The sanctifier

The sanctifier

A book review of: “The Sanctifier” by Luis M. Martinez

On the back of the book was written: “Luis Maria Martinez (1881-1956), the Archbishop of Mexico City and gifted orator and writer, was admired for his intense dedication to the needs of his people during the turbulent years of persecution of the Church in Mexico. Today he is perhaps best known as the author of The Sanctifier”

Lately I’ve been reading the Bible Book of Joshua, and it occurred to me that the conquering of the land by the Israelites was a fitting image of how we learn to inhabit our own soul. Just as there are various different places in Israel, valleys, hills, mountains, deserts, so there are depths and heights within each of us. And it can be quite a struggle to get to know all these parts, we may need to fight against powers within ourselves that hinder us from living our life as full as God intended when he created us.

This book, the sanctifier, is a bit like a description of the land we’re about to conquer. He is like one of the spies who went into the country and now tells us what it’s like. He describes the gifts and fruits, and ends with a description of the summits of the mountain peaks (the beatitudes). We may or may not believe him, or we might not dare to enter, as the Jews at first. But then we will certainly miss out on this great experience.

A description of a land is nice, but to actually be in there is better. As Mr Martinez writes: “When we are united to God when we enjoy him by an intimate experience, we have a much better knowledge of divine things than through the descriptions of scholars or through the books of the wisest of men.” (p211) Reading this book was like reading such beautiful descriptions, but at the same time it was also a growing awareness that these gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are available to me too.

It is a gentle book. Although it describes great heights of sanctity, it also continuously stresses that spiritual growth is a slow process, it takes time and we can trust God to give us whatever we need at the right time. So no need to worry or frantically try to change. Just pray for the help of the Holy Spirit.

I especially liked the introduction to the part on the gifts, where he describes the difference between our feeble attempts and the strength and ease that come through the influence of the Holy Spirit. He compares our sanctification with the creation of a piece of art. The Holy Spirit is the master artist, and we are the pupils, with the task to help, but always under his guidance. And “when he comes to the delicate, finest part, where he will reveal his genius, where the inspiration will be crystallized, then the pupils put down their brushes and the master takes over.” (p139) Oh, to be in the presence of such an artist, even to be his work of art!

Especially towards the end of the book he writes a lot about suffering. At first more in the sense of acknowledging that our lives are filled with ups and downs, and that this is true even more so of our spiritual life. I found these statements very comforting. Later he describes how the Holy Spirit can teach us to find joy in suffering, these also ring true to me and very much a description of what is necessary to learn in this life, however difficult. In the last chapter he writes very beautifully about how pain and love are joined together in Jesus’ death and how this will become true for us the more we become like Jesus. I found it beautifully described, although I wonder about these as they seem to encourage seeking martyrdom in a way that almost adores pain.

For protestant readers some things in the book may be a bit bewildering: for example how he uses the theories on grace and virtues and how they are all ordered. Also Saint Thomas of Aquinas is often quoted and given great authority, which can create a bit of a difficulty when you are versed in ‘sola scriptura’. Personally I have come to appreciate this orderly way of speaking about our internal life and find it very useful. The book certainly rings true to me, it is obvious that the archbishop knew what he was writing about from experience.

I find his vivid and poetic descriptions very encouraging, deeply moving and inspiring, and heartily recommend reading this book, whilst simultaneously praying to the Holy Spirit about these topics in which we are to cooperate!

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