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The greatest teachers of the Catholic Faith lived in times just like our own, which Pope Benedict XVI demonstrates in his new book, Great Teachers (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011, 128 pp, hardback). They provided people, including misdirected clergy and religious, much-needed direction in times fraught with scandal and strife, and guided the Church through pervasive confusion and discouragement to renewal and strength.

Among some 12 saints, abbots, and theologians profiled for their stalwart faith and appreciation for Gospel truth, Great Teachers focuses on two 13th-century saints — St. Francis of Assisi (founder of the Franciscans) and St. Dominic Guzman (founder of the Dominicans). Both were convicted by personal holiness to make the case for a return to Gospel poverty, deeper Church unity, and renewed evangelization — especially throughout the European university system.

It is a strangely similar scenario to the one the Church finds herself in today.

A commonality among the great teachers in Benedict’s book is their agreement on Truth, which the faithful tend to drift from in times of plenty, trendy relativism, and “distraction.”

Even the great St. Francis of Assisi was tempted to enjoy his carefree worldly lifestyle. But after an illness, he experienced a spiritual conversion which eventually led him to abandon that way of life. Christ Himself — in three mystical experiences to Francis as he was praying before a crucifix — told him, “Go, Francis, and repair My Church in ruins.” The pope goes on to clarify in the book, “At that time, the Church had a superficial faith which did not shape or transform life, a scarcely zealous clergy, and a chilling of love — Yet there at the center of the Church in ruins was the crucified Lord, and he spoke: he called for renewal.”

Renewal hinges on Truth, however, and people’s disposition to see and live by it.