Living Under the Influence – a book review

404618_LARGEA phrase often overheard – for good or ill – at a bar is, “I’ll have another.” Yes, have another drink, you’ll loosen up and feel good.

Or will you? Perhaps you will end up, “under the influence” and that is not necessarily so good.

Years ago I heard Richard Rohr speak about the notion that alcohol was called “spirits,” something that I had not thought of before that moment. But we consume “spirits” or alcohol, to get a little buzz and feel good, and we begin to fall “under the influence.”

In his latest book, “Under the Influence of Jesus,” (Loyola Press, 176 pp, $15.95)  the wise and prolific Joe Paprocki sets forth a vision. The subtitle of the book says it all – “The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ.” Forget how we feel if we have a few drinks, how do we feel after we experience Jesus?

catechists-best-friendBefore we get started, let me say this, if you don’t know Joe – get to know Joe! I have had the good fortune to hear him speak many times, as he often visits us here in Albany, for our Spring Enrichment catechetical conference. You can find a list of his “comings and goings” here. He is “the catechist’s catechist,” and host of the blog, The Catechist’s Journey, and has authored numerous books.

The new book begins with a question that came up as Joe and his wife were visiting Hawaii. After seeing the Polynesian Cultural Center, awash in the wonder of learning about those other cultures, he began to think about others learning about the Catholic church. Would it be as vital, exciting, and interesting? That it should be is one thing, but is it always? Like the author, we have all likely had experiences of liturgies that were less than wonderful.

As we have just celebrated Pentecost, we know the power and importance of the Spirit, when so many were drawn together, hearing all as one, united in Christ. Yes, the very Spirit promised to us by Christ, comes to reconcile, unite, heal, console, and enliven us in Christ.

That is the message of “Under the Influence.” When we fall under the influence of the Spirit, the power of Christ, we have no choice but to boldly live and proclaim our faith with joy. This experience should loosen us up, but unlike with alcohol, this influence is meant to loosen us up to live more boldly in the Spirit.

Using story and accessing a wide variety of resources, the book reads quickly and powerfully. Each chapter takes a different perspective, guiding and encouraging us to live our faith more deeply and with more joy. That is evangelizing, drawing others to Christ, not through admonition or threat, but with love. Although I never saw my faith or enthusiasm about sharing my faith as flagging, reading “Under the Influence” got me all stirred up for more!

One of my favorite chapters was “You Make Me Want To Be a Better Man, Coming to Grips with Our Brokenness.” The exploration of conversion – and how conversion is an on-going path really brought it all together for me. This conversion cannot happen in ourselves, let alone us bringing the light of Christ to others, if we don’t face our brokenness. And there is only one way to begin that healing journey, which is to do so in and with Christ. Addressing the various stages of this journey, the author makes for a compelling vision of a life of Catholic faith.

Quoting and sourcing a tremendous variety of people and resources, as varied as the US Bishops Conference documents, Richard Rohr, St. Francis, Tim Muldoon, Joseph Ratzinger, Teresa of Avila, Robert Barron, Pedro Arrupe SJ, Scripture, and Joe builds a rich foundation for his enthusiastic invitation into a deeper life of faith. Add to that his comfortable weaving of films, music, and other elements of contemporary life that we can all relate to, and you have one very fine book.

As you can tell, I highly recommend this volume! It is a tremendous personal reference, and it would make a wonderful gift. I can see how a parish or diocese would want to encourage its use or make it available to catechists and other lay ministers. If you ask me, no RCIA team should be without it – both those who lead and those who learn! There are many uses for “Under the Influence.” It would also make a great spiritual book club selection. If I were a bishop, this is the kind of book I would want to put into the hands of every priest in my diocese. Yes – it is that good.

What are you waiting for? The book  will help you “set the world on fire.” On this day after Pentecost, aren’t you ready to do that? Start now!





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