Deep Conversion Deep Prayer
Friday (triple!) Book Picks: Prayer Primer, Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer, and Fire Within
by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Perhaps the turning of the year has brought with it the usual resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, and eat healthier. Hopefully, not without resolving also to do something good for your soul in the New Year. Perhaps the pandemic has prepared you to change in the ways that matter most. If so, these three books, all by Fr. Dubay, will be worth having—and reading—in the months ahead.
†Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., was a priest of The Society of Mary commonly known as the Marist Fathers, or Marists. The congregation was founded by Father Jean-Claude Colin in Lyon, France, in 1816. The founding of the Marists was a response to the suppression of the Jesuits, who were so fundamental to Catholic education that their suppression left a significant void. The Holy Spirit raised up a charism to fill it.
More than a century later, Fr. Dubay brilliantly applied his charism of education to help fill the void left by the aftermath of Vatican II. When religious communities were losing their bearings, he was like a lighthouse in the midst of the storm, guiding ships to a safe harbor. Having lived religious life 67 years, given decades of retreats, years of classes and countless hours of spiritual direction, and having written over twenty books, mostly on consecrated life and prayer, it is safe to say that Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., was an expert on the spiritual life. My own community had the privilege of having him a total of five times for community retreats over the years.
The first of the three book picks is Prayer Primer—a well titled book for beginners. This book gives clear explanations for terms you have heard but may not have understood, ideas you have been exposed to but were not really sure if you were understanding them appropriately. Terms such as “discursive meditation” and “contemplation.” He has a chapter on liturgical prayer and on the Liturgy of the Hours. He answers common questions and addresses basic obstacles and gives fantastic advice throughout this excellent little book. (If you’re only going to get one of the three, get this one.)
Here are some golden nuggets from Prayer Primer:
“Living things grow slowly, and so does our power to carry on a conversation with others and with God. We need patience, perseverance and mostly love.”
“Success in meditation is not due first of all to a lively imagination but to much love.”
“Private devotions such as family rosary are beneficial but we should not so multiply them that we have little time for meditation and contemplation.”
“I can assure you from long experience that this is perhaps the hardest lesson for beginners to learn: an empty-feeling desire for God is precious prayer."
Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer is a brief (122 pages), clear exposition of what is needed to change and to grow. Fr. Dubay observes (as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and other saints have) that while conversion from mortal sin, to mediocrity may be somewhat common, the conversion from mediocrity to holiness is rare indeed, even among consecrated persons.
Jesus’ first words in the Gospel, “Be converted. And accept the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), as Fr. Dubay points out, is a mere six words, ten syllables, and yet even after centuries we have not plumbed the depth of this statement. “Be converted: that is, be changed, refashioned, even transformed from your present condition or stance to another, perhaps an opposite other.” Fr. Dubay moves through ten chapters of hard-hitting, truth-telling analysis of the human condition and the path to deep intimacy with God through conversion and acceptance of the Gospel.
Everyone knows that to live the Gospel is no easy proposal. It does require a daily acceptance of the cross, after all. But Fr. Dubay takes on the role of an energetic coach convinced that his protégé (any reader of his book) can climb to great heights of sanctity. Chapter Nine: A Surefire Program lays out a plan to attain the goal. Fr. Dubay is a great teacher of the Christian life because he took Jesus at His word. Let him guide you through the process of conversion this year. The reward for turning from the lower and earthly things (including the small things) is the embrace of the higher, more beautiful things—namely, deeper prayer and deeper intimacy with the Beloved. There are no shortcuts. It is deep conversion that yields deep prayer.
Some gems from Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer:
“The most basic healing of our deepest wounds comes from contemplative intimacy with the Indwelling Trinity and the deep conversion that makes it possible.”
“Among all the worldviews it is the Gospel alone that produces the beauty of the saints.”
“The fundamental conversion is the renouncing of this pervasive egoism and the turning to the altruistic love for objective truth, goodness and beauty.”
“It is the saints who light fires. There is a direct correlation between holiness and the fruitfulness of our work and interpersonal relationships.”
The third book pick for ongoing spiritual growth in 2021 is Father Dubay’s classic, Fire Within. This book takes the revolutionary teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross on prayer and explains them in a way that a modern American reader can understand—not reducing any of their transformative impact. This book has become a fundamental resource for teachers of prayer, spiritual directors, and retreat masters. †Fr. Benedict quoted from it often.
Fr. Dubay covers detachment, the dark nights, stages of growth and sundry other topics relevant to the growing convert dedicated to prayer.
Here are some quotes to ponder from Fire Within:
“Prayer and poverty are twins. They live or die together.”
“While detachment furthers prayer, so also prayer furthers detachment.”
“Anyone who wants seriously to attain union with God must follow Jesus in the humiliations of His passion and crucifixion.”
“The contemplative prayer given by the Holy Spirit burns faults away and produces virtues.”
If you are setting out to make prayer a greater priority in your life in this New Year, remember it is God Himself Who put this desire in you. He is yearning for you more—infinitely more—than you for Him. The One Who beckons you will give you what you need to stick to it, to persevere, to learn to pray.
Fr. Thomas Dubay went on to his eternal reward on September 26, 2010, after spending 60 years of priesthood helping as many people as possible navigate the journey to the beauty “no eye has seen nor ear heard.” Father is assisting us still, with these books and dozens of others, for those in search of a trustworthy guide.
Mother Clare, CFR