Category Archives: Books

A Liturgically-Minded Poet

by Patrick Angiolillo

Among my favorite poets is the little known, but tremendously talented twentieth century Jewish American poet Samuel Menashe. His was something of a late-bloomer in the literary community, at least in terms of his recognition. Indeed, late in his life, he won the Poetry Foundation’s Neglected Masters Award, receiving it in the first year of its presentation. But his poetry, regardless of it’s critical review, is some of the most concise expression of the deep and profound matters of life and faith.

The English Movement poet Donald Davie described Menashe’s verse as “liturgical”; indeed, he classifies Menashe’s poetry as expressly “un-literary.” Rather, Menashe’s is a “very insistently linguistic” poetry. As an educated American Jew, Menashe grew up with Yiddish, but learned English early on, and has acquired French by his teenage years. And, knowing his story, I would guess he was not unfamiliar with Hebrew and Italian, as well, if not even more languages than those.

Menashe was a words man. Continue reading A Liturgically-Minded Poet

Joy to the World: Preparing for Advent and Christmas

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By Katie Morroni

Each Advent over the last few years, I’ve read a book while preparing for Christmas. (Let’s be honest, I usually take a cue from Fr. Matt and read whatever he is reading or, as was the case last year, read a shorter and easier version of whatever he is reading — Part 1 and Part 2. Hey, we can’t all be scholars and experts!) These books have served as guides on the road to Christmas, sometimes helping me grow in an academic understanding of the faith, but more often, enriching my prayer life and personal relationship to Jesus. This practice started a few years ago when, as cliche as it may sound, I was looking to keep focused on the true meaning of Christmas amidst the hurried shopping season and all the noise and stress that sometimes comes with it.

My husband and I are preparing to welcome our first child, likely during Advent or Christmas, so everything feels different this year. When this first occurred to me, there was a brief temptation to think Christmas may need to take a back seat. But I quickly realized: this year I need Advent — and its stillness, holiness, prayerfulness, and preparation — more than ever. But more on that in a future post.

After seeing it promoted on Facebook, I decided to pre-order Scott Hahn’s new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does). It was a bit impulsive, and I have never read one of his books before, but this title jumped out at me. I felt (and still feel) a strong sense that I am supposed to read this book this year. Perhaps that’s setting expectations a bit high, but I’m willing to follow through and see where the Holy Spirit may be leading.

Continue reading Joy to the World: Preparing for Advent and Christmas

Let the Free Man Through or, Hope for a Consenting Heart

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Check here for the first entry in this series.

This week, I’m taking the first chapter of Interior Freedom (“The Search for Freedom”). For those of you following along at home, that’s pages 9-31.

Over my years of teaching, I’ve become something of an uncompromising tyrant a conscientious objector to the notion of Sparknotes. So let’s keep the fact that I’m about to give you the Sparknotes version of one of the most perspective-altering texts I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever, just between us. It’s a necessary evil, unfortunately, since my first draft of this post was 2,000 words and Fr. Matt suggested I revise. To avoid such an epic, I’ve decided to focus on a few particular moments of insight from the chapter and devote my reflections to those.

The first and most fundamental moment of clarity that Fr. Philippe offers is the relationship between freedom and happiness. While the relationship seems to be clear (“I am the happiest when I have the most options before me, when I am the least limited, when I am the most free”), Philippe inserts a significant causal component here:

The kind of love that is the result of constraint, or self-interest, or the mere satisfaction of a need, does not deserve the name love…there is true love, and therefore happiness, only between people who freely yield possession of the self in order to give themselves to another…Freedom gives value to love, and love is the precondition of happiness.

This seems like a simple point, but the elegance of the nearly mathematical treatment of the road to happiness via love sustains the more abstract points yet to be made. Which brings me to my next moment of revelation:

You were within me, and I was outside myself, and sought you outside myself!

That moment of spiritual brilliance is courtesy of St. Augustine and relays Fr. Philippe’s argument that the greatest and truest freedom exists not in the number of paint colors you might select or the job opportunities you have before you, but in the quiet yet monumental choice that happens everyday within the human heart – the choice to  love or to fear.

