Catholic Book Spotlight: The Human Person According to John Paul II reviewed by Sarah Reinhard

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Recently, I dubbed The Human Person According to John Paul II, by J. Brian Bransfield, “one of the best books I’ve read in a lonnnng time (maybe ever).” It’s time to support that statement with a few reasons why you should not only pick it up and read it, but also buy it for your parish libraryand your best friend.

This book is approachable. The most compelling reason I have for wanting to stand from my rooftop and trumpet to everyone I know that they should read this book is that it’s approachableAND that it makes the whole idea behind Theology of the Body (republished in an expanded form recently as Man and Woman He Created Them), John Paul II’s great masterpiece (which is also online), approachable.

TOB is a HUGE undertaking to read and an even bigger undertaking to understand and unpack. I’ve read a host of other authors who have tried it, and who have done well. But this is the first book that I felt like I could hand to my friends, my husband, and my pastor with absolutely no compunction. It’s one of the only books I have purchased after receiving a review copy, and one of an even smaller number that I know I’ll be buying again.

There’s heavy, deep stuff in this book, because that’s the topic, but it’s written in a way that makes you comfortable. My husband thought, for the first two-thirds of the book, that I was reading a novel, and his eyebrows were lost in his hairline for a day or two when he found out it was nonfiction.

The Human Person presents a difficult topic in a very tangible way. There’s a reason Jesus spoke in parables, and this book demonstrates that wisdom in its explanation and demonstration of difficult concepts. Bransfield also has a way of linking things together that seem unexpected at first, but that work out to be brilliant together.

Take, for example, the entire last chapter of the book, “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Beatitudes, and the Virtues.” Now, I knew by this point in the book that I wouldn’t be falling asleep, but the title did leave me wondering what in the world I could expect, especially as it relates to John Paul II’s teaching. What followed was an in-depth discussion of those three things AND — this is the best part — a weaving together that made me look at my own life differently.

I love how different parts of the Catholic faith are tied into each other, but to think of the Beatitudes and the virtues you’re living when you fulfill a beatitude…well, that was a new one for me. And the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Where’d those come from? And what do they mean? I found out in a way that seared it into my mind and made me want to keep going, keep exploring, keep learning.

What’s wonderful about how John Paul II taught about the human person and the body is that he maintained that it’s a beautiful thing. Bransfield teased this underlying theme out and explored it using experiences from our common human experience — at one point, he was talking about young children, at another point, about driving. It read like an ongoing conversation, in some ways, and that made it all the more real to me.

Bransfield motivates me as a reader. Bransfield’s obviously a natural teacher, because he taps into so many different stories and experiences throughout this book, and he also uses other people’s wisdom. He references the entire body of John Paul II’s work as well as many of the others who have written about it. This book becomes, then, a sort of “best of,” written by someone who has a gift for sharing it and making you want to hunt down the source material for more.

I found myself wanting to ditch my reading pile and just pick up Theology of the Body (both the shiny new one and the old, dog-eared copy) for myself. He made me want to revisit Love and Responsibility and a couple of the encyclicals I’ve been meaning to reread.

He made me want to keep learning, keep digging, keep immersing myself.

He made me want to WAKE UP, and maybe that’s the biggest nod I can give any author, especially one writing about such an important and life-changing topic.

This book is written by an expert. Above all, Bransfield knows what he’s talking about. There are not only a million footnotes (which are also worth reading, by the way — some great stuff buried there in the back of the book!), but there’s also that air of confidence that comes from really knowing your material. This book is the Real Deal, made even more delightful by the fact that it is so approachable and tangible as it covers such a difficult topic.

The Human Person According to John Paul II gets my highest recommendation. I’d lend you my copy, but it’s dog-eared and underlined and written in many of the margins and, really, I’m not willing to part with it. (I don’t say that about many books, mind you.) I think you’ll find this to be a book worth reading, rereading, and studying. You might even find that it will take you down the road of reading Theology of the Body itself. Happy reading!

Special thanks to the folks at Pauline Books & Media for sending me a review copy. They didn’t expect me to rave (or to demand that they sell more copies); they just sent me the book when I wrote in and unabashedly asked if I could review it after hearing Lisa’s interview with Fr. Bransfield on Catholic Moments.

Copyright 2010 Sarah Reinhard

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  1. Sarah, thanks for sharing this thoughtful review. I too loved Fr. Bransfield’s book and one of the highlights of my summer was getting to meet him in person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this great book!

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