Father David Meconi, a Jesuit priest and teacher of theology at St. Louis University, has previously compiled a fascinating volume dedicated to the life and teachings of philanthropist and spiritual author, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. In his latest publication, Meconi explores the spiritual teachings of well-known Catholic publishers Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, who were also “spirited evangelists, in-demand speakers, exemplars of (what was then known as) ‘the lay apostolate,’ committed husband and wife, father and mother” (p. 13). Father Meconi admits that his search for a Catholic apologist similar to C. S. Lewis—to aid in the instruction of his Roman Catholic students—led him to the iconic duo: “Here I came across perhaps the one twentieth-century apologist who was worthy to complement Lewis, Frank Sheed. I devoured everything I could, and reading Frank inevitably led me to Maisie, and her works pointed back to him and their beautiful life together as Sheed and Ward” (p. 9). The result of Father Meconi’s research is a marvelous volume that is both biographical in nature, and a synthesis of the varied spiritual writings of the dynamic couple. This volume contains a comprehensive biographical introduction, with chapters dedicated to the Triune God, the uniqueness of incarnate love, the holy Church, understanding and belief, and the constant conversion of Christian life.
In the chapter entitled “The Mystery of the Triune God,” Frank explores the depths of human knowledge concerning the Godhead. Although others may have found the concept of one God and three natures paradoxical, Father Meconi affirms that Sheed and Ward “always displayed a consistency over the decades of rooting their writings on the interior life of God first in the nature of the mysterious. They first show that mystery may transcend reason, but it is not a contradiction that offends reason” (p. 43). Sheed uses a great analogy to describe the mind’s comprehension of the trinitarian mystery. He speaks of the limits of human knowledge as an limitless well of truth, “a well from which for all eternity we can drink our fill yet which in all eternity we shall never drink to the last drop—so that we shall never know thirst” (p. 46). For Frank Sheed, the doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately manifested in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who represents humanity’s supreme mystery. Beyond the incarnation, there is “no further mystery, for it deals with the innermost life of God” (p. 47). In delving into the innermost life of God, we find evidence of the inherent humanity of the trinitarian mystery through our participation in His love and creation. Sheed challenges us to look at causation through the lens of love, which “gives us here upon earth a glimpse of that truth that it is man’s proper destiny to spend eternity in contemplating” (p. 47).
In the chapter entitled “The Constant Conversion of the Christian Life,” Maisie Ward instructs that the predominant role of every Christian is charity. She believed that our duty is “not a charity simply of feeling, but a charity of action, charity worked out not without struggle and effort” (p. 153). Father Meconi relates that Maisie’s views on charity were greatly influenced by the priest’s worker movement during World War II, and the Church of France, “whose priests began to work alongside the simplest (and most forgotten) of workers in order to lend the Gospel credibility and to recognize Christ in all aspects of human life” (p. 152). Maisie considered charity to be the mission of both the Church and the Christian. She contended that our mission should also be our life’s work, not a job, but “a vocation not self-chosen but laid upon him by providential circumstances, that is to say by God Himself” (p. 154). For Maisie, our participation in a life of charity is also how we are called to conversion. Through God’s grace we become witnesses to the Truth, inspiring and calling out to others.
Father David Meconi’s latest publication is highly recommended for beginning students of spirituality. This volume would also be a perfect companion piece for any college course that utilizes the works of C. S. Lewis to identify the spiritual leaders of the modern era.