With this in mind, Fr. Philippe ends his first chapter with an account of the three possible attitudes one may adopt in the face of perceived lack of freedom: rebellion, resignation, and consent. Of the first two, I will only say that they are gradations of the same sterile response to imposition (though Philippe does note the appropriate use of rebellion and resignation, respectively). It is in this last moment that I am most interested. The notion of consent implies the ideal response to limitations and restrictions upon ourselves. Compared to resignation (an essentially passive response) consent at once establishes the significance of the one who gives consent, while at the same time, the consenter embraces his own limitations with the joyfulness of Christian hope. The difference between resignation and consent is important here: it’s the difference between being carried away to your undesired path, fearful of the dark way ahead, and walking there of your own accord, embracing with hope the potential for a good end.

This. Changes. Everything.

The personality faults you’ve labored under and resented within your own heart? The resigned suffer under the weight of their inadequacy; the consenting moves forward in spite of their failings, knowing that God can move beyond deficiencies to make something beautiful. The financial burdens that daily overwhelm you? The resigned are lost within their fear; the consenting are able to trust in the providence of God with the confident abandonment of the saints. Our freedom is restored to us in the moment we make the free decision to choose that which we would not have chosen. And, in that way,

The act of consent, therefore, contains faith in God, confidence toward him, and hence also love, since trusting someone is already a way of loving him. For wherever faith, hope, or love are, openness to God’s grace, acceptance of grace, and, sooner or later, the positive effects of grace are necessarily present. Where grace is accepted, it is never in vain, but always extraordinarily fruitful.

As an aside, a friend offered this clip from Of Gods and Men which illustrates Fr. Philippe’s point nicely.

Next week, a real doozie: “Chapter 2: Accepting Ourselves.” Challenge accepted.

 

 

 

 

Jacques Philippe and the Little Despot: A Book Club of Sorts

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By Claire Bordelon

From our first experience with the word “no,” there is something significant in that declaration of personal freedom; it becomes entwined with our perceptions of the boundaries of others’ influence over ourselves and our daily lives. It is true that we desire freedom. We are, we are told, sovereigns (some of us, to be fair, are more like little despots) of our own kingdoms: independent, immutable and, of course, completely free.

Through the recommendation of a friend, I recently began reading Jacques Philippe’s Interior Freedom, which, among other things, has called me to a reevaluation of my understanding of that word “freedom” (pause for “you keep using that word…” reference here). What is it about this concept of freedom that has become the repository not only of all our hopes, dreams, futures, and escapes, but also our excuses, justifications, and rebellions?

I get it. I really do. To be free is so deeply rooted in the human heart that the desire alone rarely goes through any examination; of course I desire to be free, what’s the problem with that? The problem is, I am not free. I am burdened by things outside of my control. I am forced into situations through no choice of my own and my resistance to them offers no relief and leaves me instead in spiritual tumult. Even when I resist successfully, the fear of those moments that restrict me and bind me to something I’d rather be free of lingers. So I must admit, then, that I’m not free. I am limited. And further, I will never be free according to my current definition of the word. How, then, do I reconcile my deeply-rooted desire for freedom with the apparent impossibility of ever achieving it? Interior Freedom begins to offer an answer:

To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on. We find it difficult to do this, because we feel a natural revulsion for situations we cannot control. But the fact is that the situations that really make us grow are precisely those we do not control.

The idea is a challenging one, to be sure, and one that requires an intense commitment to daily examination and a reevaluation of things that I’ve held onto for, well, my whole life. And so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a book study of sorts. I’ll read a section of Interior Freedom and, after reflection, offer my thoughts on what I’ve read. As an aside, Fr. Jacques Philippe will be visiting Lafayette this spring and preaching the Lenten mission at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus (Geaux Cajuns!), which will hopefully result in more of these book studies in the future.

I invite you to read along with me and offer your own impressions on the readings in the comments section below.

