A brilliant mind of both breadth (capacity) and insight, and an exceptional writer. A very short book of autobiographical "sketches," it is regrettablA brilliant mind of both breadth (capacity) and insight, and an exceptional writer. A very short book of autobiographical "sketches," it is regrettable that we cannot have more detail both on the 50 years covered, and perhaps even more so that the next 40 years of his life remain in darkness, unknown to us. The greatest books are those whose greatest flaw is brevity, and this is one. While the theological debates of the 20th Century are likely not of interest to the general reader, it is as though Pope Benedict cannot help himself, and writes more effusively of these matters than on his autobiography, which is ostensibly at hand.
Highlights include very brief accounts of debates at Vatican II. I learned, for example, that it was emphatically NOT the will of the Council Fathers that the Council should undertake liturgical reform. This was pushed by German and French bishops, and completed after the Council, not by it. "We still have the task before us of communicating what the Council actually said," the Pope writes, accurately, 40 years later.
The Pope, in a few lines, lays waste to all of Protestantism and all of modernism: if Scripture contained the entirety of revelation, then the only authority available is for exegetes, who each have varying and uncertain knowledge. This explains why Luther traded, in B16's words, the cassock for the scholar's robes.
Some of the liberals brought this up at the Council, arguing that the totality of revelation was contained in Scripture, as well as in Tradition. However, B16 brought them back from the brink to affirm that revelation is a strictly interpersonal process, one greater than human words (and, therefore, greater than Scripture). Hence there will always be a need for a Church (as a Person) to receive revelation from God.
Other brilliant little asides concern the nature of Marxism (the state as the messiah), liberal/progressive theology (treating dogma as "a shackle" and not as truth to be rejoiced in)--and this coming from a self-identified liberal theologian.
The book ends with his consecration as a bishop, and with a beautiful meditation about how God could call him to something so at odds with his true desires, which are to lead the quiet life of a scholar in a garret. "I am senseless and ignorant; I am made a beast of burden before You, yet nevertheless I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand." (Ps 73:22-3)...more
Dense. An inspiration to Pope Benedict XVI, and it is clear why. The first few sections might deter a lot of people who are not terribly inclined to tDense. An inspiration to Pope Benedict XVI, and it is clear why. The first few sections might deter a lot of people who are not terribly inclined to think about the meaning of liturgy, the reason why we worship God, etc. However, this work is brimming over with insight both spiritual and philosophical. My favorite chapter, for example, was on the relationship between Logos and Ethos, something that should be of universal interest, and something that explains a lot of history (intellectual and practical alike). Challenging, but that is because it is brilliant.
Liturgy is one particular way of worshiping God. It is not private, individual prayer, nor even a collection of people engaging in private prayer. It is a corporal act. It equalizes the rich and poor, the races, the genders, all people of any differences together into one Body, and that Body is the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ offers Himself to the Father, as the Supreme Act of Love. The introverted man must come out of his shell; the extroverted man must be put under strict regulation. The liturgy teaches us; it disciplines us; it is a snippet, if you will, of what is taking place in heaven for all eternity....more
I picked this up because I am lousy at praying and because Msgr. Guardini's reputation is sky-high. However, I would advise this book only for those wI picked this up because I am lousy at praying and because Msgr. Guardini's reputation is sky-high. However, I would advise this book only for those who are just beginning to pray the rosary for the first time. I have been praying it for years, and was looking for a way to look at the Mysteries with new eyes. Every few pages there is a flash of insight, but for the most part this is intended to sway Protestants, and encourage new Catholics. So maybe give it to one of them....more
A very short little devotional on the Holy Name. A little disappointing because I would be interested in reading a much longer theological treatment oA very short little devotional on the Holy Name. A little disappointing because I would be interested in reading a much longer theological treatment of the Holy Name, on the significance of names in the Bible, etc. Fr. O'Sullivan mostly relies upon anecdotes to advance his argument, though at some points he does invoke universally binding truths of theology. He cites the good examples of many heroic saints. He writes, here and elsewhere, in a fervent style that cannot but inspire. ...more
Highly affecting to read the words of St. Patrick, particularly the two texts of this volume--the Letter to Coroticus, and the Confession/Last Will anHighly affecting to read the words of St. Patrick, particularly the two texts of this volume--the Letter to Coroticus, and the Confession/Last Will and Testament. Both show an astonishingly humble man, and human, not a plaster saint or legend. He repeatedly confesses his shame at being unlearned, at being a country bumpkin who never completed much schooling. But G-d uses the weak of the world to shame the strong, and shows His power in the weak: G-d did more with this shepherd than a thousand Ph.Ds do today.
