This series of talks delivered as a retreat in the eighties is magnificent. Ratzinger is always precise in his writing, but here he is at pains for clThis series of talks delivered as a retreat in the eighties is magnificent. Ratzinger is always precise in his writing, but here he is at pains for clarity as well, as the profound truths he seeks to articulate are of monumental importance for the people of our age. With a discerning eye, he tackles the deep relevance of the often obscure theological virtues (basing much of his understanding of them on Pieper's landmark work) to the Church and to the world, making the connections necessary for us to apply them not only to daily living, but to see our daily living within the context of the human struggle for meaning and for transcendence. In particular, his distinction between egoism and self-love has been particularly profound for my own spiritual life and should find its way into one's reflection and prayer on a regular basis.
[For the full text of this review, please check out my blog.]
A Short History of Nearly Everything, a recent release by the prolific travel writer Bill[For the full text of this review, please check out my blog.]
A Short History of Nearly Everything, a recent release by the prolific travel writer Bill Bryson, is the fruit of three years of research into the cumulative discoveries of the scientific world, with the hope of re-presenting them in layman's terms to the general public. It began, as he tells in the introduction, during a flight over the Pacific, in which he was staring out the window of the jet down at that vast ocean and realized he knew nothing about it. At that point, he resolved to do something about it, and I rather enjoyed his efforts to remedy his ignorance.
Coming from the pen of a man accustomed to pleasing his readers, the book manages to hold one's attention throughout long periods of academic history in which aristocratic gentlemen in powdery wigs debate with great vigor the suitability of certain botanical categories or the possibility that our noses evolved downward-pointing nostrils to ward off the hordes of contagion that dropped onto our planet from outer space. Scientific history is one long list of characters, some immediately recognizable, and many others whose names were forgotten as I turned the page; some were noble, others shady; some were possessed of a broad mastery of numerous disciplines, and others were content to whittle away at some miniscule corner of the scientific edifice with no apparent concern for what was transpiring around them. All seem driven by some desire for recognition; few seem to have received what they deserve. Each of them stands out in a remarkable way as beloved forebears of a rich and massive heritage.
While the certainties of yesterday are almost always laughable, Bryson manages for the most part not to condescend when surveying the progress of human knowledge--a progress that has been slow and painful since the dawn of the modern scientific method. Consequently, the most consistent reaction this book produced in me was surprise. Of course, the "incomprehensibles" such as astronomical distances, the subatomic particles, the probabilities of life, and the age of the earth and of the universe never fail to impress; yet more than once I found myself swimming in a morass of incoherent hypotheses and data, only to be told by the author that my confusion was not unusual, as the experts themselves really had no idea, either. Apparently, the only thing more astounding than what we know about the universe is what we do not know, and how likely it is that some discovery will come along that will up-end whatever certainties the establishment operates upon. Bryson makes much of the conclusion of the scientific world at the turn of the twentieth century that very little additional investigation was necessary before a complete, airtight account of the universe would be well within its grasp.
