Looking for some light and guidance during the desert days of Lent? Meet a deacon more people should know: Clarence Enzler.
Some of you may be familiar with Deacon Clarence Enzler’s modern classic, “Everyone’s Way of the Cross,” a perennial favorite among parishes and groups who pray The Way of the Cross in the weeks before Easter.
As the publisher describes it:
For almost fifty years, the simple, intimate, and powerful words of Clarence Enzler’s perennially bestselling Stations of the Cross booklet have invited readers to grow closer to Christ by embracing the mystery of suffering in the world.
Beautiful, bold commissioned woodcuts by Annika Nelson and her mother Gertrud Mueller Nelson help us meditate on the passion and death of Christ and to see how Christ is among us—often in unexpected places.
The introduction, from Christ’s point of view, sets the tone for what follows:
These fourteen steps that you are now about to walk you do not take alone. I walk with you. Though you are you, and I am I, yet we are truly one— one Christ. And therefore my way of the cross two thousand years ago and your “way” now are also one. But note this difference. My life was incomplete until I crowned it by my death. Your fourteen steps will only be complete when you have crowned them by your life.
It’s a beautiful, stirring, challenging piece of work. If you haven’t already, check it out.
But Deacon Enzler had more to say, and said it eloquently in another book that has just been re-issued by Ave Maria Press, “My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith.”
The good people at Ave Maria Press asked me to write a new foreword for the book, and I was struck again and again by the passion and power of Deacon Enzler’s writing. As I noted:
In the middle of the last century, at a moment when the Catholic Christian world was attempting to make sense of a Depression, two world wars, possible nuclear annihilation and genocide beyond imagining, a husband and father decided to try. And the result is a book that today can rightly be called a classic.
As you’ll discover, “My Other Self” is more than a meditation on Christian living, and much more than just a discursive monologue by the son of God. “My Other Self” captures something mysterious and elusive: the gentle, challenging, compassionate voice of the Christ. While it bears the hallmarks of 1950s American Catholicism — at times, Jesus sounds a lot like Fulton Sheen — this book and its message are both timeless and timely. “My Other Self” is long, impassioned prayer of hope — steady reassurance and advice for a confused and anxious world. Across the decades, it still speaks to our times.
And it does it by keeping this humble message always before us: to conquer that anxiety or confusion or fear, strive to be like Jesus. Study him. Follow him. Pray with him and to him. Listen to him. Imitate him.
It is just that simple — and just that daunting. And the result is a remarkable spiritual journey.
Deacon Enzler writes as he imagines Jesus speaks — and he makes these discourses sound more like a conversation between friends:
Did I give my life for you to torment you? To cause you anxiety? I do not dwell in gloom, darkness, or dejection, but in light, love, and joy. Be of good heart. Even when men revile you and persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely because of me, be glad and lighthearted. I am your light and your salvation. Whom shall you fear?
I am the defense of your life. Whom shall you dread? With a great desire, I desire your happiness. I can make you happy. I will make you happy. Be lighthearted, then, and rejoice in me that you may dwell in my house all the days of your life and enjoy my graciousness and kindness.
There’s a lot here to absorb, re-read, pray over, share.
So who, exactly, was Clarence Enzler? His biography:
Clarence Joseph Enzler (1910–1976) is best known for his classic Lenten devotional booklet Everyone’s Way of the Cross, first published in 1970. He worked for the US Department of Agriculture from 1937–1972, except from 1943–1945 when he served as the feature editor with the National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service (now known as the Catholic News Service).
A prolific author, Enzler published articles in many national magazines, including The Ave Maria, and he wrote three books. He held a doctorate from Catholic University of America and was a deacon in the Archdiocese of Washington. Enzler and his wife Kathleen Crowley Enzler were the parents of thirteen children.
Born in 1910 in Dubuque, he was always a spiritual person who had thought about the priesthood before he met the love of his life, Kathleen. A stutterer, he struggled with and eventually overcame that speech impediment while raising a family, working full-time as a speechwriter in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and writing religious books and reflections in his spare time. Among his duties he wrote speeches for eight different secretaries of agriculture under six different presidents, retiring in 1972.
He was ordained a deacon later that year and had the privilege of giving the homily at his priest son’s first Mass in 1973. Clarence Enzler died in 1976 at age 66.
Out of all that, God crafted something altogether remarkable.
Well done, good and faithful servant.