I’ll start with the first section (“Freedom and Acceptance”) next week.  For a preview of the book, or to read more, check out Fr. Jacques Philippe’s Website.

 

(The Good) Book Review: How Jesus Would Talk if the Bible Were Written Today

 

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By Brian Niemiec

I am told that I am an old soul trapped in a young man’s body. Maybe this is why I have an aversion to all things new and different. I approach newness with a hermeneutic (an interpretive lens) of suspicion. So, when I stumbled across an NCR article on the “The Message,” a new translation of the Bible written for Americans with contemporary language and phrasing, I was skeptical.

For a better description of what “The Message” is all about, you should read the article. To give you an example of this translation, the text in Paul’s letter to the Romans reads, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is translated to “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.” Hey! What a clear message!

Then I started thinking, is that the entirety of the message? Critics have already pointed out the difficulty of removing the text from the historical and culture context within which it was written, but I also worry that the message is so direct, that it loses room for the Word of God to speak anew each time it is read. Is the passage from Romans above only about selfishness and a call to not ignore God? I think it’s also about the reality that belonging to the spirit is communal. The passage is about belonging to the body of Christ, the Church!

This new translation is a way to encounter Christ anew. It is a way to excite the new disciples and the older ones who have grown apathetic. It is a great tool which speaks the language of 21st century American culture, and challenges that culture with the words of Christ. Yet it is just that, a tool. It cannot be mistaken for the Word of God. The word is much broader than these necessary and jarring words.

So, yes, this translation has much to offer the Church in America, but it is no substitute for the Word revealed in Sacred Scripture. It is one resource, albeit a good one. Enjoy!

“Tell Jesus not to kiss me.”

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By Katie Morroni

As I’ve written here before, I’m making my way through a study on suffering with my Endow group. It’s been a beautiful process.

I like to think I’m starting to understand what it means to be united in Christ’s suffering, especially when I’m sitting back and pondering it from a semi-academic perspective. It’s a very different thing to be in the midst of a problem that seems to have no solution and think, “Thank goodness I’m united to Christ and His suffering!”

Continue reading “Tell Jesus not to kiss me.”

Are All Good Books Catholic Books?

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By Claire Bordelon

I recently came across an intriguing book titled All Good Books are Catholic Books released by Cornell Press in 2013. A survey of the Catholic Church’s attitude toward the social, cultural, economic, and political developments of the twentieth-century, it makes some claims I’m not sure I agree with but are nonetheless thought-provoking. To that end, I began thinking about the books that feed spiritually, artistically, and every way in between. Below is the list of books that came to mind first – while they’re not necessarily based in Catholic theology (though some are), they certainly feed the Catholic soul. 

Consider this my Summer Reading List:

