Book review: ‘5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul’
“5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul.” By William Byrne. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2020. 185 pages. Hardcover: $14.99; Kindle: $10.49; Nook: $10.49.
It’s hard not to like a book whose first chapter is entitled “Things I Learned from My Dog,” and whose last chapter follows suit — “Things I Learned from My Puppy.”
Since the October 2020 publication of Father William Byrne’s book, “5 Things with Father Bill,” the author has gone from being pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland, to being appointed 10th bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. And if he has brought along with him the warmth, humor and common sense that his book is filled with, then the good people of Springfield are fortunate indeed.
The book’s subtitle, “Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul,” is a pretty accurate summary of what readers will find in this delightful little volume. It grew out of a column that he began in his church newspaper some years back, and the format that Father Byrne developed then also works well here. “My short pieces followed a steady formula,” he explains in his introduction. “I would share a short story about life and then offer five ways, suggestions, tips or reflections on how to grow spiritually.”
The themes he focuses on are varied and somewhat expected; he includes, not surprisingly, reflections on major Church seasons such as Christmas, Lent and Easter, but he also offers advice for the newly engaged as well as some unconventional suggestions about how to have a really great wedding. (I wonder, for instance, how many brides and grooms set aside a portion of their wedding budget for the poor, or spend time at a soup kitchen in preparation for the big day?)
He also explores such contemporary topics as “Ways to Use Technology” (his first bit of advice, for instance, is to find the “off” button on your device and don’t be afraid to use it, especially during dinner) and “When the Big Game is On.” The virtue he focuses on in this second example is humility, and he tackles it (pun intended) with his characteristic sense of humor. “At our confirmation,” he reminds us, “we receive the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe in God’s presence. Notice that ‘being an expert on all things sports’ is not on the list. Again, stay humble.”
All of these chapters – there are 50 of them – are short, no more than two or three pages each. It would be very easy to sit down and read this book in one go, but I would suggest taking time with each vignette and savoring it before going on to the next one. Skipping around from chapter to chapter is quite permissible; unlike books that build ideas from one part to the next, each of these sets of five thoughts are complete unto themselves. Find a topic that fits your current circumstances, and see what Father Bill has to say about it.
Finally, as was mentioned at the beginning, the “bookends” of this volume are the author’s dogs — Maggie, who has since passed away, and Zelie, the new pup on the block. Both were named for saints, and both are not only wise, but more than willing to share their wisdom with us. From Maggie, for instance, we learn not to judge, to forgive and never complain. Zelie, who claims she is the inspiration for this book, reminds us that being with our “pack leader … is the best and safest place to be. “I need to always remember that Jesus is my pack leader,” he concludes. “I need to make sure I am always in His presence because it is the best and safest place to be.”
Father Bill Byrne (now Bishop Byrne) is a native of Washington, D.C., and was appointed in October 2020 by Pope Francis to be the 10th Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts. He was ordained and installed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley on Dec. 14, 2020.