Knights of the Cross

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Category: Classic
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Date Published: March 2, 1998
Number of Pages: 388
Print Price: $7.77
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At first glance this novel, Knights of the Cross by Piers Paul Read, appears to possess all the trappings of a murder mystery saga, one with international consequences and intrigue, with characters endowed with ample personality and foibles to whet one’s appetite to continue.  If such was not sufficient, then add to this mix a blending of moral degrees of integrity and the clash with human sinfulness, enough sexual tension to spark one’s interest, and an appreciation for the skill of the author who is about to take the reader on an adventure, but not the one that we might expect.  

With intrigue, passion and belief as undercurrents, this novel would make a first class screenplay. There is enough drama to give space for the expression of the seven deadly sins and a plethora of human emotions mingled with tensions evident in the practice of religion, human relationship and above all the desires and yearning of the human spirit and heart for love and purpose.  Such a screenplay would have enough stimulation to engage the most skeptical of modern day viewers, but would entice the sophisticated to peel away the layers of deeper meaning that I have discovered in the multilayered characterization of those whose journey we watch with bated breath and intense attention to what unfolds in the pages of this novel.

I have come to realize that this is not just simply a murder mystery but a sacramental encounter.  Let me explain.  While initially I was a little put out by the format of the journal entries used to paint the picture of characters, theme and plot, I became aware such was necessary to understand the interior dimension of the main character, Michael Latham.  Such a style gives insight into his personality--one that invites us, as viewer, to appreciate the personal struggle of the human heart to maintain a life of integrity, values and faith in an increasingly secular and predominately self centered culture.  Having said this, as I continued to read the adventures of Michael Latham, I realized that the structure of the novel replicates the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Let us recall that the Sacrament of Reconciliation calls upon the person to examine one’s life in light of the values of the Gospels and our relationship to God and others, an expression of sorrow for the wrong that one has committed either by commission and even omission, the confession of one’s sins, the reception of absolution and penance and the resolve to change one’s life. As the pages unfold and the drama of the main character continues, it draws us deeper into the mystery of grace that is capable of converting the most unlikely of people and, in this case, the main character. The stages of conversion and the call to repentance are laid out in intricate detail as Michael literally journeys from the depths of despair, travels the experience of agony with the struggle of sin in one’s life, and the passionate desire in that struggle that unravels as the depth of conversion alters the landscape of Michael’s heart and soul.

In a very strange sense the therapist, Alison, is a type of spiritual companion for the main character as he charts the waters of his life: the experience of family that colors his attitudes and behavior, the society in which he lives that offers expectations limited in value but that have a transitory pleasure ratio and immediate enticement for the momentary gratification offered but in reality leaves one empty and seeking another excursion into the wide sea of opportunities for pleasure.  In the opening pages especially we develop the frame of the dark night of the soul, “There was no sense of joy. Just physical release.” And in another part we read, “I was depressed because I felt a failure because I was stuck...in a dead-end job; but was it a dead-end job?”  Alison, in her role as therapist and companion, begins to unravel the layers of Michael Latham preparing him to be open to the potential of grace.  However, this potential will come not as the burst of light that struck Saul on the way to Damascus, nor as the Good Thief Dismas who jumped through the window of grace and walked into Paradise, but will come through stages of conversion and metanoia.  Michael must come to the realization that his life is not just a series of gratifying experiences, but ultimately recognize that the challenge for him is to serve the other instead of his own needs.  Such is to come face to face with the Gospel mandate to love one another, to forgive one another, and in fact to humble oneself to the point of giving one’s life.

In life we play many roles and wear many masks. However, in this novel it is precisely the playing of a role and the wearing of the masks that allows the main character to come to faith, seek forgiveness and live a life resolved and amended to ultimately becoming the best of the roles that he has performed and now chooses to live as a permanent lifestyle.  In the turmoil of his assignment, Michael meets a series of individuals who corporately display the face of faith and the tensions of living the good life amidst the trappings of a transitory society that entice us to surrender our values and share in the communal banquet of a culture and society that seeks a different way instead of the Way.

Masquerading as a person of faith and going through all of the rituals and practices of religion eventually touch something deep within his heart. It is soul stretching and heart tapping that brings Michael to the depth of the realization that what he merely mimicked for the sake of a story and the monetary reward would instead lead him to question his identity and the condition of his soul.  Ultimately, all that he thought was important and necessary to live a fulfilled life he understood was only a sham and what he desired most was what he rejected  and ridiculed all along,  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.”  He now moves from adoration to Gospel and from Gospel to genuine living which is the heart of our call to be disciples.

Confession leads him to seek the pearl of great price. It was in the field of his own heart, but first he needed the experience of the journey to Emmaus or in this case Zelden so that he could have his mind opened to inner wisdom and understanding and in the breaking of the bread recognize that grace abounds.  I would caution the reader to stay the course and not be persuaded to race through the journal entries which become the very heart of a soul yearning to be set free.  It is a passage all who seek a deeper relationship with God would find consoling.  I applaud the efforts and struggle of our main character who comes to a remarkable interior insight that indeed allows the real man to step forward into the role of a lifetime...his own life!

Publisher:
ISBN-13: 978-0753801338
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches


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Brother Richard Contino, OSF, has been a member of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn since 1993. As a religious educator, he has taught on the high school level in both New York and North Carolina. He is also a member of the leadership Council for his religious community, the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn and also serves his fellow brothers in his capacity as Director of Formation. Brother has published two books: These Sacred Days; Walking with Jesus through the Sacred Triduum and To the Stable; Encounters on the Way to Bethlehem. Currently working on a third book on a subject close to his heart, that on the life of Saint Francis.

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