Because everything known categorically about St. Joseph can fit in a paragraph or two, books like this are mostly records of devotions to the foster fBecause everything known categorically about St. Joseph can fit in a paragraph or two, books like this are mostly records of devotions to the foster father of Jesus that have developed over 2,000 years. I find these books moving. They show that my own devotion to St. Joseph has been shared by the likes of St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux, in addition to the incomparable Brother André Bessette. Good company that.
Any story about Brother André and St. Joseph bears repeating. Here's one of several in Gauthier's book that were new to me. Warned against pride by a clergyman, Brother André pulled out a statue of St. Joseph and said, "There is no danger of that; I have St. Joseph in my pocket."
Gauthier is a noted French-Canadian theologian who was inspired to write this book while editing a work about Brother André. Gauthier also has a particular interest in Therese of Lisieux.
The first five chapters highlight aspects of Joseph's character: spouse of Mary, humble servant of the Lord, foster father of Jesus, carpenter of Nazareth, and the "hidden life" shared by Joseph and Jesus at home in Nazareth. The final 35 pages of 96 pages total are filled with devotions, litanies, and prayers to St. Joseph developed over many centuries of Church history and tradition. ...more
I thought it might be smart to read Thoreau's "Week on the Concord and Merrimack" because I am planning to spend at least a week walkinPROGRESS REPORT
I thought it might be smart to read Thoreau's "Week on the Concord and Merrimack" because I am planning to spend at least a week walking along the Merrimack next spring. What did Thoreau find there when he and his brother John ran upriver and down between Lowell, Massachusetts, and Hooksett, New Hampshire, I wondered to myself? How did he describe it? How has it changed? Maybe I could learn something about that neck of the woods from one of the greats.
I might better have studied astronomy by reading "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy."
What an extravagantly strange book is Thoreau’s "Week"! If Thoreau’s immortal name rested on his "Week," instead of on his "Walden," he would be long forgotten. No wonder A Week received “mixed reviews” and sold “poorly” when it was first published in 1849. The quotes are from the concise chronology at the back of the Library of America edition of Thoreau. There we learn that the "Week" was such a bomb the author eventually took back 706 copies of the first printing of 1,000, leading him to say, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”
Of the three hundred pages in my edition of "A Week," Thoreau spends about 50 pages on the river and 250 in his imagination. I wanted to learn about the landscape around Manchester, New Hampshire, not about Hindoo [sic] philosophy or the mean of a Friend.
After a cursory glance at "The Maine Woods" and "Cape Cod" in the back half of the L/o/A edition, I am turning to Thoreau’s other book-length work, "Walden." I never meant to read "Walden" as I prepare for my pilgrimage to Montreal, but now I have to. (If you got this far and are wondering about the pilgrimage, see my blog witness2christ.blogspot.com.)
I have to understand how the man who splashed up and down the Concord and Merrimack during a desultory week in 1838 managed to turn around and write one of the great works of American, or any national, literature a few years later....more
Stephen King knows how to make all the little hairs in your secret places stand up and shriek, but he doesn’t have a clue how the universe holds togetStephen King knows how to make all the little hairs in your secret places stand up and shriek, but he doesn’t have a clue how the universe holds together. The problem is, he pretends he does. His characters speak as though they do. There’s nothing wrong with visions of hell. Scripture is full of them. In Revelation 11, John writes of a “beast that comes up from the abyss.” King is all about describing that beast.
But for an author to unleash the beast with nothing to beat the beast back—and believe me, there’s nothing in this book—violates the deepest desires of my human heart. I want nothing more to do with him. I won’t spend another dime on Stephen King's work.
* This is an excerpt of my review at the blog "Witness." For the full review visit witness2christ.blogspot.com. *
Revival pits a heroin addict, Jamie Morton, against a preacher-turned-quack-healer. The latter goes by a series of aliases but is often referred to as Pastor Danny. The “pastor’s” wife and son are killed in an accident. He loses faith and becomes a mad scientist harnessing “secret electricity” so that he can see through the doorway of death and rejoin his loved ones, or understand what happened to them.
If Pastor Danny were anything like a sympathetic character we might care about his quest, but from the outset he’s creepy. Jamie is a young boy when he meets the pastor, and there is something pedophilic about their relationship. Nothing sexual happens but I kept expecting something.
