Fr. John Bartunek, LC, SThD, a graduate of Stanford University in 1990, comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He is the author of The Better Part and Inside the Passion: An Insider’s Look at the Passion of the Christ. Fr. Bartunek splits his time between Michigan, where he continues his writing apostolate and assists at Our Lady Queen of the Family Retreat Center in Oxford, and Rome, where he teaches theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.
This week we discuss his new books Spring Meditations.
PETE: In your new book Spring Meditations you discuss love of nature being a part of people’s spiritual lives. Why is it so important for us to take stock in the natural world around us?
FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK: Well, St. John Paul II used to call the natural world “God’s first book of revelation.” And in fact, that’s what it is. Just as we can get to know a great artist by getting to know his art, so we can get to know God by getting to know his creation. Jesus warned us that unless we become like little children, we won’t be able to enter his Kingdom. One of the characteristics of children is their capacity for wonder. Wonder is linked to awe, which is linked to worship. Unfortunately, our technology crazed society, with its frenetic pace and lack of sensitivity to natural rhythms, has a tendency to distance us from the natural environment that God has given to us and where he wants to continue to nourish our hearts. We are not machines, but are members of this creation, created to live in this environment and follow its rhythms. I hope this book and its sequels can help people do that.
PETE: We all know we live in a technology driven world. In fact you and I are conducting this interview in a manner never dreamed of 20 years ago. What advice do you have for people to switch off the tech and switch on an appreciation for God’s creation?
FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK: On the one hand, I don’t want to give the impression that technology is bad. In fact, our having developed science and technology is a fruit of our understanding of nature. We have simple discovered and developed potential that God built into this world – it is the laws of physics and chemistry, the structures of the biosphere, that are at the root of our scientific and technological progress. There doesn’t have to be an unhealthy relationship between technology and nature. The trick is simply to recognize this, and then to take some time to step out of the frazzled pace of our post-modern life in order to reflect on how that pace has affected us. Technology actually gives us, as you allude to, unique opportunities to live a more balanced life, if only we use it intentionally, wisely, prudently, in accordance with a known and claimed life-purpose. The problem comes when we allow ourselves to simply become passive recipients, to get caught up in the ongoing tsunami of information/entertainment/activity…
So, to get practical, the first step is to stop and think. To carve out some space in our lives, weekly at the very least, also daily, monthly, and yearly, when we are “offline.” In that space, we can regain a perspective on who we are and where we are going, and what tools we can use to help us get there. This book of meditations has twelve short chapters, and I offer suggestions for activities that can help people stop and think at the end of every chapter. They are designed to help you get a handle on the pace of your life so you can get things back into focus.
PETE: Spring Meditations is a fantastic little book. What prompted you to write it?
FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK: It was actually the publisher’s idea. Liguori Publications approached me and asked if I would be interested – they thought that my writing style lent itself to this kind of thing. And I just loved the idea. In my own spiritual journey nature, its beauties and mysteries, has had an ongoing role. I eagerly accepted the opportunity to write some meditations about the spiritual values that are hidden in the different characteristics of the natural seasons.
PETE: In the Introduction you mention that you will be writing books for the other seasons as well. Can we expect them this year? Was there a season that was harder to write about than others?
FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK: They will come out this year, one by one, God-willing, each one hitting the shelves before the start of its actual season. The books are easy to read, enjoyable and practical, so the idea is that they can accompany you throughout the year and help you adjust your pace so as to find more room for spiritual resonance.
It may sound strange, but the hardest one for me has been Summer Meditations. Summer has always been a difficult season for me. But choosing twelve spiritual values connected to summer and writing up the meditations for each of them helped me rediscover some of my own positive summer moments. I include a lot of personal anecdotes in the books, because I think our daily life is part of the “natural world” where God wants to encounter and teach us. On that note, I would like to share one of my favorite quotations from the YouCat (#20):
Anyone who wants to believe needs a heart that is ready to listen… In many ways God seeks contact with us. In every human encounter, in every moving experience of nature, in every apparent coincidence, in every challenge, every suffering, there is a hidden message from God to us…
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What books are currently on your bookshelf to read?
FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK: I am very excited this year to try and read the complete works of Blessed John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman’s sermons have always struck a deep chord in me, and I have set myself to read the rest of his works this year. He even wrote a couple of novels. So that’s my big project. I am also reading much of Michael Novak’s work (Freedom with Justice, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism) in order to reflect more deeply on Catholic Social Teaching, one of the courses I teach here in Rome.