Instances of Discovery

In Catholic Courier (diocese of Rochester, NY). Review by Rachelle Linner. 2021-07-28

The best spiritual memoirs are both particular and universal — rooted in the author’s experience and yet expansive enough to allow the reader to gain new insights into their own journey with God.

Patrick Henry’s “Flashes of Grace” is a wonderful contribution to the genre. It is marked by restraint, humility, gratitude, intellectual and spiritual honesty, humor and delight. The book is a model of ecumenical sensitivity and reflects his 20 years as executive director of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (1984-2004) at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

“I am incurably curious,” Henry writes in “Grace in Christian Autobiography.” “Autobiography intrigues me because it lets me in on other people’s lives. But more, the autobiographer, despite superficial appearances of self-indulgence and self-regard, is engaged in an essentially communal activity.”

“Flashes of Grace” is not a straightforward autobiography — it is more like the best kind of rambling conversation with a new acquaintance who quickly becomes a friend.

Henry writes in a ruminative, accessible way and each thematic chapter concludes with “In a Word,” concise summaries of where he encounters different aspects of God’s grace. Each narrative elicits one of 33 characteristics of grace — from intimidating, therapeutic and daring to bighearted, enduring and demanding.

Henry’s compelling anecdotes reference contemporary culture, theologians and scientists, movies and television shows, war and the environment, diversity and feminism. By paying attention to the specificity of his experience he has given us a profoundly incarnational book.

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