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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Why The Better Part is Reaching Souls
In the following interview, Fr John Bartunek shares his insights on how the bestselling book is meeting people’s spiritual needs.

<i>The Better Part</i> has sold over 10,000 copies so far.

May 11, 2009. Thornwood, NY. Dog-eared, underlined, coffee-stained copies of The Better Part are a good sign, says Fr John Bartunek, LC, whose recent travels have brought him into contact with pleased readers of his 1,024-page book of Gospel meditations. The bestseller book, published by Circle Press, is now in its third reprint with over 10,000 copies sold. Much of its popularity has come from people who enthusiastically recommended it to friends for its solid content written in a clear, readable, and practical style.

In the following interview, Fr John explains how the book came to be, what needs it meets, and what book projects he has planned for the future.

We also include some feedback from readers around the world who are using The Better Part for their prayer life. From vocations to the military chaplaincy to uplifted souls who have finally found a spiritual book they can use, the book is bearing fruits, helping people to pray and grow closer to God.

Q: What led to your decision to write The Better Part?

Fr John: Actually, it wasn’t my idea. It seems that our Legionary superiors had noticed a common difficulty being faced by Legionary spiritual directors in Regnum Christi sections around the world: Regnum Christi members were being moved to a deeper prayer life, but we didn’t have resources that really met them where they were at, and that were also infused with our spirituality. So I was asked to come up with one. I formed an ad hoc committee of priests and lay people, both men and women, to brainstorm about necessary elements. Gradually, the structure came into focus.

Then I wrote it, using some material I had previously written as the building blocks. It was beautiful because I was given this as my full-time
P. John Bartunek, L.C.
Fr John Bartunek, LC
apostolate – just writing about Jesus and the Gospels for 7-8 hours a day for almost five months.

Q: What is the single greatest need you have found among Catholics of good will?

Fr John: To learn the hard lesson that our spiritual life isn’t based on emotions. In speaking with people about prayer, I keep running across profound anxiety and confusion because they can’t always “feel God’s presence.” I am beginning to think this is a much bigger obstacle to spiritual growth than we realize. A consumerist culture flooded with mass media (news, advertising, and entertainment) really trains us to give primacy to our emotional states, our feelings. But our faith goes much deeper than our feelings – witness Jesus in Gethsemane, for example. We are so feelings-centered that we no longer understand the difference between deep spirituality and emotional stimulation. And yet, as we grow in prayer, God has to lead us beyond emotions. It seems that, as a culture, we are pre-programmed to flounder when we get to that point.

This is one reason why I agreed to start contributing to the RCSpiritualDirection blog – to try and communicate clearly about basic principles of objective spiritual work and growth. [Editor’s note: to read an article about the resources for lay people on the RC Spiritual Direction blog, click here.]

Q: What will your next book be about?

Fr John: I am hoping to finish my doctoral dissertation this month. If all goes well, I will have the chance to defend it next fall, and if that also goes well, it will find its way into a book of some sort or other. The topic is “Culture and the Common Good in the Thought of Christopher Dawson.” It is in the field of moral theology (social doctrine).

At the same time, I have been working with Circle Press and Mission Network to publish a series of small books that consist of short essays with discussion questions on basic Catholic topics, from the Commandments to the Crusades. These would be helpful resources for the secularized Catholic – bite-sized, easy-to-read explanations of things that they should have learned as a kid but didn’t. We were hoping to have these twelve volumes out this spring. Now we have revised our hope and are aiming at the fall of 2009.

Once those two projects are out of the box, I would love to do some more books like The Better Part. Not just spin-off products, like the recent Meditations for Mothers, which just came out, but commentaries on other biblical texts that are done in such a way as to give material for personal prayer.

Every generation needs a fresh presentation of these kinds of books. And in the end, I am convinced that there is little I can do as a priest that would be more useful for Christ’s Kingdom than to help people pray more and better.

Feedback from readers

“I´m sure he has told you how influential The Better Part was in his vocational discernment. Tomorrow my husband and I are going to celebrate the birthday of a future Army chaplain whose reading of The Better Part--the only book he was allowed to keep during Basic Training--was the catalyst for discovering his vocation. Many, many guys in his platoon approached him asking, "What are you reading all the time?" and after he explained, they started going to him with all their questions about Jesus and Catholicism and, finally, their personal problems. The conversations eventually led to many lapsed Catholic guys going to Confession and Mass again. When he saw how effective he could be in bringing souls closer to Christ, chaplaincy became obvious. He´s expecting acceptance from Arlington in the next few weeks and the AMS vocations´ director said they´d approve him the same day. He´s one happy camper. Thanks for your part in that.”

From an evangelical Protestant mother of five and friend of a Protestant pastor: “I´ve found your book extremely helpful in my attempts at meditation and prayer. You´ve done a great job finding a digestible but challenging balance between interpretation, theology, and application. I´m really impressed. Most of the devotional and study books I´ve read are either too shallow and "flowery" (lacking in intellectual content) or so heavy that you can´t read more than a few sentences at a time (then lacking in personal application). Your format is clear and effective for my brain. Your insights are very well-grounded in truth. Your applications are helpful. And the prayer-thoughts are sweetly and humbly Christ-focused. I´ve often found myself echoing the prayers you offer, which is so refreshing! And so helpful on a daily basis as I´m struggling with my personal sin patterns. Our friend and pastor, Noah, is intrigued by the book also and agrees whole-heartedly with your explanation of Christian meditation in the introductory section. He is taking the church through a study of the spiritual disciplines and found your thoughts captivating.”

From a reader in New York: “When I was on the retreat this weekend I purchased your book The Better Part. I have just started reading it and cannot put it down! It is a true treasure and an amazing guide to me on how to get the most out of meditations. It must have taken you very long to write it! It is wonderfully insightful and inspirational and what I love about it the most is that the reading is not overwhelmingly difficult. You have a tremendous gift! The Church is blest to have you as a priest of the Legionaries of Christ.”

From a reader in Africa: “Your book is a blessing to this world. I read a bit of it each day and each day I am awestruck. It is simple and has deep meaning at the same time. Every Christian should have your book. Your prayers, hard work, isolation, and love of Christ and His sheep during the period you wrote The Better Part were well worth it. You have no idea what your book has done in strengthening my prayer life. It has opened up my mind and heart to God through Jesus Christ in a whole new enlightened way. I have a deeper understanding of prayer and meditation thanks to The Better Part. Thank you so very much. You are a blessed and a talented human being, may God Almighty bless and keep you safe.”

“We met briefly a couple of years ago in Cheshire, when you were still Br John. I doubt you remember me but I just wanted to congratulate you for your book, The Better Part. I ordered it through Amazon and have been using it to do my morning meditation. It’s just wonderful the way you take apart every passage of the Gospels; it will be very useful for Encounter with Christ and directed meditations. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for writing your book; please let me know if you write anything else.”

“Through your reflections, scholarships, expressions, ideas, key points, emphases, etc. I am being renewed in my spiritual life. Thank you for your vocation realized in this work – the image in the forefront at my mind is the one of the Pelican who sacrifices sustenance for its young from its own heart.”

To order a copy of The Better Part from Circle Press, click here.



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