But then, so, Jamie must be a sympathetic character, right? Hardly. I don’t fault him for being an addict or a third-class rock musician. I fault him for being Stephen King. Every narrator in every King novel I’ve ever read speaks and things exactly the same way, with the same obsessions about popular culture from the 1960s until the present.
When the King narrator starts getting philosophical, he goes from banal to vapid. He gets a glimmer of something weird, some contact with another world or dark force or higher power or whatever, and he says something like what Jamie Morton says in Revival, “Something happened.”
For the rest of the book, Jamie repeats his extraordinary “insight.” Jamie says “Something happened” over and over again. Thanks to Kindle’s search feature, I can report that Jamie Morton says or thinks the phrase "Something happened" thirty-five (35) times, not counting the times he repeats it to himself in a single paragraph.
That’s all King has to say about the beast unleashed by Pastor Danny’s evil experimentation. King opens the door to hell (his own imagination), watches like a toll-taker as the monsters rush out, then takes the tolls to the bank, leaving the door open.
I was annoyed by Revival. More than anything, though, I was bored. I just wanted it over. Please.
You want beasts? Fine. Give me John. Give me Revelation. Just don’t give me one more damn Stephen King novel....more
Since being received into the Catholic Church in 2008 and taking the confirmation name Joseph, I have been drawn to the story of Jesus's foster fatherSince being received into the Catholic Church in 2008 and taking the confirmation name Joseph, I have been drawn to the story of Jesus's foster father and to those saints, like Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, who had a devotion to him. None tops André Bessette, beatified in 1982 by St. John Paul II and canonized in 2010 by Benedict XVI.
Short, slight, sickly, and shy, Brother André was a religious brother who almost failed entry into the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Taking his final vows at 28, he pursued his career as the porter (doorkeeper, errand boy, janitor) at Notre-Dame College for boys in Montreal. But then the cures began, the "miracles," and the hundreds, then thousands of visitors who flocked to see and talk with and be touched by him each year.
André Bessette denied having any power of his own. Others called him "St. Joseph's fool." He preferred the nickname "St. Joseph's little dog." He directed people to pray to St. Joseph, asking the saint to pray for them; and he rubbed the sick with medals of St. Joseph and oil that had been burned in front of the saint's statue. He was well aware, he said, that any cures were the result of faith, not friction.
In 1896, he asked the superior of his order for permission to build a small chapel in St. Joseph's honor and was denied. So he walked the wooded area on Mt. Royal where he envisioned the chapel; he strewed medals of St. Joseph on the hillside; and he turned a statue of St. Joseph toward the site so that the saint might see where his chapel would be built. Six years later, Brother André finally received permission to build a chapel.
By the time the chapel was built, it was too small to receive the many pilgrims who came. So a larger chapel was built to seat 100 congregants. At the first mass 700 swarmed the hillside below the chapel's open doors. In 1914, when Brother André was nearly 70, permission was granted for a still larger church. St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal was the result: the largest shrine to St. Joseph in the world, dominating the Montreal skyline. Brother André did not live to see its dome completed . . . in 1967. He died in 1937, still working every day at 91 despite chronic illness.
St. André Bessette liked to say, "Pray to St. Joseph. He will never leave you out in the cold."
Though it could use some firm editing, this biography, translated from the French, will warm you to the heart. ...more
I've read that "Pilgrim's Progress" is the most-read Christian devotional book after the Bible—though some say "The Imitation of Christ" gets that disI've read that "Pilgrim's Progress" is the most-read Christian devotional book after the Bible—though some say "The Imitation of Christ" gets that distinction. They are distinctly different books. "The Imitation," though 200 years older than "Pilgrim," holds up better, I think, as a guide to religious life. But "Pilgrim," once you get on the road with its main character, Christian (né "Graceless"), is more fun.
The conceit, that Christian is walking to the Celestial City, leaving wife Christiana and four sons behind while he seeks his personal salvation, is both archaic and a bit troubling. (I mean, what about his wife? Obviously, Bunyan worried about that too, because Part II of "PP" tells the story of her pilgrimage with her children, following the footsteps of Christian.)
Archaic: Does anyone even make pilgrimages on foot anymore (other than the trendy trek of cultural tourism that is the Camino de Santiago)? And does anyone even believe in the analogical point: that life is a "pilgrimage" toward heaven, on which we encounter monsters, pitfalls, and our own weakness, fear, and complacency?
