Book review by Gino Arcaro
In the book Gift and Mystery, Pope John Paul II wrote: “In God’s plan nothing happens by chance.” This applied to how I discovered his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. I didn’t find the book. The book found me.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope is more than a book. It’s a spiritual workout, an intellectual challenge where Pope John Paul II speaks to the reader on a personal level. Crossing the Threshold of Hope is tied for top spot as the most influential book I’ve read, along with two other books that changed my life. Crossing the Threshold of Hope is a masterpiece. I have read Crossing the Threshold of Hope three times, discovering more meaning with every reading. Not one page is filler. I can open the book to any page and find a relevant message that applies to the present moment.
Pope John Paul II answers tough questions asked by interviewer Vittorio Messori with unique depth and breadth of perspective that has to be experienced by each reader but nothing is more profound than in the simplicity of background information that John Paul II wrote on page 212– “During the Second World War, while I was employed as a factory worker, I was attracted to Marian devotion.” The key words are factory worker. John Paul II started his journey like most of us. He made a living working the grind like the rest of us. His papacy was shaped by the same real-life experiences that we experience. John Paul II had to learn the same way we have to learn. He worked, he studied – he had to pay the price for vocational enlightenment.
On page 86, Pope John Paul II shares examples of literature that he studied as part of his academic pathway to the papacy. John Paul II wrote a doctoral thesis on the writings of Saint John of the Cross including the Ascent of Mount Carmel and in the Dark Night of the Soul. “To reach what you do not know, you must go where you do not know” is an insight into what John Paul II read to learn what he needed to know, to become the pope that the world needed him to be. His papacy was shaped through a process of work – manual and intellectual labour. He lived what we live – a struggle for higher level of consciousness to experience spiritual awakening. John Paul II was a blue-collar pope who worked mind, body, and soul to fulfill his calling. His knowledge wasn’t just handed to him. He earned it. He discovered it. He had to search for it. He learned what he needed to know the same way we have to learn what we need to know. Among the many lessons learned from John Paul II is the need for higher level of consciousness, the need to be spiritually awake to what is working around us and working inside us while we work on what seems to be the routine. Nothing just happens. Nothing happens accidentally, randomly, or overnight. There’s a process that we all have to experience to become who we are called to be, to serve who we need to serve, and to lift those we need to lift.
Page 180 gave me professional direction at the perfect time by answering my question of what to do next. John Paul gave powerful perspective to Matthew 25:25-30, The Parable of the Talents – don’t waste your God-given gifts and talents, a message reiterated by Pope Francis in 2013. Our God-given gifts and talents are not to be wasted. They are supposed to be developed to their fullest potential to serve others according to God’s will and to fulfill our individual calling.
In a world that bombards us with bad news, Crossing the Threshold of Hope cuts through the darkness with Good News. The title is the key element of the book, the element of hope. John Paul II wrote it on the cover of the folder containing his manuscript that he sent to the editors, suggesting it as the title but emphasized it was only a “suggestion,’’ leaving the final decision to the editors who choose to keep it because it ‘’perfectly conveyed the heart of the message.” I will add one more reason why the title was perfect – it expresses the soul of the message. A great book strikes a chord by expressing its heart and soul in order to connect with the reader’s heart and soul.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope is a blessing. Reading it guarantees a spiritual awakening.
Blessings and all good things.