Experts in Humanity: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Healing, by Josephine Lombardi, (Novalis, softcover, 143 pages, $18.95). Photo courtesy of Novalis

Book Review: Paths to truth a humbling and painful journey

By  Brian Welter, Catholic Register Special
  • January 29, 2017

Experts in Humanity: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Healing, by Josephine Lombardi, (Novalis, softcover, 143 pages, $18.95).

Josephine Lombardi, a professor at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary, offers a wide-ranging introduction to Christian psychology and spirituality.

Her multi-disciplinary approach examines genetics, psychology and sociology, as well as theology. While she is unafraid to inject her own experiences as well as a hypothetical case study of a composite figure, these excursions do not take over the discussion, as often happens in such books.

Basing her argument as much on personal experience and particular pastoral challenges as she does on theology risks turning the doctrine into the handmaiden of the social sciences — a frequent problem for writers of spirituality and pastoral psychology.

Lombardi strengthens the theological side of the discussion by repeatedly emphasizing God’s grace. She invites us into a painful examination of the truth about ourselves. Without grace, combined with deep understanding and acceptance of God’s unconditional love for us, such an examination of ourselves will result in shame rather than what we really need.

“God uses our remorse to transform us and to give us a new start. Remorse is ‘deep regret for one’s wrongdoing;’ it can lead to repentance or conversion. Shame, on the other hand, can lead to self-loathing and hiding,” Lombardi writes.

It is this focus on the truth of ourselves, our family, our marriages and work relationships that forms the core of Experts in Humanity. Our relationships, and especially how we handle crisis and conflict, help us come to know ourselves. Such insight requires humility.

“To be humble,” Lombardi writes, “we must bring our character weaknesses to prayer…. Surrendering our self-image to the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth: then the real work of restoration can begin, eliminating all defects of character that block the restoration process.”

The author does not romanticize the spiritual life. The spiritual journey is hard, painful work — but it sets us free. Throughout the book, Lombardi emphasizes our lack of freedom when we are held in bondage to generational issues such as addiction, or immature ways of handling conflict, such as the silent treatment and shunning. This is where the author makes use of tradition most fruitfully. She turns to a Catholic understanding of reason which proposes limits to our appetites.

“To be free, you need to be able to reason, be objective and be patient. Most of all, be informed and bring all decisions to prayer,” she writes.

Christianity frees us from determinism, in other words.

Liberty, as experienced in the spiritual life, is not easy. We cannot always see the fruit of our prayer, humility and self-examination. Other people might not change. In fact, our search for the truth might lead to an explosion of anger and further rejection from others who do not want your new direction.

Here again Lombardi invokes the Catholic tradition, speaking not only of purgatory in this life, but of the need, perhaps, for purgatory in the next — where full restoration of relationships will finally occur. This is a daring yet refreshing re-examination of the great Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

Despite being profoundly hopeful, this possible delay into the next life pushes faith to the limits. Our timing, as the author points out, does not always match God’s timing, meaning that the spiritual life also requires a good deal of patience and letting go.

Her point about purgatory bears witness to the author’s experience as a pastoral counsellor. The spiritual life does not always provide easy answers. Spiritual processes are not linear, but cyclical. Basic elements of sanctification — purgation, illumination and union with God — are experienced again and again, as the Holy Spirit works on different areas of our lives.

Experts in Humanity never strays from the basics of Catholic theology and spirituality. It offers a solid introduction to pastoral counselling and pastoral psychology.

(Brian Welter is a Canadian freelance writer living in Taiwan.)

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