Sunday, June 10, 2012

Old but New

Its Place in the Spiritual Life 
Dom Benedict Baur, OSB, 
(German original 1922) translated by Patrick C. Barry, SJ, 
Scepter Publishers, New York, 1984.

I am truly grateful to have had occasion now finally to read this classic work on a most important topic. Dom Baur alludes frequently in the book to the growing resistance in the Church (1922!) to the laudable practice of weekly or monthly confession as an essential aid to growth in holiness. I can remember shortly after my own ordination to the priesthood receiving a confidence from an older male relative, who told me how the young priest in his parish had berated him for coming to confession every two weeks telling him to come back when he had something big to confess. We still have a long way to go toward restoring the practice of what is sometimes called devotional confession.

My generation, you might say, was either driven away from confession or brain-washed into making sparing or little use of the sacrament of penance. The painful consequences continue to haunt us yet today in many ways, not least of which is the rather calloused attitude of many toward venial sin. I would dare my contemporaries to take up this book and stay with it, but most probably have too much baggage or are so blinded as not to be able to let Dom Baur's sound traditional teaching penetrate and warm cold hearts.

Let's say then that it is a young people's book and worthy of a book club discussion or two or a study club, taking a chapter per week. 26 Chapters is half a year, but maybe if people are enthused enough a group could take on 2 chapters a week?

Many chapters will aid the reader to develop clearer ideas and distinct notions about all sorts of matters related to drawing closer to God in love through a regular practice of confession. My own favorite chapters, which could stand on their own for adult education are: Chapter 20 The Fear of God and Chapter 26 Frequent Holy Communion.

It is not a child's book, but an adult's, not because it discusses specific moral topics but because it faces issues typical of those who are full-grown, who have left childish and adolescent views behind. It is almost by a via negativa (cultivating in our hearts an abhorrence of even venial sin) that Dom Bauer lays the foundations for heroic virtue in the life of any man or woman.

It is not an all-round classic of the spiritual life but rather the gateway to the recovery of a if not the best of the tried and true means to growth in holiness, namely through the regular practice of the sacrament of penance.


  1. Just try to imagine that Eastern Orthodox Christians have to confess each time before recieving the Holy Communion...

    1. That was virtually our tradition as well. When my mother was a child, once a month the whole family went to confession on Saturday and then Communion on Sunday. That's not even 80 years ago.

  2. Your Excellency- thank you for the good recommendation, I will add this to my summer reading list, which only gets longer, not shorter.

    A favor to ask- could you remember in your prayers a couple from Winona, MN, who has been in the Ukraine for the past 3 weeks? They are going to court tomorrow to finalize an adoption of a autistic boy. They've been working on this for more than a year. They are a generous couple.

    Pax et Bonum

  3. Pardon- the court appearance for the adoption will be Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian time. 2:30am here in SD.

    1. Dear Father, I just returned from Rome to find your message. I am confident that prayers will help after the fact too. God bless them for their generosity!

  4. Your Excellency,

    thank you for this great recommendation! In Germany, this book is unfortunately out of print but my mother bought it from an antiquarian bookshop. She talks about it all the time so it must be very good. We are converts to Catholicism and try to know our holy Religion profoundly.

    God bless!


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