  1. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
    Published in 1945, Waugh’s Bideshead Revisited explores the personalities and stories of a flawed but intriguing Roman Catholic aristocratic family. Dealing with divine grace and its effects on various members of the story, Brideshead presents a colorful, varied, and rich discussion of the rejection and acceptance of faith and the movement between those two poles.
  2. The Woman of the Pharisees  – Francois Mauriac
    The Woman of the Pharisees–one of Mauriac’s most accomplished novels–is a penetrating evocation of the moral and religious values of a Bordeaux community. In Brigitte, we see how the ideals of love and companionship are stifled in the presence of a self-righteous woman whose austere religious principals lead her to interfere–disasterously–in the lives of others. One by one the unwitting victims fall prey to the bleakness of her “perfection.” A conscientious schoolteacher, a saintly priest, her husband and stepdaughter and an innocent schoolboy are all confronted with tragedy and upheaval. But the author’s extraordinary gift for psychological insight goes on to show how redeeeming features inevitably surface from disaster. The unfolding drama is seen through the discerning eye of a young Louis–Brigitte’s stepson–whose point of view is skillfully blended into the mature and understanding adult he later becomes.
  3. Leaper: The Misadventures of a Not-Necessairly-Super Hero – Geoffrey Wood
    A fun and fast read, Leaper chronicles the reluctant hero, James, who suddenly discovers (or maybe imagines?) hitherto unknown superpowers. What kind of good can James do with his abilities? What is “good”? Humorous and poignant, Geoffrey Wood asks these questions and more in his unexpected and vastly entertaining  debut novel.
  4. The Complete Father Brown Stories – G.K. Chesterton
    Fans of Agatha Christie, rejoice! The Father Brown mysteries combine a bit of Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” with Chesterton’s eye for detail and rich prose in the quiet, witty, and genial character of Father Brown.
  5. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
    A moving recounting of the affair and aftermath between Sarah Miles and narrator Maurice Bendrix, The End of the Affair is as unexpected as it is painfully beautiful. The intimacy of the narrative voice paired with the enigmatic movement of the plot follow Bendrix as he chronicles his journey from obsessive love to hatred for Sarah, her husband Henry, and finally to the God whom he is forced to recognize, even amid his darkness and confusion.As a side note, the last forty pages are some of the most heart-wrenching and beautifully written passages I’ve read in a long time.
  6. The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
    The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the “treasurable moments” absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic and must-read.
  7. Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor
    Short stories make the perfect interlude for a rainy summer afternoon, and if you’re going to read them, you may as well start at the top. Everything that Rises Must Converge exemplifies O’Connor’s understanding of the beautiful and the grotesque, and once you’ve read a few of her stories, you’ll recognize her voice anywhere.
  8. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold – C.S. Lewis
    Lewis’ last novel retells the story of Cupid and Psyche through the eyes of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Persuading her sister to look upon the forbidden face of Cupid, Orual is left to plunge into a deep and illuminative contemplation of suffering and the human soul. The book is a creative vision of Lewis’ own philosophy and imagination – if you’ve read and admired other works by Lewis (especially Surprised by Joy), this is a must-read.
  9. The Chronicles of Narnia -C.S. Lewis
    The world-building powers of Lewis are at their finest in Chronicles of Narnia, which chronicle the world of Narnia from its first moments through its self-defining moments and troubles. Fantasy enthusiasts should be ashamed if they’ve not yet ventured into Narnia.
  10. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization – Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
    For a break from fiction and a history lesson, take a look at this survey by Thomas Woods, which outlines the integral and defining role the Catholic Church has played in the development of Western Civilization.
  11. Space Trilogy – C.S. Lewis
    This is another must-read for fantasy and sci-fi fans. Lewis’ trilogy follows  Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic who is abducted and taken to the planet Malacandra and the various adventures and discoveries he makes not only about this new world, but also his own “Silent Planent.” Tinged with Lewis’ philosophical touches and brilliant manipulation of language and world-building, Space Trilogy will appeal to any looking for a different and engaging side to the Lewis they loved from Narnia.
  12. Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
    Inman is a disillousioned Confederate soldier who has failed to die after being seriously wounded during the last days of the Civil War. Longing to be reunited with his beloved, Ada, Inman embarks on an odyssey through the ruined South he once new. This is a Hero’s Journey story for the Civil War buff, and represents a beautiful addition to the American canon.
  13.  The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
    In a fantasy London, police hero Gregory Syme cannot reveal fellow poet Lucian Gregory is an anarchist. Elected undercover into the Central European Council of anarchists, Syme must avoid discovery and save the world from bombings by anarchists named after the days of the week.  Buckle up for a different Chesterton than the one you thought you knew – The Man Who Was Thursday requires and then rewards immersion into this fantastic and hyper-realistic world.
  14. My Life with the Saints – James Martin
    If you’re not usually keen on the lives of the Saints, Martin’s episodic narrative of his various encounters with the saints offers a spiritual memoir that reminds the sleepy Catholic of his friendship with the saints and the rich and vibrant lives we can share with them.
  15. Left to Tell – Immaculee Ilibagiza
    I read this book in one sitting. Equal parts horrified and inspired, I couldn’t stop myself from turning page after page of Immaculee Ilibagiza’s harrowing story of the 91 days she spent hiding in a bathroom during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
  16. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
    If you’re looking for a light, inspiring read, this is not it. The Road follows a father-son pair through a post-apocalyptic America in which a pistol, a cart of scavenged food, and each other are the only defense they have against not only the barren landscape but also the lawless bands that stalk the deserted roads. The stark language mirrors the setting and offers an excellent introduction to readers looking for a taste of some excellent dystopian fiction.
  17. The  Diary of a Country Priest – George Bernanos
    In this classic Catholic novel, Bernanos movingly recounts the life of a young French country priest who grows to understand his provincial parish while learning spiritual humility himself.
  18. Letters to a Young Catholic – George Weigel
    Another non-fiction interlude in this list, Letters to a Young Catholic is George Weigel’s tour of the Catholic World and helps us understand how Catholicism fosters what Flannery O’Connor called “the habit of being.” Taking the reader by the hand, Weigel embarks on a journey to Catholic landmarks as diverse as Chartres Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Not just for the young!
  19. The Poems of Gerard Manly Hopkins – G.M. Hopkins
    G.M. Hopkins is an excellent introduction for those disinclined to like poetry. Accessible and meditative, take these to prayer, read one in the morning, or read them all in one fell swoop. You won’t regret it.
  20. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather
     In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. One of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.
  21. East of Eden – John Steinbeck
    I tried to limit myself to a single Steinbeck on this list, so I picked my favorite. Grapes of Wrath is always the popular choice, but forgive me, East of Eden is, as they say, where it’s at.Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence
  22. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
    I told my students once that if they hadn’t read this book, they were only living a half-life. They disagreed, but I still stand firm. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is both incomprehensibly sophisticated and completely engaging. Chronicling the journey of the One Ring via the Ringbearer, Frodo, Tolkien’s story is best advertised in the words of the writer himself:”The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work. Unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
  23. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
    Ditto above.
  24. Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
    It is a story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawkes, Hazel Motes founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdoms gives us one of the most riveting characters in twentieth-century American fiction.
  25. Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
    Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Comment below with book suggestions – what are your must-reads?

