“Who Do You Say I Am?: Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints and the Answer That Is Christ” by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. Image (New York, 2019). 369 pp, $26.
By Brian T. Olszewski
Anyone who has ever heard Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan — in personal conversation, interviewed on TV, giving a homily or addressing a conference — knows the archbishop of New York is not at a loss for words.
Nor is he at a loss for words in his new book, “Who Do You Say I Am?”
He provides a reflection for each day of the year on a variety of topics and about a diverse group of people. One will not know what to expect from page to page, which is why this will not become a “thought for the day” book that collects dust on a shelf. Readers will be curious about the topic of his latest reflection.
At times it is a retreatlike examination of conscience, e.g., on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, he asks: “Am I living up to what I profess? Where do I fall short, and what about my life needs changing?”
He employs the same approach Oct. 11 when he writes about the threefold mission of the church — to sanctify, serve and teach. It’s instructive, not preachy.
Some pages have an advice columnist tone. On June 9, he offers three steps for someone wishing to return to the church: Prayer, celebrating Sunday Mass and making a good confession. He does so in a voice that is not demanding but reassuring and welcoming.
Reading page after page, one realizes there isn’t a topic about which Cardinal Dolan can’t write. Among his reflection subjects are gratitude, freedom, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, patience, friendship, Stan Musial and pasta (He begins one reflection with, “I love to eat”).
He provides catechesis on Advent, Lent and Easter, as well as about numerous saints, e.g., St. John the Evangelist, St. Irenaeus, St. Damien of Molokai, St. Katharine Drexel. He also makes references to the lives of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Lest a lesson get by the reader, the cardinal writes about some of them multiple times, including children and family. Each page includes a quotation from Scripture to set the tone for what he writes.
All of the writing is good, but some parts are better than others. The strongest material is when he writes about personal experiences. One reflection involves his 8-year-old niece being diagnosed with bone cancer. Another is about his mother living in an assisted living facility and her concern that she’s a burden on her children.
One of the most poignant is his story about visiting a prison and being presented a sketch of Jesus on the cross that was done by an inmate who had sketched himself on the cross next to Jesus. The onlookers in the artwork were several of his fellow inmates. The artist told the cardinal, “We’re all right there with Christ on the cross.”
“Who Do You Say I Am?” is a worthwhile investment for those who want daily spiritual nourishment. Cardinal Dolan provides much about which to think and pray — and smile — and he delivers it in a manner readers will enjoy.
Brian T. Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, biweekly publication of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.