Review of The Family on Pilgrimage, God Leads Through Dead Ends

The Family on Pilgrimage, God Leads Through Dead Ends by Francis Etheredge is a somewhat unusual and slightly unconventional read.  Father, author, lecturer, poet, philosopher, public speaker, influential Catholic commentator Francis Etheredge takes us on a personal and engaging pilgrimage of faith and discovery on the spiritual journey of life.  It is richly illustrated by testimonies of a number of other fellow pilgrims he encountered on that way.


The structure of the book consists of a prologue, mainly on the theme of pilgrimage, a series of chapters, one on The Family on Pilgrimage, Pilgrims to the Word of God, World Youth Day 2016, the Vocation of Marriage along with the Vocation to Write.  If concludes with and epilogue and postscript.


Useful reflections and definitions on the meaning of pilgrimage are given in the prologue.  These are given with the backdrop of the Scriptures with which the author is so familiar and so much at home.  Old and New Testament background on pilgrimage is given along with the tradition of the Church and he links it into the contemporary quest for authentic human identity.   On page 18 we read:


“Pilgrimage, then, can be about the journey we make to find who we are, whether throughout our lives are in the particular “moments” of crisis, homelessness or illness: but, more generally, it is about that search for meaning which, in the end, is a journey into the mystery of God and His Word: witnessing to the existence of God, to the help of His Word and the church and to the hope that we all need to live through the difficulties we experience.”


Illustrations on The Holy Family, Saint John Paul II, Mr. and Mrs Etheredge on Pilgrimage, Saint Teresa of Avila, Our Lady, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Maximiliam Kolbe appropriately intersperse the text.


There is a kaleidoscope of prose accounts, testimonies and poems that artistically and aptly illustrate the points being made.


Using the thought of Edith Stein there is an interesting exploration of modern feminism, the identification of women in the Church and the vocation of the laity with particular reference to St. John Henry Newman on page 134.  In exploring what is termed “A Real or Imagined Injustice to Women” the author reflects on the ideas of Edith Stein and concludes on page 137 “There is, in other words, a vocation in virtue of being a woman which is as indispensable as being a man but characteristically different.”


In Chapter Four there is an in-depth exploration of the vocation of Marriage, the “Trials of Marriage”, the modern crisis in relation to marriage and also sensitively explores issues like openness to life, chastity, abstinence, the reality of the breakdown of some marriages and the implications for Church practice, discipline and society in general.  These reflections situate the vocation of Marriage in the context of faith and he sums up on page 195:


“… just as marriage exists in the context of the whole of salvation history, so it benefits from the call to conversion (cf. Humanae Vitae 29): the greatest call which in acts in us to fulfillment of the promised covenant of love to which God calls us.”


There is a broad ranging and personal exploration of the vocation to be a writer and some of the many challenges therein.  Over the past months I have been engaged in doing a short publication on the spiritual writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  Like Etheredge, Merton had writing in his veins and lived out his vocation through his vocation writing and sharing the Good News of the Gospel with others.  We are fortunate to have a writer of the calibre of Francis who combines the erudition of scholarship with a mature, down to earth and realistic interweaving of the experience of a family, faith and contemporary Church life.


While the epilogue admits that the book is a “willful conglomeration of disparate pieces” they are in the overall scheme of things united by what he calls “the call to faith” and the living out of that through whatever pilgrimage we are called to embark upon.  I found this a very engaging work, especially the personal testimony and story of the author and have been much enriched and edified by his insights for which I am very thankful.


✠ Fintan Monahan