Book Reviews

Book Reviews

THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS by Fr Gereon Goldmann

ARTIST AND MONK by Aidan Nichols OP


Harrowing account of survival in Nazi Germany


By Fr Gereon Goldmann. (Ignatius Press) ISBN: 9780898707748. 350pp. Available from Freedom Publishing. $35.90

Reviewed by Chris Rule

This is a book in two parts: the first part is an autobiography from the time of Fr Goldmann’s birth until he left Germany to become a Franciscan missionary priest in Japan, based in Tokyo; and the second part about his time in Japan, is written by Joseph Seitz.

Goldmann was born into a strong Catholic family in 1916 at a town called Ziegenhain in the state of Hessen. His mother, who died when Gereon was only eight, bore seven children – all boys. His father married again and his stepmother, who was his mother’s youngest sister, had five children – three boys and two girls.

He grew up in Fulda – known for centuries as the stronghold of the Catholic faith in Germany – and Cologne. Although he was, by his own admission a “wild” child, he remembered “how happy I was to be a Catholic”.

Gereon’s family upbringing, his schooling, his membership of a Jesuit youth group called Bund Neudeutschland, his Franciscan novitiate/seminary education helped to prepare him, both physically and spiritually for the challenges of constantly living in an environment hostile to Christianity; he was nothing if not courageous.

He, and his companions in the youth group, fought real battles with the Nazi youth and saw themselves as “soldiers for Christ” who was the centre and focus of their lives.

He joined the Franciscan novitiate in 1936 and by the time he had finished his philosophy training in 1939, World War II had started.

He was conscripted into the Wehrmacht with two hundred other seminarians.

After basic training he chose to join the SS, because, unlike the Wehrmacht oath, the SS oath still retained a reference to God and he was assured that he would be free to fulfil his religious obligations without harassment.

Eventually he was dismissed from the SS because he refused to renounce his faith.

After his dismissal from the SS he returned to Fulda where he transferred to the Wehrmacht. During the war he served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, serving in non-combatant roles such as communications and medical.

In 1944 he was captured by the British, in Italy, and was sent to North Africa where he was ordained a priest, by a French bishop, at Algiers, before being transferred to the French camp for German prisoners-of-war, at Ksar-es-Souk, Morocco.

Because he had not studied theology he had to obtain a dispensation from the pope, Pius XII, to be ordained. He received this in an audience with the pope whilst his unit was in Italy.

He went to Ksar-es-Souk as the official chaplain to German prisoners because they didn’t want a French priest. The conditions were horrendous and his life was constantly under threat from the Nazis amongst the German prisoners.

Whilst at Ksar-es-Souk he faithfully ministered to the inmates and brought many back to the faith, although, initially he “lost courage to go on because of the extreme opposition and persecution” he was subjected to.

After the war he returned to Germany after spending sometime in France. In early 1954 he became a missionary priest in Japan fulfilling a childhood ambition.

In Japan he was appointed to a parish in Tokyo of “three hundred thousand pagans and one hundred Christians”. Language difficulties hampered his efforts until he mastered the language; that took two years.

His parishioners were very poor, but zealous. He worked hard to improve their living conditions, including improving housing and providing holidays for woman and children. He spent a lot of time fund raising, not only for the church in Japan, but also in India. He also encouraged vocations to the priesthood.

He lived modestly, in keeping with the standard of living of his parishioners. He worked so hard it seriously affected his health.

His good works were acknowledged by the Japanese government when he was awarded the “Order of Good Deeds” in December 1965.

This is a profoundly spiritual book which I found easy to read and hard to put down. If I have any criticism it is that at times there seemed to be some contradictions which made some events difficult to understand.

There was also at least one minor error – possibly a “typo” - when he said that in 1941 he had been in the army for three years when he had only joined in 1939.

Fr Goldmann was a very spiritual man who believed in the power of love and prayer. Like his parents he practised what he preached. I have never read a book which so illustrates the power of prayer as this one does.

There are so many examples of it in this book and, invariably, it seems that nuns were involved in the prayer; prayer to become a priest, to become a missionary in Japan, to receive a dispensation from the pope to be ordained, despite having not studied theology; to protect his life in the many life threatening situations he found himself in; to do fund raising for his various projects in Japan and India.

GK Chesterton once said that Christianity had been found difficult and not tried because of that. Fr Goldmann, along with the saints, lived Christianity, despite the difficulties involved.

In the light of the recent publication of a book titled Wehrmacht Priest: Catholicism and the Nazi War of Annihilation by Lauren Faulkner Rossi, this book has gained a new relevance.

Fr Goldmann certainly wasn’t one of those afraid to stand up to the Nazis. In fact he was so opposed to the Nazis that he was a member of the plot to kill Hitler.


Dom Theodore Baily: pioneer of modern religious art


By Aidan Nichols OP. 77pp. Gracewing. ISBN 978 085244 827 4. Available from Freedom Publishing. $19.95.

Reviewed by Paul Simmons

This short book is an appreciation of the life and work of Dom Theodore Baily, an English Benedictine monk who played an important role in the creation of a new style of religious art in Britain in the first half of the 20th century.

It is written by Fr Aidan Nichols, perhaps the best known and most prolific English Catholic writers of the present day, and a member of the faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University.

Although he grew up in South London, Dom Theodore’s life was spent mainly in a monastery on the island of Caldey, off the southern coast of Wales, where a small community of Benedictines lived. It had been an Anglican community until 1913, when its members decided to become Catholic.

