First book in a long time to make me want to give six stars. First book to make my jaw drop with its awesome erudition. Not the smarty-pants idea-pushFirst book in a long time to make me want to give six stars. First book to make my jaw drop with its awesome erudition. Not the smarty-pants idea-pushing of the academic but the profound wisdom of the deeply religious, deeply read, great, wonderful man.
Daughter Susannah Heschel’s introduction about Sabbath observance in her childhood home lets us know just how wonderful her father was.
Heschel was (I’m guessing, no expert here) the great American Jewish theologian of the post–WWII era. It’s enough for me to read in his credit line that he was Professor of Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. I mean, seriously: ethics and mysticism?
But that’s mostly beside the point. The point here is the Sabbath and its meaning in Jewish Scripture and tradition, and its meaning today, since if you’re a God-fearing Judeo-Christian, by rights the Sabbath means what it always has.
Of course, our space-oriented, space-conquering culture makes of the Sabbath another workday, another shopping day when the malls are open, another day on which none of us can stop. Our idea of rest has become binge-watching a series on Netflix.
Heschel argues that while our civilization is all about manipulating things in space, the Sabbath is about time and its holy nature.
There is so much in these 100 pages that the best thing for me to do is stop writing and re-read it ASAP.
What a nice surprise, this little book. It combines two figures important to my Catholic journey, Henri Nouwen and the book’s author James Martin, SJ.What a nice surprise, this little book. It combines two figures important to my Catholic journey, Henri Nouwen and the book’s author James Martin, SJ., with the central character in the book, Thomas Merton.
Martin’s “My Life with the Saints” began the last leg of my conversion odyssey, when I picked it up on a 1/2-priced table at Borders in the fall of 2007 and began going to daily mass the following morning.
Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” was the trigger for events that led me to the L’Arche Boston North community two years ago. Famous author and lecturer, celebrated as a fave professor at Yale Divinity School, Nouwen more or less disappeared into a L’Arche community for the last ten years of his life. This piqued my interest.
Anyway—great book even if you don’t have as many personal connections to it! It combines Vatican II’s notion of a universal call to holiness with Merton’s famous statement: “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self.”
Martin never falls into the trap I anticipated for him: reducing the Christian journey to a mere search for self. The point here is that it is my real self to which God is calling me, where, when I get there, I will find God waiting for me.
Includes many other saintly figures whom I treasure, too, including Dorothy Day and Thérèse of Lisieux. Go get it. ...more
Henry Nouwen led me to L’Arche, this is one of his “L’Arche books,” I am on a L’Arche retreat, and so I have now read the book in the past day while oHenry Nouwen led me to L’Arche, this is one of his “L’Arche books,” I am on a L’Arche retreat, and so I have now read the book in the past day while on retreat.
This is an edited version of a speech Nouwen gave to a group of Catholic clerics after he entered the L’Arche Daybreak community in the mid-1980s. He offers lessons from L’Arche on how to be a better priest—or Christian leader of any kind.
Brilliantly, Nouwen states that today’s priests face the same three temptations Jesus faced in the desert 2,000 years ago. Jesus was tempted to conquer hunger by converting bread to stones; to do “something spectacular” (throwing himself from the parapet and letting angels catch him); and to seize power (over all the kingdoms of the world).
Today’s priests, Nouwen writes, are likewise tempted to “be relevant” (providing real bread instead of the Bread of Life); to be popular; and to be powerful leaders. As an antidote, Nouwen directs the reader’s attention to the story of Jesus calling Peter to be a shepherd (John 21:15–19).
Thus, Nouwen distills two short Gospel passages into a long homily on the temptations of today’s priesthood and ways of surmounting these—moving from relevance to prayer, from popularity to ministry, and from leading to being led.
A short, worthwhile read for any Christian, or any leader for that matter. ...more
Lourdes began grabbing me 46 years ago when I visited the most famous site of Marian apparitions for non-Catholic reasons. Which turns out to have beeLourdes began grabbing me 46 years ago when I visited the most famous site of Marian apparitions for non-Catholic reasons. Which turns out to have been the story of Franz Werfel, as well.
A Jew on the run from the Nazis, he and his family landed in the Pyrenean village at the beginning of World War II. Sheltered by villagers and moved by the story of Bernadette Soubirous, he promised God that if he reached America safely he would write the story of her visions of 1858. He did so within a year, and two years later his book became a Hollywood hit, starring Jennifer Jones as Bernadette.
Werfel's account is notable to me for two things. First, as a Jew, he shows an amazing understanding of, sensitivity to, and respect for Catholic life and devotional practices. Second, he focuses more on the dozens of characters surrounding and (in most cases) trying to take a piece out of Bernadette than he does on the girl herself. A poor peasant girl who saw a vision of a lady in a filthy grotto, Bernadette was also a powerless resident of a town in a province in a country dominated by a church. And each of those entities—town, province, country, and church—was represented by a mostly male cast of authorities, woven skillfully into Werfel's story.
