“Carlo Acutis is a model of holiness for our times.” I have heard variants of this line over and over again and reading about Carlo’s life online and reading Mgr. Anthony Figueiredo’s book, Blessed Carlo Acutis – 5 Steps to Being a Saint kept confirming that fact. As a young adult, almost 10 years apart from Carlo, his life of holiness serves as an inspiration for my own spiritual life. With the celebration of his 30th birthday this past Monday May 3, I was able to see how many people all over the world are devoted to this young man, and more importantly, how many people are striving to imitate his way to holiness.
The question I have is, how can we make the story of Carlo Acutis known to younger people, particularly teenagers? The problem is this, there is just not much english material on Carlo Acutis (yet), let alone materials specifically geared towards a young teenage audience. However, it was probably with these concerns in mind that Carnegie Medal Award Nominee, Corinna Turner inaugurated her short-fiction series, “Friends in High Places,” featuring the lives of saints told through the lens of fictional characters. This series opened with Carlo Acutis – The Boy Who Knew which was launched just days before Carlo’s beatification in Assisi
I honestly did not know what to expect in this short novel, not even 100-pages thick. For one thing, I rarely even review fiction on this blog. However, upon reading the book, I was amazed at how Corinna was able intertwine fiction and non-fiction together seamlessly.
In October 2020, a boy from the UK named Daniel learns of his diagnosis with leukaemia. Daniel seems to have mixed emotions. His parents seem torn spiritually over this diagnosis: His mom, motionless, did not know what else to do but turn to the possibility of prayer, while his father who was not even a practicing Catholic falls into deeper spiritual hopelessness, seemingly giving up on faith in God altogether. Upon learning of the diagnosis, none of Daniel’s parents attend the Saturday Vigil Mass at church but Daniel. Yet, he does so alone, carrying in himself an anger towards God.
However, it was in God’s providence that at the end of Mass, he has the opportunity to speak with Father Thomas, a young lively priest. Corinna is able to make the reactions of the characters seem so genuine that even Father Thomas, upon learning of Daniel’s diagnosis seems to have had a bit of loss of words. I would be if I were a priest. Being able to quickly recollect himself Father Thomas introduces Daniel to a figure named Carlo Acutis.
Daniel has a hard time at first to develop a curiosity to learn of Carlo. He does not want to learn of someone who has died… he was trying to find a sense of accompaniment in his darkest of times – he wanted to find an assurance of life, not death. Yet, ironically, it is in with little bit of curiosity that eventually took him over, that he was able to find a sense of hope, a new sense of life.
Corinna frames her storyline around the Novena to Blessed Carlo Acutis. Diagnosed with leukaemia, at a point between life and death, Daniel realizes that there is nothing else he can do but to pray, and to live life to the fullest. Anyone who has made novena to Blessed Carlo would be very familiar with the quotes and prayers outlined throughout the book. However, reading it in the context of this short-fiction piece really gives you a different perspective of it. It is as if through Daniel, the author was trying to break-down the novena for the reader and that has really influenced how I reflect on the quotes and prayers of the novena. If you have never made the novena before, reading the book really gives you a brief overview of Carlo’s quotes and his spirituality through the lens of Daniel, a young person… such a simple spirituality that anyone can grasp, even someone with the slightest bit of will because it is the will that you put in that God can stir something within you. This we see clearly in Daniel.
Here’s the fascinating thing I found – the figure of Daniel, in letting God take on the steering wheel of his life, even just that sliver of hope that he had gave him a new meaning to life. He himself becomes a “Carlo Acutis” as he strives to develop for himself a prayerful life in the midst of the ups and downs with his health, his own self and his family, eventually coming to the realization that in God is his only hope.
Given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from Father Thomas to go to Assisi to attend Carlo’s beatification in Assisi, despite his barriers of physical health, he deeply desires to go to be near his spiritual companion whom he has only encountered within a matter of days. His parents were busy too accompany him on a one-day notice to go from the UK to Assisi (or did not seem to bother making the effort to do so), Father Thomas accompanies Daniel on this pilgrimage. It was a life-changing experiences for Daniel as on this pilgrimage, he is able to truly have an encounter with Carlo, his spirituality and his life. It is as if everything in the story culminates or “solidifies” with this pilgrimage. At the moment of Carlo’s beatification, the fears and anger that Daniel had seemed to have faded away. Daniel now understands that he has not a dead friend, but a spiritual companion who is truly alive, and intercedes for him and thus no matter what happens, he was to place his total trust in God.
Daniel returns with Father Thomas to the UK and it is as if Daniel is a new person. He comes back to seemingly stir a conversion in his parents, and his friend Razim. This may have not been an instant conversation, but we see in these three figures, along with Daniel, a sense of change and willingness to be open to the Gospel, to God’s will. The story culminates in prognosis day, the last day of the Novena to Blessed Carlo Acutis. Daniel concludes this novena and heads to the hospital with his parents. The story with Daniel and his parents heading in to discover his prognosis. The story ends there – we do not know what happens after, what the results of the prognosis was… What we do know is that Daniel and his parents went in to learn of the results of the prognosis in a sense of total surrender to God, knowing that Carlo would be their spiritual guide and God was watching over them.
What a beautiful story – thought fictional, just seemed so real. For me, reading this book affirmed in me that holiness and totally surrender to God requires that we just have within ourselves even just a sliver of hope in God. We do not know what will happen to us, especially during this time of pandemic. Death can come in a matter of hours, days, years… but as Carlo Acutis said, “conversion is nothing more than the raising of one’s gaze,” and when we look up to the top, towards God, we will find hope and that no matter what happens to us, we come to understand that God is greater than all evil, all failures of this world.
On another point, Carlo Acutis – The Boy Who Knew introduces the story of Carlo Acutis and his spirituality in a very unique way, through the lens of a fictional character that seems so real, so relatable to someone of our times. Corinna Turner was really able to tell the story well – as I read, I was able to read the novel as if I were in Daniel’s shoes.
At the end of the book has a section that contains the Novena to Blessed Carlo Acutis, and the prayer of Canonization. Unfortunately, I must critique this section, in that the texts still state, “Servant of God Carlo Acutis,” or “Venerable Carlo Acutis,” and not been updated to reflect “Blessed Carlo Acutis.” I hope these texts will be properly updated in future editions of the book. Meanwhile, one can find the updated texts at www.carloacutis.com .
Update: I was advised that the book was published before the updating of these prayers in October 2020. Future editions will hopefully be featuring the updated texts. For now, a PDF of the novena can be found here:
Overall, a job well-done by Corinna Turner in telling a story of both a fictional character’s worrisome nine-days, but also many of the key elements of the life and spirituality of Blessed Carlo Acutis. It is my hope that this book will reach the hands of many young people, especially teenagers.
The book is available in both e-book and softcover versions.
Please also checkout the official page for Carlo Acutis – The Boy Who Knew here.
Disclaimer: Vincent Pham was provided a review copy to provide an honest review of the title on our blog. The Catholic Man Reviews thanks Ms. Corinna Turner for the opportunity for us to review this title on our blog. All thoughts and opinions expressed in here are our own and reflect our sincere thoughts about the book.
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