St. Patrick's story, which he details in swift, laconic, simple Latin, is also deeply moving. It is a kind of icon of Our Lord Christ. He is born into the house of a well-to-do father, with servants; barbarian marauders destroy the house and slay the servants, taking Patrick into slavery for 6 years. During this time, he is a shepherd in rural Ireland, where he discovers G-d and speaks to Him constantly like that other shepherd, David. He prayed all day and all night as he went about his work.
After a dream telling him that he would soon return home, Patrick runs away and finds a ship leaving Ireland. At first, the sailors refuse to let him on (it is implied that they are almost equally nefarious characters to the ones who kidnapped him in the first place), but then, after he walks away and prays, they call back to him to get on the boat before they leave.
They sail for 3 days (+), over 200 miles along the coast of Ireland, to Gaul. They run out of food, and, on shore, find only a barren wasteland. After a few weeks, the sailors angrily tell St. Patrick that, if he's so holy, why can't he pray to get some food? He tells them to trust G-d, and soon they find wild honey and a herd of pigs. They feast.
He makes it home, but, after some length of time he does not specify, another dream tells him to go back to Ireland. And so, the place of his slavery, where he was involuntarily kept, is where he voluntarily becomes a slave for compassion on the barbarian Irish. He becomes a slave again, a shepherd again (a shepherd of souls). He converts, baptizes, and confirms thousands of pagans, so many that he loses count. Often, their families persecute him, throw him in jail, try to kill him, etc. Once he is made bishop, an old friend betrays him by disclosing a shameful sin he committed as a teenager, 30 years earlier, to get him defrocked.
This provides the occasion for writing the Confession, the defense of himself. St. Patrick received divine forgiveness--30 years ago. And since then, G-d has transformed him and blessed him beyond what anyone could deserve.
It is hard to fathom the sheer vastness of love that would be required to go in search of those who had once enslaved you, the mind-boggling love and compassion that would motivate a man to serve those who had terrorized him and threatened his life. To contemplate St. Patrick is to contemplate the Mystery of Charity, which is the nature of G-d. It is to see an image of Christ, a Member of Christ's Body.
St. Josemaria said that you should read his aphorisms as though he were whispering them in your ear. As combative, confrontational, and challenging asSt. Josemaria said that you should read his aphorisms as though he were whispering them in your ear. As combative, confrontational, and challenging as they may seem, really they are the gentle words of a spiritual father to his children.
Really his three works of aphorisms should be understood as one work, as they is little to distinguish one volume from the other. It seems that he spent most of his life working out the details and consequences of his vision, as a young priest, of Opus Dei, of sanctifying the little things of daily life among the laity, of invading, in the Name of Christ, every field of human activity.
I read them by sifting out, or plucking out, the ones that spoke most powerfully to me. These will be different for each soul. The book is helpfully organized and indexed by subject matter.
Having sifted, take them to prayer. There is a lifetime of prayer in these inexhaustible pages, and it would take a lifetime to pray through them....more
One way to make sense of Kafka is to start with the premise that he is joking. It gets harder to sustain that premise when you read, for example, hisOne way to make sense of Kafka is to start with the premise that he is joking. It gets harder to sustain that premise when you read, for example, his diaries, or other private writings like these aphorisms.
Kafka wrote this while attempting to recuperate from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, resting in the country village of Zurau, Bohemia. He felt more freedom and more peace, now that he was able to focus entirely on writing. And yet the same themes repeat: uncertainty about G-d, the burden of being a son, the infinite gap between the divine and man.
Normally, Kafka wrote like Trollope, page after page of prose, with little distinction between works. Kafka even cared little for such conventions as making the paragraph the unit of organization. But here, using a little octavo notebook, he wrote one aphorism per page on Bible-thin paper. He seems to have had very specific intentions as to these aphorisms, with each one standing on its own.
If you assume that he is serious, then this, like much of his other work, seems incoherent, strange, diseased, illogical, bizarre. A good number of them Kafka later crossed out.
As one-liners, they are often amusing. As the decrees of a philosophaster, they are sophomoric, reading something like Radiohead lyrics. In fact, Radiohead could probably make a pretty sick album out of this. Then, at least, these scribblings would have some value.
As for the actual ideas, the actual theology found in these pages, here is the best I can summarize:
The divine is present inside each of us, but we cannot know it with any clarity. Searching for G-d causes great anguish, as does disbelief in G-d. Therefore one must simply trust that He is there, which is a lot easier said than done. Man lives in the divine presence, as in Eden, but simply cannot see it anymore.