But what fun: The obstacles encountered by Christian have the most marvelously obvious names: There's Mr. Worldly Wise (whose advice is not really wise, naturally). There's the town of Vanity with its fair, which may have been Thackeray's inspiration for his novel. Guess which of these characters impedes Christian's progress: Timorous, Wanton, Hypocrisy, Envy, Superstition . . . Of course, all of them. Meanwhile, he encounters allies who help him along his way, the greatest of which is Evangelist.
Bunyan's biography is worth study. He lived in a century of religious chaos (the 17th) and wrote "Pilgrim" while jailed for religious dissent. Nearly four centuries later, his famous work is something of a museum piece, but something the serious Christian should study during his own life's pilgrimage. ...more
Whether you are a spiritual searcher without religion or a Christian seeking to deepen your religious life, "The Nun's Story" should be on your must-rWhether you are a spiritual searcher without religion or a Christian seeking to deepen your religious life, "The Nun's Story" should be on your must-read list.
This remarkable book has a unique place at my own personal crossroads of spirituality and faith. Like the author, I was for many years a student of the ideas of George Gurdjieff. Hulme studied with Gurdjieff personally in Paris in the 1930s, I with one of his latter-day descendants, who may or may not have been authorized to teach "The Work," as it is known—but that's another story, a story I am telling in my memoir.
Like the nun who was the model for the central character in the book, I am now a practicing Roman Catholic. That woman's real-life name was Marie Louise Habets. In the book she is Sister Luke, née Gabrielle van der Mal. What is known to those who have looked below the surface of "The Nun's Story" is that (a) Hulme became a Roman Catholic later in life, converting as I did; and (b) she came to the Catholic Church through her encounter with Habets, who became her long-time companion, generally believed to be her lesbian lover.
That's where the parallels end. But they go far enough to make this a powerful re-read for me, after approximately 30 years.
Hulme's book "The Undiscovered Country" is arguably the best personal memoir of life with The Master at the apogee of his powers. Hulme clearly developed exceptional powers of discernment, particularly about the inner life, while working with Gurdjieff, and she brings this discernment to the life of her "fictional" nun.
There is outer-world drama in the 340 pages of the novel: Sister's Luke's encounter with lepers, her fight against tuberculosis, and the coming of World War II, which changes her valuation of convent life once and for all.
But the inner-world drama is what makes this book so remarkable, particularly the struggle of a brilliant, highly skilled nurse and willfully independent woman with the demands of convent life and its vow of obedience. Gurdjieff demanded such obedience, while teaching his students exceptional means of soul-searching. Hulme trains her searchlight on Sister Luke's inner struggles in a way that is completely convincing.
No outer-world drama in the book matches the drama of Sister Luke's inner struggle when a superior orders her to fail an examination on purpose. Here for the first, but not the last time, her desire to be a good nun comes up against her woman's will to succeed. It is a struggle that any self-aware searcher can identify deeply with. ...more
It can be puzzling to read a book that moved you twenty years ago and to wonder why it did so. I had that experience diving into "Dakota," the memoirIt can be puzzling to read a book that moved you twenty years ago and to wonder why it did so. I had that experience diving into "Dakota," the memoir of a New York City intellectual who moves to Lemmon, South Dakota (very small), to take over her grandmother's farm when no one else in the family wants it. Norris embraces small-town life and what she understands to be its religious analog: monasticism. A Presbyterian without much active faith on arrival in SD, she finds her faith restored by local Protestant communities, then deepened by her encounters with monasteries on the high plains, both male and female.
I thought, as I finished Dakota today, that the two best non-fiction books I've ever read about male monasticism were written by women. The other is "An Infinity of Little Hours" by Nancy Maguire, about five novices who entered a Carthusian monastery in England at the beginning of the 1960s. (A must if you haven't.)
By then I had realized just why "Dakota" moved me twenty years ago. Thirty years removed at the time from my youth in Minnesota, and still fifteen years away from becoming a Catholic, the book bridged past and future. It put me back in touch with a Midwest childhood in which I was reared by faithful, Church-going parents and grandparents—and given the sure foundation on which my Catholic faith finally would be built. And by giving me a strong taste of monastic life—with its hours, humanity, and rich humor—the book allowed me to see that my past might be linked happily with a religious future in a new mode, as a Catholic convert.