While reading "What Saint Paul Really Said," large portions of the new testament audibly clicked into place within my understanding of the broad, overWhile reading "What Saint Paul Really Said," large portions of the new testament audibly clicked into place within my understanding of the broad, overarching narrative of the Bible. St. Paul was taking up the Gospel message to the Jews and to the Gentiles as the final manifestation of the covenant promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15. Bishop Wright interprets St. Paul in such a way as to place him squarely in this Jewish context, but with a clear grasp not only upon the prophetic "critique from within" the Gospel presented to Judaism and the reconstitution of Israel around Jesus Christ, but upon the necessity of a confrontation of the Gospel with the prevailing pagan worldview. In particular, his reading of the issue of justification (one highly contested since the Reformation on, and, according to Wright, with a consequent impoverishment of meaning) is compelling by its explanatory power and its relationship to the broader Biblical narrative indicated above. ...more
Updike once said that a reviewer must never judge a book harshly for not doing what its author never set out to do. I had to keep this in the forefronUpdike once said that a reviewer must never judge a book harshly for not doing what its author never set out to do. I had to keep this in the forefront of my mind as I read about the priestly formation and ministry of Father Joe. As a priest myself, I found it interesting that Powers entirely neglects what every priest actually does most of his week: administer the sacraments, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, and visit the sick. These things are more or less inescapable in the life of a priest, and they show up only in the most tangential fashion in this novel. I can only conclude that this was deliberate on the part of the author, and so I cannot fault him for not creating what I estimate to be a "realistic" portrait of the priesthood, or of one priest's ministry in particular. One is left with the conclusion that Powers is exploring the tension between the sacred identity of the priest--presumably something most people, even non-Catholics would recognize intuitively--and the terribly mundane, even sickeningly mundane, circumstances in which that identity is lived out in the daily experiences and concerns of a Catholic boy growing up in the 60s and then as a pastor of a suburban parish in the late 20th century. Much like novels set in wartime but that aren't about war, Powers' concern isn't priesthood as such but he chooses priesthood as the setting for the larger artistic goal he has set for himself: the discovery of meaning within daily absurdity, the lived experience of meaninglessness. Considered in this light, I think Powers' novel is valuable, though any benefit Catholic readers may accrue could be offset by the admittedly disappointing story of Father Joe (my own case is one I'm not entirely sure about yet). In fact, there's a lot here I'm not sure about; I don't have a prior work alongside of which I could evaluate Powers, and I'm having a hard time processing its effect on me personally. Maybe I should come back and write this review after a gin & tonic... sure seemed to help Joe....more
This being the second time through Cather's classic, I had much more to learn. Composed in the style of three triptychs, it really does read like a seThis being the second time through Cather's classic, I had much more to learn. Composed in the style of three triptychs, it really does read like a series of stained glass windows lining the walls of the Santa Fe cathedral. A friend remarked that this was more like a collection of short stories that happened to be about the same few people, and I think he got it right on. Latour is a distant figure ("un pedant") that we only come to know through his dealings with the people and priests of his new territory. By the end of the novel, as he reminisces about his life and the lives of those placed alongside and within it, the tone shifts from adventuresome to a kind of bright melancholy, if such a phrase could be used. There is sadness in Latour, but sadness born of God--a love for simple people and their self-effacing customs, simple beauty, and the fact of the mingling of his soul with the strange faraway land he meant to Christianize. That, in the end, was what was most priestly about him, I think--the embrace of all within a wide but determined heart, pressing it to himself as he trod on his way to God. Anyone who gives themselves away so completely cannot but be deeply invested in the people and places they serve, and there is no shame in the quiet sadness that comes in the evening of life, when it is time to part from it all--and therefore from oneself.
As the Archbishop lay there on his bed in Santa Fe, his soul straining back to the day when he and his comrade Vallaint first stole away from their homes in France to serve the missions in the New World, the words of encouragement he spoke then on his lips again, I envied him his hard and toilsome life. I envied his total commitment to something far beyond himself, something that required privation and sacrifice in order to pursue to fulfillment. I envied him his life poured out in those rocky mesas and drafty hogans... and the devotion that carried him along to the very end of his task. Noble is too small a word....more
A powerful look into a world in which human beings obscured their ability to perceive the humanity of others for the sake of their own gain. This accoA powerful look into a world in which human beings obscured their ability to perceive the humanity of others for the sake of their own gain. This account shook me, and forced me to confront the possibility that I (and this country we live in) fail to see what later generations will rightly condemn us for missing....more