Werfel's "Song of Bernadette" is a lot like Mark Twain's "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc," for what account of Catholic miracles is more credible than one written by a non-believer? This is why I am excited to turn next to Ruth Harris's book, "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age." Harris is a Jewish academic and agnostic, and her book is reportedly the most objective account of Lourdes extant.
Cutting way back on my reading during Lent, I have continued nonetheless to read three or four chapters of The Bible each day, in order to read througCutting way back on my reading during Lent, I have continued nonetheless to read three or four chapters of The Bible each day, in order to read through Old and New Testaments completely in 2017. I have just finished the second of ten volumes in the Navarre Bible, which covers the historical period from the crossing of the Jordan and Joshua's capture of Jericho to the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BC.
I went to Sunday school throughout childhood and so I pieced together Old Testament history by patch-working stories, but I never connected them in a historical arc so clearly as I now can after reading this. The Navarre Bible is a great resource, providing clear, non-fussy commentary with many quotations from the Fathers, saints, and councils of the Church. The result is a summary of Christian contemplative reading of salvation history for the past 2000 years. Worth the investment in time and money....more
In the month when the Church celebrates our Lady of Lourdes (Feb 11) and the child who saw her (St. Bernadette, Feb 18), I decided to read more aboutIn the month when the Church celebrates our Lady of Lourdes (Feb 11) and the child who saw her (St. Bernadette, Feb 18), I decided to read more about Lourdes. "The Song of Bernadette" by Franz Werfel was much more inspiring and informative than I would have thought, judging from the good but sentimental Hollywood classic developed from it. And then there comes this book, a compilation of texts from Bernadette's life as a religious, from the age of 22 until her death at 35.
The clear message: Bernadette was a saint not solely because she was graced with 18 visions of "that one," a lady she never referred to as the Virgin Mary. Bernadette was a great saint not only by grace but also by works: as a religious she strove every but as much as Thérèse of Lisieux to be holy. "What was mine no longer belongs to me," Bernadette wrote soon after taking the veil. "I have given all to Jesus."
This volume includes her journal, her letters from the convent in Nevers to friends and family back home in Lourdes, an account of her death by a beloved sister nun, and other fragments. They add up to a sometimes repetitious (hence four stars), always inspiring portrait of a saintly life, convinced of its own nothingness, radiant with love of God.
My favorite quote: "From this moment on, anything concerning me is no longer of any interest to me. I must belong entirely to God, and God alone. Never to myself."...more
It's quite possible that no one else at Goodreads will ever read this French document about my favorite saint, so I'll keep it short. I picked up theIt's quite possible that no one else at Goodreads will ever read this French document about my favorite saint, so I'll keep it short. I picked up the 188-page booklet—the official album of Brother St. Andre's 2010 canonization—at the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.
Brother André is a great 19th/20th-century Catholic figure, a little nothing of a man whom God used to do great things: documented cures and healings by the hundreds (thousands?) and the amazing achievement of the Oratory, the largest shrine to St. Joe in the world, raised by his dogged prayers. Bigger than St. Paul's in London, it draws millions of pilgrims to Montreal.
Read something, read anything about Brother André, who called himself St. Joseph's little puppy dog. No one will mind if you don't read this thing, though. ...more
This was probably my fifth reading, although my first hearing (Rob Inglis's wonderful narration). I did read all four Hobbit/Ring books to each of myThis was probably my fifth reading, although my first hearing (Rob Inglis's wonderful narration). I did read all four Hobbit/Ring books to each of my daughters when they were children.
What strikes me this time is the obvious contrast with the Harry Potter series, which has supplanted the Tolkien books as the literary currency of a generation. In Tolkien there is a sense of deep history and a great diversity of races. To enter fully into his story the reader must identify with a hobbit, and what is that?
In the JK Rowling series, the hero is a human teenager and the only diversity is that between the magical and the muggle, with good guys and bad guys on each side of a simple divide. Today's reader need only feel young and magical—and who can't imagine that—to enter effortlessly into the story. Tolkien's reader must employ a different quality of imagination, IMHO.
I picked up Tolkien again in deference to a fellow Catholic and good friend who has been rereading the books and seems eager to talk about them. In Tolkien today, I find another fellow Catholic and good friend. ...more
I didn't care for Richard Rohr the first time I was introduced to him by a priest friend, and I don't care for him now that I've finally waded throughI didn't care for Richard Rohr the first time I was introduced to him by a priest friend, and I don't care for him now that I've finally waded through one of his books. If you thought Thomas Merton was a living contradiction—a cloistered monk who became a literary celebrity—you can think the same of Rohr. He is a Franciscan, vowed to poverty, who parades his esoteric intellectual riches while distancing himself from the same Roman Catholic Church that ordained him a half-century ago, has sheltered him since, but now apparently shames him. Oh, poor Richard.
I was led to this book by a spiritual director who thought I would benefit from its thesis: that life is lived in two halves and that I (the spiritual director told me and I came to agree) have been stumbling for some years from the first half into the second—an uncomfortable transition, to be sure. So the book had utility for me, helping to frame my experience in a new way. But that's as far as it went, and that job was done after only a few dozen pages. After that, "Falling Upward" was a slog.
