Book Review – Peter Tyler
Cry of Wonder: Our Own Real Identity
Author: Gerard W. Hughes
pp 313 pbk
I was going to begin this review with the words: 'It was with great sadness that we heard earlier this month of the death of Fr Gerry W. Hughes SJ...' However, having reflected on Gerry, his life and teachings, and gone back to Cry of Wonder, published just before his death, I find myself rejoicing rather that we have had the privilege of sharing the last nine decades with such a great soul. Many will know him from his outstanding books - God of Surprises, for example, has probably done more than any other single book in the last half century to popularise the Ignatian methods in the English speaking world and will surely stay in print for many more years to come.
Much in Cry of Wonder will be familiar to Gerry’s loyal and extensive readership: accessible sections on Ignatian spirituality, a sparkling wit and at times somewhat mordant humour, and an open style. On a historical front the book traces well the transition in style of delivery of the Spiritual Exercises from preached retreat to individually guided retreat in the second half of the twentieth century. Along with such deceased luminaries as Bishop Graham Chadwick, Sr Pia Buxton IBVM and Fr Michael Ivens SJ, Gerry was one of the chief protagonists for introducing this change into the British Isles and all those who have benefitted from the Exercises over the past several decades have a lot to thank him for. What will be new to many readers will be the autobiographical content of Cry of Wonder. This largely fills the first third of the book and gives us fascinating insights into the times and influences that shaped the man but also of the Roman Catholic Church in the heady days of reform and transition in the mid-twentieth century. For those now too young to remember those times, much that happened will be explained in these pages. As well as his meditations on the Ignatian Exercises and his autobiographical sketches, the third part of the book comprises an extended discussion on Gerry’s beloved motives of Peace and Violence. It is appropriate that Gerry should die on the feast day of two remarkable saints: St Martin de Porres of Peru and St Rupert Mayer of Bavaria. Both embodied causes close to Gerry's heart: Martin de Porres, the son of a freed slave and the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, lived a life of simplicity and service that has made him a model of simple and devoted service and an ikon for all oppressed peoples. Rupert Mayer, on the other hand, another Jesuit like Gerry, saw the evils of Nazism at first hand and denounced its atrocities from his pulpit at St Michael's church in Munich. For his troubles he was sent first to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and then interned for the rest of the war. After his release at the end of the war, he died of a stroke on 1st November 1945 whilst celebrating mass at his beloved church in Munich. Gerry’s meditations and life-long conviction of the necessity of challenging government policies on war and defence seem to come from the same source as those of St Rupert Mayer (the sons of the soldier Loyola seem to understand the military mind well!) and this part of the book is a fitting testimony to all that Gerry achieved in this area – it would be good to eavesdrop on the conversations the two of them must be having now in Eternity! Gerry’s life, pursued on the margins of the Catholic Church and working with the most underprivileged people in our society, is nobly mapped in this well written book and what is most remarkable (as those of us who saw Gerry in his last few months) is that none of his early passions and insights are dimmed or weakened. ‘What, basically, do I most desire? This is the most valuable question we can ask ourselves’, writes Gerry towards the end of this wonderful book. To anyone who has ever asked themselves this question, and would like to see how one man went about answering it, this book is addressed – which is, of course, us all.