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.
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
This is the first of six "political" novels in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope, written in the 1860s and 1870s. Yet it takes several hundred pThis is the first of six "political" novels in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope, written in the 1860s and 1870s. Yet it takes several hundred pages for political life to begin.
The book starts and ends with, and the plot is driven by, two love triangles. One involves a married woman, Lady Glencora Palliser, her stiff bore of a husband, and her former lover, the penniless dreamboat Burgo Fitzgerald. The other involves a woman who might never marry, Alice Vavasor, together with her dark cousin George and her would-be fiancé John Grey, than whom few arrows were ever straighter.
Glencora and Alice become intimate friends, and so the plot spins around their bond like some sort of organic molecule. Oh yes, and Glencora's husband, the grandly named Plantagenet Palliser, is a Member of Parliament.
But will Mr. Palliser be appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer? Will Lady Glencora remain childless, and he heirless? (Mr. Palliser is himself the nephew and heir of the Duke of Omnium.) And—? This Trollope novel, like all others I have read, is driven by such questions—above all the questions of love and its requital. So described it sounds hopelessly outdated. But it isn't, not for me, nor are any of his novels.
Trollope combines sharp wit and keen psychological insight in a way that Dickens doesn't. By contrast, Dickens combines broad humor and a tragic sense of life that Trollope somehow seems to lack. If fiction is always and everywhere about love and/or death, then Dickens offers both love and death while Trollope is a love-only kind of fellow. No one ever dies in Trollopeland, unless it's offstage.
But that doesn't prevent me from loving his work or wanting to read the next Palliser ASAP....more
Listened to this as a sort of review of the Barsetshire novels, which I recently finished, hoping the audio would extend my enjoyment. Quite the contrListened to this as a sort of review of the Barsetshire novels, which I recently finished, hoping the audio would extend my enjoyment. Quite the contrary.
The dramatization turns Trollope (drastically abridged) into soap opera, when he is anything but. For example, the fifth book, "Small House at Allington," Is reduced to a love triangle, when the book itself has far more complex geometry, with a triangle near its center.
I do NOT recommend this to anyone as an audio abridgment of Trollope if you haven't taken the time to read him. You'll get entirely the wrong idea. It might serve for a Trollope fan who hasn't visited Barchester in some years. My mistake was listening after only just leaving that sacred precinct. ...more
In search of a biography of the "Doctor of Devotion," I found this breathless hagiography written a century ago and sounding like it. (What biographerIn search of a biography of the "Doctor of Devotion," I found this breathless hagiography written a century ago and sounding like it. (What biographer writing today would refer to her subject as "seraphic"?) Still for the basic facts of Francis's life, you could do worse.
I was particularly interested in Francis's intimate relationship with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who founded the Order of the Visitation under his direction. In our hyper-sexualized culture it is hard to imagine such a friendship as chaste—any more than the friendship of another Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. But our times are the odd times, I think, in which everything reduces to sexuality, and I do mean reduces.
Four hundred years ago, in the midst of the Counter-Reformation, such male-female friendships surely existed. ...more
I have set about reading the entire Bible in 2017, reading 3-4 chapters per day. That is the number needed to finish in a year, because it turns out tI have set about reading the entire Bible in 2017, reading 3-4 chapters per day. That is the number needed to finish in a year, because it turns out there are just under 1,200 chapters in the Old and New Testaments combined.
I probably would never have done this if not for the Navarre Bible, which I discovered in a chapel in O Cebreiro at the entry to Galicia on the Camino de Santiago five years ago. There I found a lectern with Bibles in 30 languages, and the English-language edition was just this Navarre Bible. It is 10 volumes in all, and I have just completed the first.
Its features are parallel texts from the Revised Standard Version and the New Vulgate (Latin). Between these on each page run rich notes, containing many quotations from Church Fathers and saints, as well as frequent commentaries by Jose-Maria Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei who apparently inspired, encouraged, or ordered this Navarre work.
So then one is accompanied in reading by the assembled tradition of the Church, from the earliest centuries to the 20th. (And no I am not reading the Latin, which runs at the bottom of each page in a very small type, more for reference, I suppose, than anything.)
The first volume, what Christians call the Pentateuch, is the Jewish Torah; and after Genesis tales of creation, Noah's Ark, Abraham and Isaac, et al., it moves into the four-book story of the escape from Egypt and the 40-year approach to the Promised Land via Mt. Sinai. This odyssey is told over and over through Exodus, Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy, with countless laws and censuses thrown in. This repetitive material would probably be unbearable to me if not for the commentaries, which never fail to interest.
And now it's on to Joshua (and the battle of Jericho) as the Chosen People enter the Promised Land. This is the great narrative underlying our civilization! And finally I am reading it....more