I picked up this short booklet by a 19th-century Benedictine father from the Adoration chapel at our church. (For the non-Catholic, Adoration is the p...moreI picked up this short booklet by a 19th-century Benedictine father from the Adoration chapel at our church. (For the non-Catholic, Adoration is the practice of sitting or kneeling in silent contemplation of the consecrated communion host, or Blessed Sacrament, mounted in some kind of ornamental display, or "monstrance.") LIke many things about the Catholic Church since my conversion in 2008, Adoration is a practice (or teaching or dogma or tradition) that I did not understand at first but am getting to know as my faith experience ramifies. Adoration is among the hardest to understand, at least for me.
This booklet of only 69 pages describes the Blessed Sacrament, contemplated in Adoration, as a "touchstone of faith." Of course it is a leap of faith to believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is "present" in that "piece of bread" there. But according to Fr. Etlin, many saints have made that leap, making a daily (in some cases hourly) practice of Adoration, and testifying to the graces that flow from it. And for me the experience of the saints has always been a convincer. Not that I am one myself, but rather by a sort of reasoning that says, "If it worked for them, how am I so smart that it can't for me?"
It is a fundamental belief of the Catholic faith that God became present to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ left us a permanent memorial of his God-ness in the Blessed Sacrament, which is not only a reminder of Himself, but Himself himself!
If — by faith or in fact — this were true, would it not be the most extraordinary thing imaginable? (less)
I am placing this book on my (short) list of FAVORITES although I have still read only one-third of its 700 pages. It is a book with which I have an u...moreI am placing this book on my (short) list of FAVORITES although I have still read only one-third of its 700 pages. It is a book with which I have an unaccountable affinity, and you may too. Mitchell was a profile writer for the New Yorker in the 30 years leading up to the writing of "Joe Gould's Secret" (1964), which proved to be his last published work.
JGS can be found and read as a slender freestanding 100+-page volume. In this much bigger tome, it is the final entry, after 600 pages of collected New Yorker profiles. JGS alone is worth the price of any single book.
Joe Gould was a "bohemian" in Greenwich Village whom Mitchell met around 1940 and followed until his death about seventeen years later. Joe Gould's "secret" is one that Mitchell himself kept until his own silence descended in the mid-1960s, for reasons as mysterious as Joe Gould's story. Mitchell clearly felt an affinity with Gould, as I do with Mitchell. Why, is something Mitchell may never have explained, and something I can't yet explain.
So I will continue reading the shorter profiles and trying to understand Mitchell and maybe myself too. I hope this review intrigues you as Mitchell does me . . . (less)
Drawn to St. André Bessette, I came upon this book about three "little saints." So glad I did.
Everyone knows St. Pio of Pietrelcina, or "Padre Pio" (1...moreDrawn to St. André Bessette, I came upon this book about three "little saints." So glad I did.
Everyone knows St. Pio of Pietrelcina, or "Padre Pio" (1887–1968), famous for his confessions and his stigmata. Many know "the miracle man of Montreal," St. André (1845–1937), whose personal devotion led to construction of the Oratory of St. Joseph. I had never heard of the Venerable Solanus Casey (1870–1957), an American Capuchin priest. Not a saint, not yet, Casey found a vocation in humility like Pio and André, and like them miracles followed him around.
André and Solanus served their communities as porters or doorkeepers. While Padro Pio did not serve as a literal doorkeeper, Schorn says "he shares with Brother André and Father Solanus the vocation of guiding people through the doorways of holiness."
Moving back and forth artfully among these three holy lives, this book may be a valuable doorway for Catholics and other spiritual seekers. (less)
I was drawn to this novelized life of St. Augustine by Julie's review, and I'm glad I was. Augustine was one of many saints I've wanted to know more a...moreI was drawn to this novelized life of St. Augustine by Julie's review, and I'm glad I was. Augustine was one of many saints I've wanted to know more about -- the author of the Confessions, lived in Africa, a Doctor of the Church, fought heresies, right? -- but didn't until now.
DeWohl's book, simple, somewhat clunky, and old-fashioned as it may be, weaves the main elements of Augustine's life into a single, readable narrative with only a few long discursive parts to slow it down. In the slow category especially is the long bit of history about Carthage, Rome, and the Vandals used to introduce Augustine's death. As though, just before the end of an adventure novel, the author stopped the narrative for thirty pages to teach World History.
