Padre: The Narrowing Path

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Category: Contemporary
Date Published: August 1, 2014
Number of Pages: 142
Print Price: $10.95
eBook Price: $5.95

Images and themes abound in this novel by Jennifer Leeper, beginning with the cover art and the depiction of a church door beneath the title, Padre: The Narrowing Path.  Clearly, this is a reminder of Christ’s teaching on entering the Kingdom through the narrow gate.  This image and title then flows into themes that I consider incarnational and redemptive.  In a sense, the story’s plot is an unfolding of a modern day ‘Paschal mystery’ that incorporates a dying into new life.

The main character, Russell Capshaw, is a man with an untamed life and heart, who through a series of adventures and misadventures descends into a mini drama of salvation where the forces of good and evil clash.  Such a clash begins first in his soul and then, like the lamp in the parable of Christ, eventually gives light to others.

This is a story of grace and faith that like a mustard seed grows into an extravagant bush of conversion and salvation.  From this tiny seed evolves a saga of a personal life changed and capable of transforming the world of which it becomes part.  Images of light, the mustard seed and the narrow gate (door) are vivid as Russell Capshaw moves from simple existence to actual living.

The opening pages depict a man fallen and broken by addiction and absorbed by a culture that glorifies the self.  The realization of his fallen nature leads him along a physical journey that causes spiritual healing and a reclaiming of his roots in faith and Catholic tradition.  From the seedy underbelly of heroin addiction to the rolling and lush green hills of Ireland, the main character, Russell, enters a period of awakening as his Uncle Damian becomes a midwife of spiritual mentoring and rebirth.  Interestingly, the image on the front cover of a door is a symbolic and physical manifestation of doors that open and close along Russell’s pathway to spiritual recovery and transformation.

Such doors lead him along a serpentine path of addiction and indecision.  Doors close to a life of emptiness and open to a retreat ‘home’ and a land where faith still grows and blooms.  These doors to home, pub, and finally Church, plant seeds of communion that lead to his immersion not into self absorption but into life, love and land.

When the door to his heart is finally opened, he enters into a remarkable journey that is indeed the landscape of his soul.  This leads him to the discernment of a vocation that moves him to the seminary and then to the priesthood that eventually is his redemption, not just for himself but for those to whom he serves and ministers.

Russell is the uncommon man turned priest, one who prays and saves.  He does so not in the comfortable and secure pews of Ireland, but in the rough-edged, harsh and cruel Sierra Madre canyons where the Raramuri tribe attempts to survive amidst the challenges of an unforgiving environment of history, poverty and violence wedded to criminality and terror.  What is their saving grace? The faith of their ancestors which they still remain attached to and the devotion of their priest, who comes not in authority but in service.

Through the door of the refurbished church of St. Rita, patroness of impossible causes and hopeless circumstances, Father John Russell brings hope to the hopeless, faith to the despairing and doubting, and love to the outcast, marginalized and abused.  Like a modern day Francis of Assisi, he too hears the voice of Christ speak the words, “Rebuild My Church!”  Padre John, reborn and renewed, brings peace to a violent part of the Kingdom of God through the power of prayer, grace, sacraments and example.

Into the canyons of the Sierra Madre is where a battle takes place between the forces of good and evil.  This is the ‘Garden of Eden,’ where innocence is mixed with the fragrance of the Irish farmlands and is mingled in the perpetual saga of the forces of good and evil waging battle for the souls of humanity.  Into a world of violence, where the hapless sons and daughters of Eve are subject to the cruel winds of others whose souls are not just tarnished but blackened, comes a ‘savior’--not the Christ but one born of Christ.  John Russell the priest, in the persona of Christ lives out for others the Paschal Mystery on the altar, in the confessional, and in the Eucharist.  It may not be the Mount of Calvary that we see in these pages, but the brutality of oppression and injustice inflicted upon the Raramuri tribe is a bloody sacrifice of good, defending life and family.

Into this conflict the spiritual and physical worlds collide.  Faith and sin engage in hand to hand combat as Father John Russell struggles to defend life and to safeguard the flock that has been entrusted to him.  Without raising his own arms in attack or violence this heart, tempered and transformed, uses the power of prayer, the Cross and the door to the Church as a passageway to a life that is centered in hope and joy:

The priest thought of his old self, the ad man, who had thrown his voice around meeting rooms full of corporate executives like it was dynamite.  Now, his voice was being humbled, but not dulled.  It was a balance he had yet to master.  ‘I am only a priest, but I’ll answer for much in the end.  I’ll answer for your soul and for theirs.’  Father John’s eyes moved over Thalia, Solymar, Adrian and even Salvador, whose eyebrows were raised at the notion.  ‘So while you raise an army, I can only help raise this church for all of you.’”

Jennifer Leeper has presented a wonderful image of the Paschal Mystery and a resurrection motif that is at once Christo-centric and filled with joy and hope amid the death, confusion and chaos that the Raramuri experience.  They, however, in the person of Russell Capshaw (their Padre John) have a gentle and protective shepherd that at once protects his flock and would most willingly give his life for them.

I would highly recommend this novel.  It transports the reader from the failings, temptations, and sin that we all experience, to a moment of desperation in the Garden of Gethsemane, the tragedy of Calvary, the silence of death and the joy of Resurrection and new life:

Before they went to their villages, they stopped in the little clearing at the Church of St. Rita. There, the padre and his acolyte, Father John and Brother Francisco, waited to bless their return behind the red door Padre had painted himself.”                  

ISBN-13: 978-1-941295-09-0
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions:

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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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