Priest shines light on suffering
KEEP IT LIGHT: Praying through Suffering into Joy, by Larry Kaufmann CSsR (Redemptorist Pastoral Publication, Merrivale). 2017. 84pp. R70
Reviewed by Fr Kevin Reynolds
The sub-title of this 84-page book by the well-known South African Redemptorist missioner, Fr Larry Kaufmann, succinctly states its purpose. In his introduction, the author writes that the book’s eight chapters rest on a single foundational principle: “The only spiritual life is life itself in all its ambiguity and pain; its hopes and dreams. The ‘spiritual’ part of ‘spiritual life’ does not discard our humanity or put us onto some sort of angelic plane. For the Christian it refers to the grace and working of the Holy Spirit at the heart of human existence itself. Grace builds on nature. Grace does not replace nature.”
This means the spiritual life is open to everyone, not only to the clergy and religious.
Those who have attended a parish mission conducted by Fr Kaufmann are familiar not only with his clear and enticing style of preaching but also with his practical teaching in his optional school of prayer offered every morning after the second parish Mass.
This school exposes participants each day to different methods of prayer. With such an emphasis on prayer in his parish missions, it is not surprising Fr Kaufmann concludes each chapter in this book with an ancient prayer from our Judeo-Christian tradition, a psalm, that reflects beautifully the essential content of his presentation.
As I read this book, I grew in my own sense of its developing mood of prayer interwoven in everything Fr Kaufmann records.
The chapter headings strikingly illustrate the author’s sensitivity to life’s limitations and brokenness. What makes Fr Kaufmann’s narrative authentic is his sharing events from his own life to illustrate his message.
Thus, in his first chapter on depression he admits that as a growing boy, if post-natal depression had been more freely spoken about, in his later childhood and early teens he might have been more understanding of his mother after each of his younger four siblings were born.
In his chapter on healing memories, Fr Kaufmann recounts how as a four-year-old in hospital, he thought his parents were abandoning him as they bade him farewell at the end of visiting hours. This misunderstanding was healed only in his adult years.
Similarly, in his chapter on suffering and injustice, Fr Kaufmann shares his experience in 1986 of being detained by the Security Police for two weeks, for his pastoral care for striking workers of the Sarmcol rubber factory in Howick, several of whom were his parishioners.
A particularly touching incident of Fr Kaufmann’s detention was what his father, Anthony, inscribed in a copy of the Bible he brought him in prison: “To Larry, Matthew 3:17, Your Dad”. When Larry checked that text he found that his father had highlighted it, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
In the spirit of Fr Kaufmann’s openness to his own human vulnerability, I found his chapter on debilitating illness particularly valuable in the light of my minor stroke in July.
Appropriately, a confrere of Fr Kaufmann, deaf and blind Fr Cyril Axelrod, writes the book’s foreword. In coming to terms with his physical impairments, Fr Axelrod describes them as God’s special gifts to him.
Significantly the last section of the book’s final chapter states again, “The only spiritual life is life itself.” Once more this emphasises that this book is intended for everyone and as such can assist us all in our lifelong journey.
Also new from Redemptorist Publications is The Prayer Book of Jesus by Fr Sean Wales CSsR, and the revised edition of Learn To Pray. See rpp.org.za