Communion of Saints by Stephen Walford, Angelico Press, £17

Subtitled “The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ”, this book explores a doctrine that, as Walford suggests, went out of fashion after the Second Vatican Council: the communion among members of the Church on earth (the Church Militant), the Holy Souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering) and those who have achieved the Beatific Vision of God in heaven (the Church Triumphant).

If this doctrine seems quaintly theological, Walford argues with both scholarship and passion that it is central to the life of Christians on earth. Often, he writes, people seem to regard the Church “more like an NGO than the Sacrament of Salvation for humanity”. Indeed, he thinks it is essential “that we rediscover the richness of the supernatural life of the Church”.

Using Scripture, the Magisterium and the writings and revelations of the saints, Walford would like Catholics to understand that the phrase “communion of saints” means the highest interchange of mutual love – and that it is this kind of love, rather than the tolerant and polite acceptance of division among the Christian churches, that should inspire our conversations with those outside the Church and “with those asleep to the knowledge and love of the Lord in the geographic and existential peripheries of the world”.

Echoing Pope Francis, Walford emphasises that there is no greater mission in life than “the task of bringing the lost and wounded into [Jesus’s] presence”. Reflecting on the particular charisms of recent popes, the author thinks that the charism of Pope Francis is his genuine desire “to change the mentality that too often prevails in the Church: one of mediocrity and narcissism”.

He lists a tendency to judgmentalism, spiritual petrification and vainglory as the kind of creeping vices members of the Church are often prey to. To counter this tendency, so vividly pointed out by the Holy Father, Walford believes that we in the Church Militant need to experience personal transformation in Christ, reflecting Christ’s own mercy, humility and concern for the poor.

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