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A Compassionate Saint for Our Times: A Review of Shaun McAfee’s “St. Robert Bellarmine”

April 18, AD 2016 2 Comments

At just ninety pages, Shaun McAfee’s recent volume, St. Robert Bellarmine (Proving Press, 2016), may not seem very significant at first glance. Yet, created in commemoration for the fiftieth anniversary of St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, this book is packed with many wonderful insights. In a straightforward manner, McAfee introduces the reader to one of the great Doctors of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine: a sixteenth-century priest, theologian, and reformer. Weaving together personal anecdotes, historical facts, and commentary on St. Robert’s life, McAfee’s conversational tone makes a complicated saint accessible to the average, everyday Catholic. This book is divided into three succinct sections, which adds to its readability and clarity. In reading this book, I found myself greatly appreciating this fascinating saint—of whom I had little prior knowledge—and also realizing just how greatly a parish can impact a person.

“I was not raised Catholic.” With this bold, blunt statement, McAfee introduces the contents of this book. As he presents a brief—yet engaging—synopsis of his conversion to Catholicism, McAfee reflects on the significance of St. Robert Bellarmine in his own life; most notably, as the patron saint of the parish that McAfee attends. He then launches into a short discussion and timeline of St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, which is located in Omaha, Nebraska. Although I have never visited this parish, I found myself very interested in both learning about the history of this place and seeing how greatly it has impacted others.

After reading about the parish, I dove into the next portion of the book, to learn about the saint himself. This section spans several pages and discusses the life and accomplishments of St. Robert Bellarmine. While McAfee touches on the major writings, achievements, and controversies surrounding St. Robert, he specifically mentions the pastoral, compassionate, patient attitude of this saint. McAfee notes that “Robert tried very honestly to understand Protestant theology. His approach was not to just condemn his foe, but to dive right into current and recent Protestant ideas.” In this, and other, aspects of St. Robert Bellarmine’s life, McAfee gives us the picture of a man who coupled doctrine and Truth with love.

McAfee draws this book to a close with a summary of one of St. Robert Bellarmine’s famous works, The Art of Dying Well. Walking the reader through each portion of the book, McAfee draws together quotations from The Art of Dying Well and a deep understanding of Bellarmine’s writing to present the main themes and lessons of this rich theological piece. As McAfee does so well throughout the previous sections of this book, he continues to make the writings and thoughts of a sixteenth-century intellectual engaging to the modern reader.

St. Robert Bellarmine, by Shaun McAfee, was very enjoyable. Many times, I will begin reading spiritual books or biographies of the saints only to put them down because they are extremely long or dense. However, this book is easy to read, entertaining, and provides much material for good reflection. By learning about the importance that St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church holds to McAfee, I began thinking about how important my own parish is to myself. I formerly had very little knowledge of St. Robert Bellarmine, and I found myself looking at this complex, deep saint and his writings with wonder and awe. Moreover, as I reflected on the wisdom and actions of St. Robert Bellarmine, I realized how vital his convicted, compassionate example is for Catholics living in the modern world.

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About the Author:

AnneMarie Miller is a quirky, spontaneous woman who loves the excitement and adventure that each day brings. She also greatly enjoys making weird analogies that intertwine the Catholic Faith and everyday life. A recent college graduate, she currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, where she spends her days blogging, avoiding housework, freelance writing, and reading good books. You can hear about her adventures and contact AnneMarie through her blog, Sacrifice of Love (http://marianninja.blogspot.com).

  • james

    His approach was not to just condemn his foe, but to dive right into current and recent Protestant ideas.” In this, and other, aspects of St. Robert Bellarmine’s life, McAfee gives us the picture of a man who coupled doctrine and Truth with love.

    ” Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic.” From Wicipedia

  • DLink

    In truth, it probably would have been better for the reputation of the Church had this canonization not taken place. Bellarmine was hardly merciful in the Bruno affair and scarcely prudent in the Copernicus/Galileo matter. He acted outside his area of competence much the same as today’s worthies presume to speak on social and economic matters in which they attempt to transplant religious doctrine into areas in which it was never intended. While he must be judged by the Almighty and we can only see him through the lens of the time, it can not help but remind one of the horribly mistaken efforts today to promote the canonization of the unrepentant Marxist, Dorothy Day. Sometimes it is best to “inter the good with their bones” and leave matters at that.