This is less a review than a rant. Twenty years before Bill Moyers's series of interviews with Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth," wowed the AmericaThis is less a review than a rant. Twenty years before Bill Moyers's series of interviews with Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth," wowed the American intelligentsia (1988), Joseph Campbell's most read book (this one) helped strip me of religious faith (1968). I was a high school student wowed by a teacher of "Mythology," who used "Hero" as the core text in his syllabus. While reading everything from the Niebelungenlied to Updike's "The Centaur" (which is "mythological," right?) we used Campbell to tear each of these texts apart to find the same common story at the base of each. Each was seen to be "myth."
Not thinking too clearly at the time, I allowed Jesus and all of Christian Scripture to be thrown into the same stewpot with Beowulf and Buddha.
Now that I have returned (briefly) to read (well, scan) "Hero," I find Campbell's reduction of Christianity appalling. And I am appalled at myself for having accepted it hook, line, and sinker. Without warrant it sank my faith.
The very first sentence of "Hero" lumps St. Thomas Aquinas with “the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo” and “the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale.” All are but manifestations of “the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story.” It doesn't matter if Jesus of Nazareth actually existed on this planet. He is parallel with (reduced to the status of) every other "hero" dreamed up by the creative unconscious of our race.
Jesus and his Mother are an illustration of humanity's eternal mother complex. His Crucifixion is but a restatement of Buddha's enlightenment beneath the Bo Tree. Cross and tree are "archetypes," that's what they are. And the Catholic sacraments are nothing more or less than “rites of passage,” such as may be found in the most primitive societies, conducting “people across those difficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in the patterns not only of conscious but also of unconscious life.”
Campbell's world view is conditioned by Nietzsche and validated by Freud (frequently cited). Campbell lives in a world in which religion no longer guides or explains. "Today," he writes, "all of these mysteries have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche." The reader is left with the vague hope that, perhaps through some sort of mass Jungian analysis, we can all come back into touch with the primordial sources of myth in the human psyche.
Sadly, the last word in "Hero with a Thousand Faces" is "despair."...more
UPDATE: If you've not read much Dickens, this book is likely to be a waste of your time. If you have read Dickens, and love him as I do, this book isUPDATE: If you've not read much Dickens, this book is likely to be a waste of your time. If you have read Dickens, and love him as I do, this book is a must.
Chesterton has written a critique of Dickens and his work that doubles as a short biography. After a chapter on Dickens's childhood most of the book follows his major works chronologically and shows how they reflect developments in Dickens's character and life. Chesterton's insights are extraordinary, transcending Dickens, but his references to the novels and characters (without reminding the reader which novels the characters can be found in) would make this a frustrating read for the newcomer to Dickens, or even someone who may have read a couple of the more popular novels, like "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Great Expectations."
Having been annoyed (see below) with Chesterton's wordplay, I now confess to a change of heart. I realize, having barreled happily through the final 2/3s of the book, that Chesterton's (very Catholic) perspective runs so counter to much that passes for common sense that it makes all the sense in the world for him to turn cliché on its ear. Because truth—like the real value of Dickens—is usually not what most people think.
* * *
Chesterton annoys me almost the minute I take him up. His wordplay—the way he turns common expressions upside-down mainly—is repetitive and (though he wants to surprise) predictable.
But I adore Dickens and revere Chesterton as a fellow convert and the maker of Father Brown too, so I will persist, I hope....more
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 pI 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? ...more
It's preposterous to give three stars only to a Dickens classic like this one, but I can't help myself. Having read all of Dickens, and now rereadingIt's preposterous to give three stars only to a Dickens classic like this one, but I can't help myself. Having read all of Dickens, and now rereading him from first (Pickwick) to, well, hopefully last (Edwin Drood), I come to his second book, where clearly he was still finding his way as a novelist. The free playfulness of Pickwick, not tied down to a rigorous plot line, has mostly vanished here, and in its place are many of Dickens's lifelong concerns, particularly about poverty and its consequences, but all trumped up in a story that could not possibly have more artifice or coincidence. Not to mention caricature and (you could argue in the case of Fagin, "The Jew") bigotry.
The coincidence is thick, the sentiment groaningly thicker. Perhaps if I had NOT listened to most of Oliver Twist as an audiobook narrated by Martin Jarvis, I would feel differently. But Jarvis, though he could do a thousand voices if needed, instead of the hundred or so required here, makes the sentimentality even more treacly than on the printed page, off which it positively drips. I had to READ the last three or four chapters because I couldn't bear to hear another sigh.