The edition I read also contained an equally strange document simply called "He" or, "Notes from 1920." Here he details an individual sounding a lot like the usual Kafkan protagonist, his anguish at the world, at the passage of time, at the burden of family life, and at his own uncertainty about G-d. These notes, like the aphorisms, contain many solecisms, tautologies, and contradictions, such that one wonders if they too are a joke. Perhaps they are....more
**spoiler alert** Loose and baggy. A much slower trudge than the perfect pacing of Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. It drags for the first half (ov**spoiler alert** Loose and baggy. A much slower trudge than the perfect pacing of Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. It drags for the first half (over 300 pages!), which is almost entirely just characterization and set up for the action takes place in the second. It is hard to convey in this little review the frustrating prolixity of this novel, and not just in the ridiculous Mr. Micawber character.
Dickens said that this was his favorite of his own novels, but it would seem that that is the case because of its autobiographical similarities, rather than because of its aesthetic achievements. It is hard to describe the structure of DC, assuming that it has one at all. It is a teeming mass of characters and curiosities, but its disorganization and chaos more closely resemble the uneven workings of real life than do the neat, well-made plots of other Victorian works (indeed, many by Dickens).
And that is what redeems it from being complete garbage: it has an aftertaste of real life. The downfall of the beautiful Emily: that is what life is like. [In fact, I wish the novel had been centered around Emily instead. If DC had his heartbroken by her running off with his friend, that would have been more dramatic than his simply marrying the beautiful Dora.] The death of the innocent and child-like Dora Spenlow: that is what life is like. The laughable foolishness of Micawber: that is, both sad and funny, what life is like. DC is sad and funny, just like life.
Of course, there is the usual caricature-like quality of Dickens here, with the grotesqueries of Uriah Heep, and his ultimate jailing. This is not necessarily what life is like. Villains are usually more subtle than Heep, and often they get away with their crimes.
Kenosis is the meaning of life, emptying and filling. This is how you imitate Christ. This is the mystery of the Cross. This is the paradox at the heaKenosis is the meaning of life, emptying and filling. This is how you imitate Christ. This is the mystery of the Cross. This is the paradox at the heart of all existence.
"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." There are 7 variations of this saying of Christ in the New Testament. And it is emphatically true: the more we attempt to seize the day and aggrandize ourselves, the more we find that our life has passed us by and disappointed us.
1 Cor 11:1 - "Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ."
Phillippians 2: "He emptied Himself (ekenosen) by taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men...He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name."
The heart of the book is thus: ""Strive, My Son, to do another's will rather than thine own. Choose always to have less rather than more. Seek always after the lowest place, and to be subject to all. Wish always and pray that the will of God be fulfilled in thee. Behold, such a man as this entereth into the inheritance of peace and quietness.'
'O my Lord, this Thy short discourse hath in itself much of perfectness. It is short in words but full of meaning, and abundant in fruit. For if it were possible that I should fully keep it, disturbance would not so easily arise within me. For as often as I feel myself disquieted and weighed down, I find myself to have gone back from this teaching. But Thou, Who art Almighty, and always lovest progress in the soul, vouchsafe more grace, that I may be enabled to fulfil Thy exhortation, and work out my salvation.'"
And there are countless Biblical texts we could pull out here, that He became poor so that you might be rich, that you should seek the lowest seat at the table, that He has looked with favor on His lowly servant, etc.
The curious thing is that it's empirically true. This is the hedonism paradox, which I unfortunately discovered on my own, through my own years of misery. Viktor Frankl puts it thusly: "Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. The more a man tries to demonstrate his sexual potency or a woman her ability to experience orgasm, the less they are able to succeed. Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself."
Or, as Peter Kreeft put it, take your temperature when you're sick, but when you're healthy think about other people and about God. I think it is Goethe who says that if a man thinks long enough about himself he will think that he is ill.
And, of course, there is Chesterton's paradox about self-knowledge: "self-consciousness...destroys self-revelation. A man who thinks a great deal about himself will try to be many-sided, attempt a theatrical excellence at all points, will try to be an encyclopaedia of culture, and his own real personality will be lost in that false universalism. Thinking about himself will lead to trying to be the universe; trying to be the universe will lead to ceasing to be anything. If, on the other hand, a man is sensible enough to think only about the universe; he will think about it in his own individual way."
This book collects admonitions to the soul, and then eloquent Psalm-like prayers and conversations with the Lord, which are good enough that I'm willing to believe that they might be actual transcripts. The final quarter of the book consists of sublime paeans to the Eucharist which are of great use before mass....more