If your new year’s resolution is to do more spiritual reading, but the only books you really enjoy are mystery novels, look no further: Brother Bernard Seif, Salesian monk and author of the Office Of The Dead series has what you’re looking for. Night Prayer combines historical fiction with contemporary mystery to present a narrative with the distinctive flavor of the Salesian tradition.
The book opens in France in the year 1600 A.D., with the recently widowed Jane de Chantal reflecting, “My spiritual life, such as it is, seems to be the only thing that is helping me to cope with the agony of my present situation…there is a longing in me as deep as life itself for union with the Sacred….” This historical voice continues on to narrate the details of Jane’s correspondence with Bishop de Sales and their co-founding of the Salesian Order.
A parallel, contemporary story features the sleuth of this monastic mystery series, Brother Francis, who is based out of a Pennsylvania monastery. In this sixth book of the series, he travels to China in search of what may prove to be the four hundred year-old missing letters exchanged by St Jane de Chantal and St Francis de Sales.
Over the course of the intertwined narratives, we get both a humorous cast of contemporary characters and a fascinating exploration of the founding of the Salesian community, as well as an exposition of the spirit of Vatican II, when Brother Francis arrives in China and must interact with a foreign culture. The author draws on his own expertise in ancient Chinese medical practices to tie together what initially appear to be disconnected traditions.
At the turn of the 17th century in Europe, an era of blood-curdling religious violence, St. Francis de Sales was remarkable for his advocacy of gentle verbal persuasion instead of force to address differences of belief. The Salesian motto, Suaviter Sed Fortiter (Gentle But Strong) informs the tone of Br. Bernard’s book as well. This book will interest anyone who wants to explore in greater depth the qualities of Catholic spirituality and the history of a religious order.