 

My Most Beautiful Cathedral

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Whenever I feel a little distant from God, because I haven’t been praying well, or I haven’t been focused on my faith, my heart and mind drift back to the way I felt when I first learned about Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan — and his experience with the Eucharist during his imprisonment.

Cardinal Van Thuan spent thirteen years in prison, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. NINE. The first time I ever even heard of the cardinal was reading his own words about the Eucharist in his re-education camp, and his words remain for me some of the most chilling and most inspiring I have ever read:

The Eucharist became for me and for the other Christians a hidden and encouraging presence in the midst of all our difficulties. Jesus was adored secretly by the Christians who lived with me, just as happened so often in other prison camps of the twentieth century.

In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of fifty people; we slept on a common bed, and everyone had a right to 50 centimeters of space. We managed to make sure there were five Catholics with me. At 9:30pm we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep. It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little sacks from the paper of cigarette packs to preserve the Most Holy Sacrament and bring it to others. The Eucharistic Jesus was always with me in my shirt pocket.

Every week there was an indoctrination session in which the whole camp had to participate. My Catholic companions and I took advantage of the breaks in order to pass the small sack to everyone in the four other groups of prisoners. Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst. At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With his silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith-life, and their witness of service and love had an ever greater impact on the other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians came to the faith. The strength of Jesus’ love was irresistible.

In this way, the darkness of the prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the group during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptized fellow prisoners and became the godparents of their companions.

While I feel sick to think of what all his holy man endured, I do love reading and rereading his testimony, especially this portion. It’s a shocking and beautiful reminder of the gift of the Eucharist, and how rich we are when we have God, even if we seem to have nothing else.

At another point on his imprisoned journey, then-Bishop Van Thuan was transported in chains and near complete darkness with 1,500 other prisoners on a ship. He’d previously been imprisoned, but took some comfort in the fact that he remained within his own diocese. Now, he had no idea where he was heading. The first night was one of “terrible anguish,” and he spent much of the night counseling the distraught prisoners, including one man who tried to hang himself.

