“The young man saith to him: All these I have kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me? Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me. And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples: Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:20-23
What a heart-rending scene this is from the Gospel! What a challenge it is to everyone who hears the Master’s call to perfection! John A. Beahn’s novel based on the life of Saint Anthony of Padua instils the idea of this theme immediately with the title, A Rich Young Man. An appropriate read for teenagers still seeking the answer to the question, “What is God’s will for me?” this both confronting and inspiring book will not be easily put down by adults either.
While the author launches into describing the family life of Fernando, as the young nobleman was then known, the horn of the call of duty to follow Christ is heard. Here is a sample from the book that takes place upon one of the rides to inspect his father’s estates. Fernando and his escort of knights accompany a priest back from visiting two men in one of the villages:
“‘Are they serfs, Canon Joseph?’
‘Serfs, Fernando. The younger man wishes to be a priest; the older one is his father.’
Fernando studied the priest doubtfully. ‘Can serfs become priests?’
‘Where else would Holy Mother Church obtain priests, Fernando?’ Canon Joseph’s voice was casual as before. ‘His Excellency, the bishop, has assigned me to enlist candidates for the priesthood. Where will I find them? Knights have their wars and their tournaments; merchants have their affairs of business and their affairs of money. So Our Lord directs me to look among the serfs as He looked among the fishermen.’”
Without including too many spoilers, let me tell you that one of the main conflicts in this novel will resound familiarly with every Catholic, no matter your circumstance or state in life. Pride, that monstrous sin rooted so deeply in every soul, slithers its tentacles into every aspect of thought, word and action that it can; the saints are not exempt from undergoing the painful task of extirpating this vice…quite the contrary. John Beahn’s exciting story with all its drama, battles, friendship, heresy, castles, kings and cowls serves also as a spiritual work in that it will have you reflecting on the state of your own soul, pondering over the motives that drive us to do things that we do, and act the way we act. Is it really for the love of God?
The abounding opportunities for dissension within religious orders and politics surrounding the disputes may surprise some readers, but one particular event in Saint Anthony’s life as told in this novel definitely had me following with intense interest. Can you imagine one of the Church’s most famous preachers of all time being summoned to preach on the Assumption of Our Lady to a number of bishops in order that they might have ammunition with which to prosecute his order? If he says too much on the not yet defined dogma some bishops will consider it dangerous, too little and others will be far from impressed. I don’t want to spoil the outcome for you of this predicament the saint finds himself, so be sure to find out for yourself.
Indeed, most Catholics, especially those responsible in running busy households, frequently call upon Saint Anthony of Padua to help find something, be it the boys’ matching socks, the proverbial needle in a haystack, a spot to park the car or the virtue of patience. How many of us know anything of the exemplary life of this champion Doctor of the Church, though, and do we truly consider him as a friend to intercede for us to God or just as a name that makes lost items turn up? John Beahn’s novel is an excellent way to learn more about the man whose tongue remains incorrupt. At 338 pages, it is satisfactorily substantial without scaring off those who aren’t great readers, and there are no pages wasted in a forward or introduction for teenagers to skip! The author, who served in the United States Army during World War II, keeps the pace quick and story mobile by separating it into three parts each consisting of about eight chapters as it follows Saint Anthony’s life from his ancestry and the troubles with the Saracens in his childhood through the turmoil surrounding his entrance and journey in monastic life to his eventful travels, conflicts with heretics and finally death.
Now, I encourage one and all to take up and read A Rich Young Man but teenagers and young adults primarily. That is not to say that this book will urge young men to become priests or young women to renounce the world and enter a convent, although those who do have that vocation will no doubt receive inspiration through John Beahn’s work. No, the message of A Rich Young Man is simply this: to know and follow the will of God. I, for one, cannot be told that too many times.
As a personal side-note, within minutes after finishing the book in preparation for writing this review, and while still pondering the final words, I was informed of the death of a Catholic gentleman friend of the family. Therefore, I think it fitting that I ask every reader to please spare a prayer or two for the repose of the soul of Mr. Michael Walmsley.
Saint Anthony of Padua, ora pro nobis!