The bibliography of "Falling Upward" says it all. All of the all-stars of esoteric psychology are here: Joseph Campbell, Viktor Frankl, James Hillman, Karl Jung, Claudio Naranjo, Jacob Needleman, Alan Watts . . . Notice anything? None of them is/was Catholic. In fact, the only Catholics in the entire enormous bibliography are two mystics—Julian of Norwich and John of the Cross—and a former nun who plays the same "let's reimagine religion" game that Rohr does, namely Karen Armstrong.
I am a meat-and-potatoes Catholic, and proudly, and I take umbrage at a "Franciscan" who has to look outside his own supremely rich traditions to find inspiration, while scorning his own mother.
The thesis is useful, but the author is not someone I ever expect to read again. I'm done falling—upward, downward, or sideways—for Richard Rohr....more
My reading program for 2017 boils down to saints and Trollopes, and I've covered far more of the latter than of the former in the first 40 days of theMy reading program for 2017 boils down to saints and Trollopes, and I've covered far more of the latter than of the former in the first 40 days of the year. In the 10 months since April, I've read and listened to nine novels by Anthony Trollope, and I am in mounting awe.
Trollope was, I think, a finer analyst of human motivation than Dickens, and had a far broader scope than Tolkien, these being two more of my favorite authors. OK, yes, guilty as charged: I go in for dead white Brits who wrote prolifically and mostly in series. My top five also includes Patrick O'Brian (admittedly Irish, author of the Aubrey-Maturin series) and Anthony Powell ("A Dance to the Music of Time").
Of the five, only the supposedly greatest, Dickens, did not write long series of books requiring a sustained imagination over several years, or decades in Powell's case. Such sustained creative effort amazes me.
And Trollope—wow. In Phineas Finn he created a hero in the prime of life, and an Irish hero at that. (The Reverend Septimus Harding, hero of the Barsetshire Novels, about the Anglican Church, was never in the prime of life.) Phineas emerges in the second of the Palliser Novels, which revolve around doings in Parliament, although they are never political enough to bore apolitical me. And the Pallisers' central character, the well-married cabinet minister Plantagenet Palliser—an important character in Palliser #1 ("Can You Forgive Her?")—has only a walk-on here in #2.
As you swim through a Trollope novel (averaging 700-800 pages), you will find yourself lost sometimes in the current and perhaps even afraid of drowning in his seas of words. But the observations of human motivation are never less than brilliant; his heroines are usually more central than his heroes (Finn and Harding, the exceptions); and the successful tying up of countless threads at the end of each novel is extraordinarily satisfying. Moreover, there are no pure villains in Trollope, as there are in Dickens. Even the worst are shown with an asset or two and described with a smile.
While immersed in "Phineas Finn," I thought that I surely would take a break from Trollope before plunging ahead, but now that I've finished it, I can think of no better use for a snowy afternoon than the first pages of "The Eustace Diamonds" (Palliser #3). ...more
I read this because the Martin Scorcese film adaptation opens in my neighborhood next week. I expected to be blown away, having read for years that thI read this because the Martin Scorcese film adaptation opens in my neighborhood next week. I expected to be blown away, having read for years that this was Endo's masterpiece and having seen it listed in a book of One Hundred Great Catholic Books.
Great, I don't know about. Blown away, well not exactly.
The whole thing seemed a bit passionless to me. The plight of the protagonist, a priest sneaking into repressive 17th-century Japan in peril of persecution, seemed foreordained. His search for another, older priest—supposedly an apostate—was the main driver of the plot, and once that mystery was solved, about 2/3 of the way through, I lost much of my interest. The conclusion, an appendix of "documents" that carry forward the main character's story in cold, bureaucratic order, felt like an anticlimax.
The most interesting character is a non-priest named Kichijiró, but to tell of his role and ultimate destiny would spoil too much. There are important questions here about the nature of faith and just what and how much God/Christ expects of us Christians, but while these piqued my intellect they did not grab my heart, sadly....more
This is one of the books that spurred my return to Christianity and my conversion to the Catholic Church. I read it for the first time in 1978 after tThis is one of the books that spurred my return to Christianity and my conversion to the Catholic Church. I read it for the first time in 1978 after the death of Pope John Paul I, who reportedly died with a copy on his chest.
I have just finished the audio version narrated by David Cochran Heath, and having done so, I've started listening to it all over again. It bears constant re-reading and listening. You will read of many saints who declared The Imitation their favorite book and some who memorized long passages. Therese of Lisieux supposedly knew it by heart. It is dense stuff: one strong piece of advice after another, page after page. Christianity Lite this isn't.
The origins of The Imitation are vague but interesting. It seems to have begun inside the Brethren of the Common Life, a late-medieval Christian community in the Low Countries that bears study.
I can't recommend this strongly enough—but only for active, practicing Christians who want to deepen their faith and devotion. The drum beat of religious teaching is far too loud to do anything but scare away the atheist or agnostic.
It served in my conversion only because I was a Christian since baptism at seven months, and my experience was more reawakening than conversion. ...more