The Third Miracle by Bill Briggs, 2011 Broadway.
I finished it last night, sitting by the fire at the local ski facility while Number Seven and friends enjoyed the chilly fresh air going up the lift and down in skis for hours.
I greatly enjoyed the reading and recommend the book, and I would love to discuss it in a book group. Some books leave you with many things to "say"... and this is one of them.
- the author is a phenomenal writer. He turns what could be a dry account of a lengthy process into a page turner, and beautifully so. His respect and passion for the events and the people involved are disarming, and shown throughout the book.
- Interestingly, the book spends a lot of time around the sisters at Saint-Mary-in-the-Woods who were working on the canonization process of Mother Theodore, the eighth American saint canonized in 2006. And yet for this reader, they are left in second plane. The saint herself, an amazing, determined woman with vision and love for God in her heart, and the non-Catholic man--the recipient of the miracle needed for the canonization--these are the characters I loved in the book.
- God's love and hand are shown through the characters: His healing love is for all who ask Him, and His will is done even through sisters whose congregation has long left the traditional ways. A glimpse into their website, and their division around the saint's cause as told in the book, both exemplify this.
- Some of the author's observations are left wanting. Most especially an assertion he makes after describing the way these sisters (and most today) live, and the problem of the lack of new vocations. I paraphrase: he says that oddly, one convent of Dominican sisters in Nashville seems to be thriving with new vocations and they still long wear the floor-length traditional habits. Uh? For an investigating reporter there is little excuse for this. Two minutes on Google would reveal to him at least two things: first that the Nashville Dominican sisters are not the only one in floor-length traditional habits teeming with new vocations these days. Secondly, there is no "oddity" here: the traditional religious life with all of its richness is what is attractive to young women who find themselves called by God to religious life: not a divided, feminist, jeans and make-up set of women working in environmental issues and peace-and-justice stuff. (Nothing wrong with environmental or peace and justice issues per se, by the way).
- I thought the whole canonization process very interestingly told, but I didn't think that there was a secretive veil lifted by the author as the advertising of the book seems to imply. Sorry, but no dirty secrets here. Any well-read Catholic is aware of the lengthy, meticulous and slow process the Vatican requires for a saint to be canonized, even if we cannot go into closed room inquests. I enjoyed reading about the sealing of the acts in Indianapolis, what with the archbishop's wax seal and whatnot.
- The man who is the recipient of the second miracle needed for Sister Theodore's canonization, in his case an inexplicable overnight cure from an awful eye condition, won my heart. An engineer and handy man, a highly intelligent and hard-working husband and father, in a moment of anxiety and despair, opens his heart to God. Unveiling the pain in his heart, he sincerely asks for heavenly help. That unveiling of one's heart to God, in a moment of complete acknowledgement of need: that is heroic. Especially coming from a capable, intelligent man, who had never been very religious. I found myself drawn to him and "on his side" to the last page. His wife too, a hard-working nurse, and their marriage, are inspirational. May God bless them.
- There are only two miracles needed for canonization. The "third miracle", a theme woven throughout the book by the author, comes in the last few pages, and it happens intimately, in the heart, no flashing lights or cameras. The peace and love of God are amazing things, I will finish by saying that.