Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review: Father Ray Ryland's Memoir

Father Ray Ryland died on March 20th this year after a fall on the steps on his way to Perpetual Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The Coming Home network honored him, their chaplain, in their June newsletter and offered his memoir as a premium for a donation to their work helping Protestant clergy and their families on their "Journey Home" to Rome.

As the publisher, Emmaus Road, describes the memoir:

A fascinating autobiography in the spirit of Bl. John Henry Newman, Drawn from Shadows Into Truth: A Memoir is the intriguing story of how a married minister in the Disciples of Christ eventually came to be an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. This captivating narrative of Father Ryland’s quest for Jesus Christ and the One Church He founded is a spiritual and intellectual adventure—from a poor Oklahoma farm boy to a naval officer to a Protestant minister to a Harvard lawyer to a married Catholic priest with five children, twenty-two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Pick it up, and you’ll be unable to put it down!

Father Ryland's conversion and his memoir were both obviously inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman--the title of the latter confirms this influence, as it echoes the motto carved on Newman's gravestone: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. Ryland even follows Newman's path from Bible Christianity (Disciples of Christ in Ryland's childhood), to personal conversion, to rationalism (and in Ryland's case Unitarianism), to the via media of Anglo-Catholicism, to the one true fold of Christ, the Catholic Church. Father Ryland provides details about his childhood religion in Crescent, Oklahoma, his college days, his service in the Navy during World War II, including his consistent, though undecided, call to ministry. He finally does, however, decide to become a minister, but soon realizes that since he does not believe that Jesus Christ is God, his ministry would be a utilitarian effort to help people understand Jesus's teachings and way of life. With his wife Ruth, Father Ryland continues to study theology and grow in his understanding of Jesus and His Church. He was a very well educated man.

For awhile, both Ryland and his wife are comfortable as Anglo-Catholics in the Episcopal Church, although his High Church liturgical practices are not always acceptable to his parishioners. When they recognize, like Newman, that the Church of England/the Episcopal Church is not the true Church founded by Jesus, they do explore Eastern Orthodoxy. Ryland carefully explains why they could not find their religious home there and how they finally came to the Catholic Church while serving the Episcopalian Church in Oklahoma, where he was born and raised. Becoming Catholic meant the loss of friends, estrangement from family, and being without a job or livelihood. Catholic friends help with the latter and begin to replace the former, but the family relationships take longer to heal.

Father Ray explains how he begins his new life as a Catholic. He was ordained as a Permanent Deacon and practiced law. Then he became the second priest ordained under the Pastoral Provision established by St. John Paul II, the antecedent in a way to the Anglican Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI. His life story really ends there as he describes his teaching career at the University of San Diego and then at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio and his work with the Coming Home Network. In the last seven chapters of the book, Father Ryland explores several themes from his life: the authority of Jesus and His Church, an explanation of the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, and the essential discipline of priestly celibacy among them.

It is a very readable book. It did need another set of eyes as some errors slipped by the proofreader and editor. Father Ian Ker's name, for example, is misspelled on the back cover (Kerr). The few typos are minor errors in view of Father Ryland's great intellectual gifts to the Church and his magnificent example of faithfulness to the Truth.

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