It is with this context that he later wrote:

Upon my departure from Saigon, Jesus, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, made me understand that I had to engage in a new form of evangelization. I no longer acted as a bishop within a diocese, but … going outside, for all my life, to the very limits of my capacity to love and give of myself. …

In the obscurity of faith, in service and in humiliation, the light of hope had changed my vision.

And then, my favorite part:

I understood that at this point, on this ship, in this prison, was my most beautiful cathedral, and that these prisoners, without exception, were the people of God entrusted to my pastoral care. My prison was divine providence. It was the will of God.

Rereading and typing that now gives me goosebumps, just as it did when I first read the words. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can almost see his “cathedral.” I hear him calling it “most beautiful.” Today, as always, I then consider my own cathedral — where I’m called to serve, who I’m called to serve.

All of the above quotations are excerpted from the spiritual exercises Cardinal Van Thuan prepared for St. John Paul II; twenty-four years to the day after he was taken by force from his home, he concluded leading the pope through these exercises. His meditations and witness — while intended for a pope — are accessible to all of us, now published in a book, “Testimony of Hope.” It’s a favorite of mine, and I recommend it for any Catholic’s bookshelf, not to mention the bookshelf of anyone struggling with suffering and searching for hope.

Maybe this comes to me today because it’s a cold, snowy day here in Colorado (yes, in the middle of May). I know for sure that I’m silly for struggling to feel the joy of Easter just because it’s a gray day, and I do know how good I have it. But I believe we all have periods of relative feast and famine along our spiritual journeys. And when I’m hungry for the Truth, I often turn to Cardinal Van Thuan.

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Is there a particular book or prayer that you turn to during your spiritually lean times? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by posting a comment below.

Benedict XVI, Children, and the Mets

As a father, being present for the birth of my child was important as a show of support for my wife.  I was there,  as Francesa so pejoratively put it, to “look at” my wife in the hospital bed when she came out of surgery.

Let Daniel Murphy hang out with his kid, alright?
Let Daniel Murphy hang out with his kid, alright?

I am not a Mets fan:  I detest the Mets, their fans, and most of their players.  (Not on a personal level, mind you.  Well, except for my Mets-loving editor here at CH,because with him, it’s personal.)  So when I saw the headline on this story about Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy receiving criticism by some members of the New York media for taking paternity leave, my first reaction was a Mr. Burns-esque “Excellent.”  My more considered reaction was disgust.

To recap:  Daniel Murphy took several days off from work for the birth of his first child.  Because he plays baseball for a living, this decision upset sports radio host Mike Francesa, who said: “You’re a major league baseball player.  You can hire a nurse. . . . What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”  It also upset talking-head and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who suggested on air that Murphy’s wife should have had a “C-section before the seasons starts.”  Esiason later apologized; Francesa’s station will likely force him to make a hollow apology later today.  (Thankfully, some of Francesa’s listeners already blasted him for being stuck in the past.)  [Update:  Nevermind.  Rather than apologize, Francesa decided to double down.]

To the extent that Esiason’s comments were meant as a joke, I think they’re very funny:  the idea of planning major surgery around April baseball for a team predicted to miss the playoffs is hilarious.  But to the extent these comments were not a joke, and also setting aside the argument that Murphy had the right to take paternity leave under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (the document that governs the employer-employee relationship in Major League Baseball), the criticism of Murphy is alarming.

Continue reading Benedict XVI, Children, and the Mets

Reading Recommendations for Lent

Thank you for the insights you shared with us in response to our post seeking reading recommendations for Lent. Here’s a short compilation of the response, including suggestions from priests, brothers, and lay friends. Most were submitted to CatholicHow via Facebook and blog comments and email submissions, so thank you again for your input.

Have you read any of these books? Why do you think they make good picks for Lent? What books are missing from this list? Post a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.