Even at school, he was extremely gifted artistically, and family still has in its possession some of his works from his last years at school. These include an elaborately illuminated traditional version of the text of the Ave Maria, reproduced in colour in this book, and a delicate drawing of the Madonna, attended by angels.

His mother was a convert to Catholicism. His father, Francis Baily, remained Anglican but put nothing in the way of his son’s Catholic beliefs. With his family’s permission, he joined the Benedictines at the extremely young age of 16, joining the local Benedictine congregation at Downside Abbey in Somerset.

The monastic community was extremely open to outside ideas, and Dom Theodore studied and was influenced by both Japanese and Indian painting in his early life.

In 1921, he was sent by the Benedictines to Paris where he immersed himself in the French Catholic artistic community in the capital, and here discovered Eastern icons, which became a passion for the rest of his life.

His artistic interests include modern religious painting, found now in a number of churches in England, including St Martin of Tours, St Anne and the Virgin, as well as English saints.

His style was modern rather than traditional, but it employed traditional themes. His paintings employ an attractive minimalist style, and include many beautiful icons of traditional figures, including Jesus, the Virgin, and crucifixes which are inspired by the Russian icon tradition, but are modern in style.

A number of these are reproduced, in colour, in this book.

He produced woodcuts for book illustrations, designed chalices and vestments, as an expression not only of his own artistic talents, but with the support of the Benedictines themselves who were artistically far ahead of their time.

Dom Theodore Baily lived at a time when his paintings were not widely appreciated, but he bridged the gap in religious art between traditional and modern styles.

We are indebted to Aidan Nichols for bringing his works to a wider international audience. The sub-title of this book is “Iconography and the Renewal of the Liturgical Arts in England”.

Particularly in his icons, Dom Theodore Baily showed that it is possible to create beautiful works of art on traditional subjects for an audience with a preference for modern styles.


Jesus’ healing power


By Richard McAlear OMI. (Our Sunday Visitor). 176pp. ISBN 9781612785677. Available from Freedom Publishing. $31.90.

Reviewed by Paul Simmons

Fr Richard McAlear, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, has conducted a healing ministry in the United States for about 40 years, in which he brings spiritual and mental healing to people suffering from physical and spiritual illnesses.

His ministry differs from that of faith healers in that he he does not profess to heal through his own efforts, but employs the gifts Jesus gave his church to bring inner peace.

This book begins with a most interesting discussion of Jesus’ public ministry. The author points out that when Jesus came to live among his people, he performed two very specific missions: he preached the “good news” of the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick, in body or in soul.

He begins by quoting St Matthew’s Gospel: “Jesus went through Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and illness among the people.

“News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Jesus everyone who was ill with various diseases, those suffering from severe pain, the demon possessed, the epileptic, the paralytic, and He healed them all.

“Large crowds came from Galilee, from the Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea, and they even came from the regions across the Jordan, and they followed after Him.” (Matt 4:233-25)

He then links this to Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper: “The work that I do, you will also do. And even greater works than these, you will do.” (John 14:12)

The role of healing is therefore central to the mission of the Church.

In part, this is a reason why the Church has always been involved in the provision of health care. It is a fact that throughout the world, Church missions are the largest providers of health care to mankind, and some religious orders have been founded to give this care.

But he points out that this is not enough: first, because there are illnesses which medical science alone cannot solve, and secondly, because many illnesses have a spiritual or psychological dimension, for which there needs to be “healing of the human spirit, of the mind, and of the soul.”

He points out that healing can touch memories and the scares lift by traumas of betrayal, abandonment, rejection and violence.

Fr McAlear’s 17 chapters discuss a range of important issues relating to the healing ministry, answering the question of who can minister healing and how to minister healing. He explains that all of us, in differing ways, are called upon to provide assistance to those who are suffering, and in doing that, we are helping them to heal.

There are, however, people who also have both special gifts and particular training to help others, and these are important missions in the church.

Every chapter contains stories from the author’s own experiences, of people suffering, and being healed. He discusses the nature of inner healing, and the fact that a person who is suffering must desire to be healed.

He emphasises that healing can involve helping people to forgive, and to become free of guilt, and overcome depression and self-pity.

He affirms the need in the healing ministry for people to accept themselves as they are, build self-esteem, and overcome anxiety.

Above all else, he emphasises that people are healed by love.

Fr McAlear does not resile from the difficult subject of the role of evil in sickness. He says that prayer for healing will differ, depending on the type of sickness.

The first of these are physical illnesses, such as those caused by bacteria and viruses. The second are psychosomatic illnesses which are often difficult to see, but are equally real. These illnesses are “somehow intertwined and interlocked with the person’s subconscious and conscious mind. The healing minister needs to pray for underlying problems as well as the obvious physical ailment.”

The third category, he says, is the demonic or the diabolical. Despite a widespread rejection of a belief in such forces, he says anyone with experience in the healing ministry has become aware of this evil force.

Yet he offers the firm conviction of hope. In the struggle between good and evil, he says, “This is not a contest between two equal powers. Christians are not mere pawns in a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. Rather, the baptised Christian shares in the victory of Christ. By his Cross, Jesus has defeated Satan. By his resurrection, he has gained victory for everyone.”

He adds, “There is reason to have respect for the demonic world, but there is no reason to fear. Hell trembles at the very name of Jesus.”

The book ends with a meditation on the nature of the nature and purpose of suffering. Each chapter concludes with a prayer or contemplation on what has been discussed. Highly recommended.


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