October 2002By Thomas Ellis
Blue Hope. By Robert Waldron. Paraclete Press. 128 pages. $13.95.
In this pleasant novella, Robert Waldron brings us on a pilgrimage with one John Highet, a self-proclaimed agnostic desperately seeking to end his ever deeper bouts of depression by meeting and writing the authorized biography of his poetic-icon-turned-cloistered-Brother, Ethan Seegard. In order to meet his idol, Highet must make a retreat to the New Rievaulx Abbey, where Seegard resides. It is the experience of the retreat the simplicity of life at the Abbey, the liturgy of the hours, the silence coupled with his meeting Seegard that open to Highet a world he had left in his youth, a world of peace and beauty and hope. The Seegard character is an enigmatic and wonderful literary invention worth experiencing. Waldron has created a believable, intimate, and enjoyable story with gorgeous descriptiveness and real, yet fallible, heroes.
Captive Flames: On Selected Saints and Christian Heroes. By Ronald Knox. Ignatius. 184 pages. $12.95.
Captive Flames is not a collection of life stories, but rather of profound yet pithy reflections on what made certain saints and heroes worthy of having their life stories passed on to posterity. What makes Msgr. Knoxs reflections on the 21 saints or heroes presented in this book a pleasant anomaly among saint books is the attention he pays to the secondary details that make each one of his subjects inimitable. Knox points out, indeed, that the more we focus on the dominant characteristics of various saints and heroes, the more they all begin to look exactly alike. It is only by concentrating on the peculiarities of each saint or hero, and finding what is unique in them, that we are able to discover one who seems to fit our own temperament and after whom we may model our own life. Attending to the idiosyncrasies of each more beautifully demonstrates the distinct, personal relationship existing between the saint or hero and God.
Not every reflection, however, conforms to this model. There are those, such as St. Gregory the Great and St. Thomas More, whom Knox treats not so much as individuals, but as exemplars signifying the rise and fall of historical epochs or schools of thought. In a superb, succinct style, Knox shows that the world in which the saints lived is not so vastly different from our own, and thus the saints or heroes are powerfully relevant today.