But this aside, the book left me with a much clearer picture of Augustine and a desire to read his Confessions, which have long stared at me from a lonely place at the end of my bookshelf.(less)
This is one of the most surprising books I've read. Surprising because I expected a devotional work that would move me. Instead I am getting a theolog...moreThis is one of the most surprising books I've read. Surprising because I expected a devotional work that would move me. Instead I am getting a theological work that fascinates me. I am reading with sports TV on mute in the background. And I am not often looking up from my reading screen to my sports screen. In the first 40 percent or so, Saint John Paul has laid out the fundamental theology of Catholicism in response to pointed questions from a tough but sympathetic interviewer. What a brilliant intellect behind the face of piety! I've dropped everything else to keep reading....(less)
Four stars for a book about the "greatest modern saint" written by my favorite modern Catholic? What gives? I was underwhelmed by the first third of t...moreFour stars for a book about the "greatest modern saint" written by my favorite modern Catholic? What gives? I was underwhelmed by the first third of this short biography and only caught fire in the last third. Still, this is probably a must-read for most fans of Therese and/or Day.
The problem with the first third is that Dorothy Day, overworked her entire life, took on the labors of a historian while trying to tell the story of Therese's parents, the world in which they lived, their economic circumstances, and the lives of their five surviving children, all daughters, all nuns eventually. The longest chapter in the book, about Therese's sisters, comes at the end of the first third, and I found it eminently skimmable. Day relies too much on long excerpts from primary sources, piecing her history together but never making a moving narrative of it.
And yet it's obvious that Day identifies deeply with Therese, and understands her as few other moderns have. This comes clear in the final chapters about Therese's life in the Carmel, her work there, her writing, and her final illness and death. Particularly her work.
Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker, a newspaper and a movement. She lived her life in service to working men and women, literally living in what we would call homeless shelters with the out-of-work and down-and-out. When she writes of Therese *working* in the convent, her book begins to sing. Other portraits of Therese make her seem lighter than air, a creature of pure spirit. Day gets the physicality and grit of life in the convent: the rude bed Therese slept on, the rough sandals she wore, the way her hands chapped with chilblains from rinsing clothes in the winter cold. All things Dorothy Day lived through herself.
By the time Therese dies of TB (if that's a spoiler, sorry, it shouldn't be) you will feel her suffering all over your body. The final short chapter, "The Shower of Roses," returns to themes of work and the worker. It is the working man and woman, Day writes, "who first spread [Therese's] fame by word of mouth. It was the masses who first proclaimed her a saint."
As founder of the Catholic Worker and as a tireless worker herself (read her diaries, The Duty of Delight) Dorothy Day gets Therese of Lisieux as few others have. Only as a historian does Day disappoint. (less)
** Hailed as a sci-fi classic for the nuclear age, and the greatest sci-fi novel ever to begin as a collection of stories, this was for me a great Cat...more** Hailed as a sci-fi classic for the nuclear age, and the greatest sci-fi novel ever to begin as a collection of stories, this was for me a great Catholic novel. **
Its themes include the interplay of faith, science, and power through history. Especially moving to me was the effort made by Catholic characters to hang on to their faith and the Sacraments in extremis—even in the midst of a nuclear holocaust.
It is one of those rare books that I want to read again immediately upon finishing it. In the case of "Canticle," this may be because I listened to the Audiobooks version rather than reading it, and there are many odd names of which I could not visualize the spelling (which frustrated me). But mostly it is because the story is so ingenious and multidimensional that I had the feeling I was only getting the first layer or two.
"Canticle" begins in a post-apocalyptic landscape after "The Flame Deluge" (a catastrophic nuclear war). The Albertian Order of Liebowitz is a small community of monks in the American southwest who have made it their mission to preserve the fragments of human knowledge not burned in the holocaust. The founder, Blessed (later Saint) Liebowitz, was a Jewish engineer who survived the war, converted to Catholicism, and founded the order.
There are two big time jumps as we see what happened to the Order six hundred years later and then twelve hundred. This gives author Walter Miller a chance to show the ways in which scientists and politicians try to disprove and disenfranchise faith—and the ways faith fights back. Very inspiring!
Miller had things in common with Saint Liebowitz. He was a World War II survivor with PTSD who converted to Catholicism then suffered from depression before finally killing himself. "A Canticle for Liebowitz" is the only novel he finished in his lifetime. ("Saint Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman" was published in 1997, the year after he killed himself.)
I will probably try to read "Canticle" again in hard copy very soon. (less)
As a Catholic for six years and a mystery fan for fifty-six (since my first Hardy Boys book), I can't believe I haven't taken Father Brown seriously u...moreAs a Catholic for six years and a mystery fan for fifty-six (since my first Hardy Boys book), I can't believe I haven't taken Father Brown seriously until now. I've had this first collection on my bookshelf since about 1990 but never got past the first two or three stories. I thought them amusing but lightweight, clever but hardly wise. Now finally I realize how darn Catholic they are.