My bishop sent me a copy of this book, and so I felt obliged to read it, though I didn't need much encouragement in the first place. It is a hefty pieMy bishop sent me a copy of this book, and so I felt obliged to read it, though I didn't need much encouragement in the first place. It is a hefty piece of theological reflection that seeks to incorporate but also tMy bishop sent me a copy of this book and so I felt obliged to read it, though I didn't need much encouragement in the first place. It is a hefty piece of theological reflection that seeks to incorporate but also to reach beyond the insights of contemporary biblical criticism, insights which have in the past been used to clear away the supposed accretions of tradition that have obscured the foundational figure of Christianity: Jesus of Nazareth. I'll be honest ... it was a hard book to finish. The sheer breadth of Benedict's learning renders his work a rocky and unfamiliar place, requiring careful steps and a good sense of direction. Yet he never brandishes his erudition as a weapon with which to awe the reader, but serenely directs the massive force of his mind back to the face of the Lord and invites the reader to imitate him. If nothing else, this work is a clear example of the ease with which Benedict has made the transition from theologian and guardian of the traditions of the Church to spiritual father (though the two aren’t really exclusive, are they?). Without the least reluctance he engages the many conflicting voices that clamor to claim Jesus as their own, each with varying degrees of insight which he acknowledges without becoming entrapped within their categories. He leads all into a greater attentiveness to the Lord without imposing his own presuppositions upon the Gospel texts, allowing them to speak for themselves with all the original and idiosyncratic power they possess. As a seminarian engaged in appropriating the massive heritage of interpretation that has been penned in regard to the Scriptures, Benedict gives me hope that my time is well spent in this endeavor as long as I hold fast to Christ, allowing myself to be caught up in his face-to-face conversation with the Father—for it is on account of this that he came. “’He who sees Jesus sees the Father.’ The disciple who walks with Jesus is thus caught up with him into communion with God. And that is what redemption means: this stepping beyond the limits of human nature, which had been there as a possibility and an expectation in man, God’s image and likeness, since the moment of creation.” (from the Introduction) When it seems as if the Way is no longer clear, our Holy Father speaks with confidence to beckon us onward. Nevertheless, it is a long, hard book, and not all will be interested in the finer points Benedict makes. My suggestion is to read the Introduction (to be distinguished from the Foreword) and to continue reading as long al the subject holds one’s interest—and then a bit further. Then lay it aside and wait to take it up again when there is a new inspiration to do so. ...more
After reading this cover-to-cover for the first time since high school, I am struck not only by Chesterton's delightful rhetoric but by just how relevAfter reading this cover-to-cover for the first time since high school, I am struck not only by Chesterton's delightful rhetoric but by just how relevant his insights are to contemporary discourse. I take this as a clear indication as to just how far off the mark our contemporary discourse has wandered, since so little progress has been made. There is very little outright philosophy in this book; nonetheless, it is a systematic overview of decades of poetic reverie thoroughly conditioned by a philosophical worldview. Strangely enough, it happens to be in direct contradiction to the prevailing attitudes among the educated in his time as well as in ours. While postmodernity can lack the sort of earnest optimism so prevalent among Chesterton's opponents, I sense a kinship between them that demands a real familiarity with the framework of his arguments, if not their roccoco embellishments. Remarkably, the Church finds itself doing precisely the opposite of what GK sets out to do in his chapter on the Maniac. Whereas Chesterton finds it necessary to undermine the rationalism of his era, our own age needs to hear the Church's defense and affirmation of reason (so felicitously articulated by the Holy Father at Regensburg). It is a testimony to Chesterton's trustworthiness that he himself takes up that defense in the very next chapter (the Suicide of Thought) and proceeds over the course of the book to explain, by way of his own intellectual journey, just what this nuanced reverence for rationality looks like. Do yourself a favor and give this one a hoist....more
This book is just about the closest thing to a mentor that I have. Three times through has not exhausted its meaning and insight, though after carryinThis book is just about the closest thing to a mentor that I have. Three times through has not exhausted its meaning and insight, though after carrying it with me on nearly every foray into the woods (as a matter of principle) has left it tattered and worn. Kohak is a native of the Czech Republic and composed this while living in a small house he built himself in the New Hampshire woods, and teaching philosophy at Boston College. He has since returned to his home. Though English is his second language, the prose is delicate and purposeful (Frost is one of his linguistic mentors)--there is no doubt he is a philosopher, however, and one who has spent many years deciphering that nasty continental stuff. The surprise comes as the really practical implications of his thinking become clear - this is no pie in the sky, no HD Thoreau, but a real, livable philosophy. There have been a number of times when I seriously considered the possibility of living this life, out beyond the powerline, where there still is night. Yet the beauty of this is that to profit from its insight, there is no need to do this; Kohak has hope that a recovery of the moral sense of nature is within the grasp of everyone willing to seek it, no matter their circumstances.
