April 19, 2013

Author’s book reveals God’s grace, how it can transform lives

Reviewed by Mary Ann Garber (Special to The Criterion)

Cover of the book, Some Call It Autumn—Scripture Reflections of Belief and Grace“Spring and summer pass, and it’s autumn before we know it,” St. Barnabas parishioner James R. Welter of Indianapolis writes in Some Call It Autumn—Scripture Reflections of Belief and Grace, his third book.

But whatever the season, Welter assures readers in his memorable stories, Scripture reminds us that God’s grace is always with us—even when we don’t realize it.

“How will you recognize Jesus today?”, he asks readers in a reflection based on St. Luke’s Gospel story of how two disciples encounter the resurrected Lord while walking on the road to Emmaus after the first Easter (Lk 24:13-16).

“What must you ‘cast into the fiery furnace’ so you can see what God wants you to see—and be who he wants you to become?”, Welter challenges readers in another reflection inspired by a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 13:41-43).

Readers may even be moved to tears as they turn the pages of what Welter said is his last book because it includes intensely personal and emotional accounts of his life story and faith journey.

Some Call It Autumn is a fitting last part of a trilogy to his first two insightful books, which also inspire readers to think about events in their own life stories and faith journeys.

Father Clement Davis, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, noted in a review on the book’s back cover that, “What the reader gains is another perspective on, and another glimpse of, the beauty and power of the God who ultimately transcends all limitations.”

In 2003, Welter, with help from his wife, Helen, and their sons, Jim and Mark, published When Winter Comes—Scripture Reflections for Daily Living in response to the popularity of an online faith-sharing ministry that he founded as part of the website features for St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

That daily Scripture reflection can be accessed at www.stmonicaparishindy.org.

Four years later, the Welter family again worked together to release his second book, Come Next Spring—Scripture Reflections of Promise and Hope, through their Ascending View Publications.

His oldest son, Jim, lives in New Haven, Conn., and served as editor for all three books. Mark, an Indianapolis resident, was in charge of layout and design work for the books. Helen, a nurse and talented poet, wrote the discussion questions after each reflection.

Their ministry site can be found online at www.ascendingview.com, and books can be ordered on the website.

Asked why he skipped the summer season to focus on mostly fall themes in his final book, Welter said, “Being in the autumn of my life, I think you tend to look at last things and your bucket list and things you still want to do.”

Some Call It Autumn got its title from Welter’s late sister, Fran, who explained the alternate name of the third season to him when they were children growing up in poverty on a small farm in northern Indiana.

“My purpose in writing [this third book] is to attempt to further reveal God’s grace and show how it can transform our lives,” he explains in the introduction.

“Grace is a theme that is uniting among all traditions,” Welter said in an interview. “It is a core theology of all Christian faiths.

“Writing about grace took me to a deeper level in looking at my personal life,” he said, “that I really was very, very hesitant to share in some of the reflections.”

Encouraged by his sons, Welter shares honest, humble and courageous narratives about painful grief experiences in his life—including his cancer diagnosis—which make the book especially poignant and helpful to readers struggling with various life challenges.

“In the introduction, I use my witness talk from my Christ Renews His Parish experience of 1999 to give readers a sense of who I was,” Welter said. “We can’t talk about God’s grace, it seemed to me, without telling where we’ve come from and how it has impacted our lives.

“In order to do that, I was challenged to be more vulnerable than I ever wanted to be,” he admitted. “People have said to me, ‘You were pretty personal in the other books.’ And I was, but this one goes even deeper. I share things, as I say in the book, that are most frequently just shared with a spouse or a good friend or even a confessor, and now it’s [printed] on a page for the whole world to see.”

Welter decided to reveal many things about his life in his writing because, he said, “In my judgment, it’s very difficult to define grace. Really, it’s in the experience. We can see grace happening. We can experience grace. … So my hope is that, in telling my story, people will reflect on their own story.”

One of his favorite experiences of God’s grace and the mystery of faith documented in the book was his emotional pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1995 as a promise to his late mother.

“Another favorite is a story about Robert, a gentleman I met in San Francisco,” Welter said. “I relate this story about how God spoke to me through that homeless person.”

Welter’s writing style is vivid and compelling, not what many people would expect from a man who made his living as an accountant.

“A lot of painful transitions had to take place in order to see myself clearly, and to recognize hidden gifts and talents,” he said, in order to write the Scripture reflection books.

“The challenge to us is to put our life story alongside the stories that Jesus told in the parables,” Welter said, “and see what we can draw from that.”

(To order Some Call It Autumn—Scripture Reflections of Belief and Grace, go to www.ascendingview.com. All of Welter’s books are also available at Angels’ Corner, Holy Family Books, the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center and Our Lady Fatima Retreat House.)

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