They're also quicker and compacter than just about anything by Conan Doyle or Raymond Chandler, two other faves of mine.
Father Brown is a short dumpy priest who combines "Essex flatness with saintly simplicity." At first glance, he seems unprepossessing, a butt of fun. But his own first glance is more accurate. Father Brown inevitably notices the telling detail that everyone else misses. In one story, he notices the postman.
Father Brown knows that the world considers Catholic faith unreasonable but he proves that "it's just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason."
Every tale contains a sly defense of Catholic faith and at least one wry shot at non-Catholic approaches to reality, from New Agey sun worship in "The Eye of Apollo" to optimistic atheism in "The Three Tools of Death." Puritans, Presbyterians, Christian Scientists—none come off much better.
One non-Catholic but admiring character sums up Chesterton's sleuth: "Popish priests are deucedly shy." Father Brown says, "Ten false theories will fit the universe," as ten false theories will explain a murder. But, he adds, "we want the real explanation of the castle and the universe."
Twelve times the universe needs explaining here. Twelve times—like Clarissa in the Nickelodeon series my daughters grew up on—Father Brown explains it all.(less)
This is the third in the series of mysteries solved by 12th-century Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael, though only my first. Pushed to the series by a...moreThis is the third in the series of mysteries solved by 12th-century Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael, though only my first. Pushed to the series by a friend but bogged down in an ink-and-paper copy of the first volume, I only got hooked when I began listening to the Audiobooks version of volume three. Narrator Stephen Thorne manages the English and Welsh accents and characters with great style, and makes the lead character engaging and sympathetic.
The story has many of the attractions of Sigrid Undset's "Kristinlavransdatter" and "The Master of Hestviken," personal favorites of mine. Like Undset's long books, this short mystery is a richly detailed narrative of medieval Catholic life. Like Undset's Kristin and Olav Audunson, Brother Cadfael lives astride contrasting worlds, each operating according to its own laws.
In "Monk's Hood" three worlds of law overlap, those of England, Wales, and the abbey. And like many fictional detectives, like Philip Marlowe for example, Brother Cadfael invokes a law of his own too, that of personal conscience, when he finally identifies the murderer and metes out justice.
Ellis Peters (nom de plume for Edith Pargeter) was immersed in the history of her native Shropshire and neighboring Wales, and "Monk's Hood" is set in this vivid borderland playfully, thoughtfully, masterfully.(less)
* Short enough to read on a short airplane flight. And you should read it if you like this sort of thing *
Having immersed myself in Raymond Chandler's...more* Short enough to read on a short airplane flight. And you should read it if you like this sort of thing *
Having immersed myself in Raymond Chandler's rich prose and character development, I was put off initially by this earlier noir mystery. (Cain published this novel in 1935; Chandler's first was published four years later.)
Cain's characters, though devious, are only inches deep, and descriptive passages are all but non-existent. The plot is short and action-packed. Nothing but action.
The narrator is an insurance agent who concocts a scheme to sell a man a policy, then murder the man. He schemes with the man's wife, whom he loves. The lovers plan to share and enjoy the insurance settlement together.
Then things go wrong. Then they go further wrong. Double Indemnity follows the consequences of evil to their conclusion, and the mounting pleasure I felt in reading the last third came from wondering how it was all going to work out, and what devious tricks Cain himself still had up his sleeve.
In print since it first was published, the story is clever, clever, clever.
Two things raised it above clever for me. The first is a long two-paragraph passage at the end of chapter 2 that explains why an insurance agent is just the sort of amoral soul to conceive and pull off such a stunt. "You think I'm nuts?" the character asks. "All right, maybe I am. But you spend fifteen years in the business I'm in, maybe you'll go nuts yourself."
These paragraphs contain a concise condemnation of the cold, betting mind that sells spins of the roulette wheel on death and accident. Insurance, he says, "is the biggest gambling wheel in the world." But then Cain never got a glimpse of today's derivatives markets.
The other thing that I particularly liked occurs in the final two chapters. If you want to read the book, you probably shouldn't read my review further.
In the second-to-last chapter, the narrator explains just what the text is that you've been reading and why he wrote it. Then in the last chapter, he writes another text.
The effect is a bit like getting to the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude and realizing that the book you've been reading is a book within a book.
Not quite. Cain is no Marquez. But he's pretty cool. (less)