If you try it, skip the first section (entitled 'Theoria')if you find it difficult, and go right to 'Physis'. If the sections on the gift of the night, of solitude, and of pain do not hook you, you are a cold fish.
"For the truth, for all its complexity, is in a sense utterly simple, as simple as the embers and the stars. We fear unknowing, yet the greater danger may well be that of forgetting, of losing sight of the starry heaven and the moral law, dismissing the truth because it seems too naively simple. That is why it seems to me so urgent that philosophy should ever return down the long-abandoned wagon road amid the new growth, not to speculate but to see, hear, and know that there still is night, star-bright and all-reconciling, and that there is dawn, pale over Barrett Mountain, a world which still is God’s, not man’s, a world where the human can be a dweller at peace with himself, his world, and his God. Though it cannot remain there, philosophy must ever return down the wagon road, in the golden glow of the autumn. Not to find a new truth. The reason is far more modest: lest we forget."...more
This book has done the most to open me to Patristic sources of theology and to the threads leading up to and culminating in Vatican II, grounding thatThis book has done the most to open me to Patristic sources of theology and to the threads leading up to and culminating in Vatican II, grounding that Council for me in a way I had not understood before. A fast read, as almost every page is half footnotes- a bit thick in parts, but it has borne re-reading well and I've not opened it without learning or being reminded of something very important.
Interestingly enough, de Lubac was actually silenced by his Jesuit superiors sometime in the 50s - every book in his study was removed and he was forbidden to write. He bore it with patience and ended up as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops) at Vatican II. A small testament to his love for and obedience to the Church....more
I picked this book up out of the Eighth Day Books catalog after being captivated by a quote from it. Part of that quotation is in the book info above,I picked this book up out of the Eighth Day Books catalog after being captivated by a quote from it. Part of that quotation is in the book info above, and it gave me the impression that this book was much more exquisitely composed than it in fact was. Unfortunately, it sapped that phrase of its power within the context of the story, and robbed the book of what may very well have been its climax.
Arranged as a series of short, almost aphoristic reminisces about the three brothers of the author's wife, each of whom was afflicted with muscular dystrophy from a very young age, the total effect is more of a photo album than a narrative from beginning to end. However, I am not convinced that the means the author chose were not the best way to evoke a subject that is an emotional and poetic re-presentation of the remarkable personalities of these boys. There is some good poetry sprinkled throughout, poetry that achieves its purpose much more effectively for being situated solidly in the context in which it was created--which is really a way to appreciate poetry I had not experienced before, and provided some insight to the creative process. The net effect of the compositional style, though, is that the author is a heavily mediating figure, giving his audience not so much a look at the boys through his eyes but a look at the effect their lives have had upon him. By the end of the book, I knew Terpstra better than I knew Neil, Paul, and Eric.
That being said, this seems consonant with his overall purpose. The power of these apparently crippled lives lay, as he notes, in their attractiveness despite a deprivation of what is regarded as what is most fundamentally desirable. We encounter a man who has been transformed by an encounter. He very effectively evokes the feelings and reactions of one who steps into an unconventional home and learns what it means to be a member of a family that revolves completely around the care of three disabled teenagers. His unique position of being both within and without the family permits him to straddle two worlds in which a disease is either a fact of life or a shameful tragedy. What results is a loving cultivation of an awareness of dignity in the shadow of humiliation and weakness. ...more