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Book review: Why Be Afraid?

Why Be Afraid? A Retreat
by Douglas McManaman
Justin Press
ISBN: 978-0-9917996-6-4
102 pages, softcover
$12.95 CDN

Deacon Douglas McManaman is a Permanent Deacon for the Archdiocese of Toronto, ministering especially to those who suffer from mental illness. A high school teacher for twenty-five years, he teaches Religion and Philosophy to senior high school students and is currently the chaplain for the Toronto Catholic Teachers Guild. Why Be Afraid? is based on a retreat he gave.

I bought this book for one of my university-aged sons who is struggling with his faith and drifting farther away from what ought to be the centre of his young life: God and His Church. Before giving it to him, I read Why Be Afraid? to find suggestions that would help me help my son. And I found what I was looking for.

The book begins in 1978. As Deacon Doug explains, “I was living in Oakville, practicing banjo eight hours a day and living almost completely in dreamland. I was not a Catholic, I knew nothing of the Catholic faith, and I hadn’t seen the inside of a church since Grade 3.” While riding on the GO Train after auditioning for a band, he realized that the pursuit of his dreams of breaking into the music industry led down a long, difficult road and “the thought of suicide had an appeal it had never before had.” For the first time in many years, he prayed: “God, if You exist, get me out of this mess.”

After more unsuccessful Canadian auditions, he decided that the only way to succeed in his quest was to move to Nashville, Tennessee. With $150 in travelers cheques, his banjo, a backpack filled with clothes and some provisions, a pup tent, and a cardboard sign that read “Nashville,” he left home to pursue his dreams, hitchhiking along great stretches of highway.

Providentially, a ride offered by Fr. Tom Wells changed Deacon Doug’s life. Their initial conversation stirred the depths of his soul. “Something came together at that moment,” he wrote. ” I knew that I had decided, right there and then, to return to the Body of Christ. That was the way back to recover what had been tragically lost. I told him that I’d go back to Church.”

Deacon Doug uses this pivotal experience to illustrate the power of God’s gift of supernatural grace in our lives; the grace that is ours if we are open to it. Why Be Afraid? teaches us that supernatural grace allows us to be courageous in a world full of fears. It calls upon us to seek the Lord throughout our lifetime, to pray for a “genuinely magnanimous spirit” that allows us “to fight bravely, in a spirit of joy, and to fight, above all, with wit.”

The book explores the nature of the good choices and evil choices that we freely make. It then logically explains how God “uses our free and evil choice to realize His eternal plan, which on the whole is very good, and therefore just.” Using the principles of logic and reason, Deacon Doug gives a solid defense of the existence of God and His goodness and mercy. He emphasizes the doctrine of Divine Providence and using the book’s example from his young life, he explains the workings of Divine Providence in our lives.

Why Be Afraid? concludes with a hopeful, logical reassurance that Christ has already won the victory over evil. We have nothing to fear if we choose Christ and allow Him to mold us into the persons He intends us to be.

As a mother who is fighting for my child’s faith, I am thankful for this book. I know that I can refer to Deacon Doug’s examples of spiritual warfare and heroism. I can turn to his explanation of the nature of evil, the “priority of providence” and why we have nothing to fear in the world. Since he writes clearly and avoids being emotional or sentimental, a doubting young person, or anyone else who reads it, would not find the book intimidating or preachy.

When my son first skimmed through Why Be Afraid? he said he would be open to reading it. The brief length of the book, as well as Deacon Doug’s direct writing style appealed to him. In the end, that’s all I want: for my son, or any doubting Catholic, to take the time to logically think through his choice of following or rejecting God. The book’s thoughtful argument for the existence of God, our need for His presence and mercy in our lives, and the clear explanation of Divine Providence will help anyone who questions the primacy of God to make the right choice.

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