from his perch in the largely Muslim East. Especially since Islam shared the view of those who, unlike St. John, wanted to remove imagery and statuary from houses of worship.

There was—and is—no shortage of Christians persecuted for the faith in Muslim lands. Petrides observes that “Saints who helped to shape history from behind Muslim lines in the East are sorely lacking.” Not because they do not exist, but because we do not recognize them. This presents an opportunity for the Church.

Petrides strikes the right notes on Islamic imperialism and conquest. Much of the history of the Church from the seventh century onward is concerned with Muslim invasions of Christian lands and the subjugation of the people. Islamic imperialism is the determining factor in the conversion (forced or otherwise) of entire regions of formerly Christian land across North Africa and the Middle East. Poitiers, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Lepanto, and Vienna are all part of a continuous jihad that began when Mohammed burst forth from the Arabian peninsula. As Petrides has it, “The Muslim threat of future conquest has been present ever since.” God raised up many saints in these dark hours and Petrides tells the tale wonderfully.

This is precisely why Petrides’s book is a necessary balm for the division—let alone despair—in the Church and our world. There is much to read, I know. I have stacks of books threatening to topple over whenever my wife moves through the house. But this belongs at the top of the list. It is no presumption to say we need this book and we need it now.

Shadows lengthen over our civilization. The death drum beats relentlessly. The catalog of horrors to which we are subjected daily has grown deeper and darker. The old order is disintegrating and the outlines of the new—bold streaks in a godless murk—are discernible. Yet, Petrides writes, “Christ’s lordship over his Church and history gives us every reason—even a duty—to hope.”

And hope is what you end up with after reading How the Saints Shaped History. In shaping history, the saints shape us. By invoking them we invite them to continue their work in shaping the life of the Church and our lives. We often read about the saints as if they were gone away from us. Randall Petrides reminds us that they never really left.

How the Saints Shaped History
By Randall Petrides
Our Sunday Visitor, 2023
Paperback, 376 pages

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  • RPadmin Posted February 19, 2024 7:25 pm


  • RPadmin Posted February 26, 2024 2:48 pm

    test. Norm

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