Book review: The Gift of Self

religion | Jun 20, 2010 | By Christopher Zugger

The Gift of Self: A Spiritual Companion for Separated and Divorced Faithful from the Marriage Sacrament. Maria Pia Campanella, Forward by Bishop Salvatore di Cristina.

This is a surprising little book (119 pages, paperback) by Maria Pia Campanella, who works in the Archdiocese of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. It is written as “a special path of conjugal spirituality” for those who have been abandoned by a spouse through divorce. Bishop Salvatore di Cristina writes in the preface that this book “breathes Easter air” and indeed it does. This reviewer was not sure what to expect: it is not a self-help book for Catholics after a divorce, but really an invitation to enter on a new path, drawing on the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage, united with Christ. In so doing “it breathes a serene atmosphere of suffering borne with dignity, and of the deep sweetness of one has both tasted both the vinegar of pain and the paternal consolation of God.”

Maria Pia Campanella presents this book as a pastoral aid for those Catholics who have been left by their spouse, and so are still married while living alone, though perhaps with children present. It really is a spiritual manual, and should be in the libraries of tribunal offices in particular. It is a totally different approach to the spouses who are holding to their marital vows by living celibate lives, as opposed to the well-meaning who say “get on with your life”, and who want to continue to live in fidelity. This is a population that simply gets lost in the annulment process, and in parochial life as well.

Drawing first on the imagery from the prophet Hosea, the author calls for the abandoned spouse to continue to love, to pray for the spouse who left, and to let God’s love act in the situation. It can easily be used for retreats for these people, and is intended as a guide for that, or for individual growth. Learning to live out the marital vocation while being alone is simply an attitude that is not found in America, and I would think not in most western societies. In that, this little book is revolutionary!

The steps include:

-dealing with the flashpoints of fidelity and changing outlooks;
-seeing separation as the time to rebuild oneself and be loved by God;
-rebirth so as to accept the Cross while asking God for help;
-entering the Desert and discover a new intimate relationship with God;
-truly building a balanced self-esteem rooted in Christ and a group for solidarity;
- understand forgiveness as medicine for wounds, and the chance to pray for the other spouse;
- renew the marital promises so as to access grace and grow in forgiveness and ministry to others,
- become a sign of God’s merciful love and exercising the priestly, royal, and prophetic work given us in Baptism and Confirmation and now seen in a new way of service and true love.

Each chapter gives a warning of what to avoid, pastoral helps, personal reflections rooted in Scripture and the Mass. It can easily be used for new parish or diocesan solidarity groups. I think that the use of “solidarity” is most important. This is not a call for American-style support groups, but really to bring wounded spouses and their supporters together in prayer, ministry, participation at the Mass, and adoration of the Holy Eucharist in order to serve as healers in the world.

After an annulment is granted, there is no real follow-up ministry from the Church outside of such support groups, which tend to be social with minimal prayer life. Campanella’s book is a challenge to go into the gospel, into the challenge of love presented in Hosea, and to find union with others rooted in Christ Jesus. In this, it is a radical departure from most Family Life offices that I am familiar with.

Again, I think this should be provided in tribunal offices, and Family Life offices of parishes or dioceses should seriously take this under consideration. It is a marvelous treasury that really follows Catholic teaching of solidarity and fidelity. It will be an eye-opener for most readers, but a beneficial one.

Rev. Christopher Zugger is a Byzantine-rite Catholic priest who resides in New Mexico. He is the author of 'Finding a Hidden Church'. He blogs at



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