Looking for a last minute Christmas gift idea for an informed Catholic? If so, you might consider a fun—yet insightful—book about Saint John XXIII by Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS, a skilled illustrator and artist.
This colorful book tells the story of the Good Saint John XXIII (Clear Faith Publishing, 2014). The 100-page book presents the legacy of one of Christianity’s most important figures by weaving together quotations from John XXIII, Pope Francis, and St. Francis de Sales with McGrath’s original illustrations.
On the surface, this might be confused with a book for children. The skillfully drawn illustrations are colorful and almost whimsical. But this is no book for kids. By uplifting the story of John XXIII, McGrath raises many important points about the present and future of the church. The selected quotes draw our attention to very serious issues from the reform of the church to peace.
In many ways, McGrath’s artistic form and style embodies the call of Pope Francis for us to become a joyful church. For those of us with many dry, colorless books about theology, this is a great addition. While some might disagree with me, McGrath’s book makes a much better coffee table book than Edward Schillebeeckx’s Christ.
In going through this book, I found myself wanting to tear our many pages to frame and hang-up. Toward the end, McGrath includes a number of illustrations of the humorous sayings attributed to John XXIII that are familiar to many of us.
There is an image of Pope Francis and John XXIII that I wish I could hang up on my office door. In this illustration, Pope Francis says, “Congrats on the Canonization” and John XXIII responds, “I couldn’t have done it without you!” The similarities between the two popes is very clear and it is great to see an image of the two of them together.
Throughout the book, McGrath frequently includes a happy little dove in his illustrations. My favorite image of the dove is one where it is warmly embracing Pope John. There is also an image of the little bird on a subway car with Pope Francis. With this, McGrath reminds us that for all that John XXIII has done and all that Francis is doing, it is fundamentally the Holy Spirit that is guiding the church. Sometimes, a joyful image can remind us of truths in ways that words cannot.
As we continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, this book is a great gift for anyone who cares about the legacy of the council called by the humble and joyful John XXIII.