We came to the March meeting of our group all fired up, with questions and comments prepared. Our discussion leader was Doru, ready in his usual manner to take us through this very profound book. He informed us that the format of the book was based on a series of homilies that had been given by Guardini, and then gave us some notes on the purpose of the book. He pointed out that the author went to considerable trouble to provide an analysis of Jesus that emphasized his divine nature as well as considering his human nature.
We agreed together that the book goes very deep, that it requires considerable thought for just about every page. Guardini also posits some ideas that seem startling, that had never before occurred to this life-long Catholic. I will not go into detail here, since that would, I think, require a spoiler alert! But I would say to the reader, be prepared to have your assumptions challenged, to have to re-think some of your entrenched habits. At one point, I paged back to the front to check for the Nihil Obstat, and there it was, so I felt satisfied.
We agreed that this is a very important book and were amazed that it had not come to our attention before, since it has been in print since 1954. We also agreed that it was a work that could be very profitably read again, all 600-some pages of it.
For our future reading, we looked at a variety of recommendations and chose for our next book The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien. That will be our reading for April; for May, we chose Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden; and then we found ourselves very much drawn to a new book titled The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day by Roy Hattersley. Since this is a long book, we’ll take the first half for June and the second for July. These should keep us busy reading for a while!
This blog hasn’t kept up, but the book club has enthusiastically continued to read, meet, and enjoy discussing books. We are adding new members and expanding our horizons as we have moved into some serious reading in church history. We’re not getting bogged down, though, as we have included related historical fiction!
At our August meeting we had a wonderful time at our first-ever summer potluck dinner (thank you, M.R.), and sketched out some plans for our reading over the next few months. Check out the Our Next Book link above to see the details. At our September 10th meeting, we will need to set a different date for the October meeting, since our usual second Monday will fall on the Thanksgiving holiday, so please give some thought to what date would work with your calendar.
So, for September 10, be prepared to discuss Count Belisarius. We’ll be meeting at Father Lawrence’s, 7:30 as usual. See you there!
This excerpt is taken from an interview with author Paul Lisicky by Nick Ripatrazone, moderator of the blog The Fine Delight, Catholicism in Literature. Because of our reading of Flannery O’Connor, I thought his take might be of interest.
Could you discuss your appreciation for the writing (and ideas about writing) of Flannery O’Connor?
I’ve always been stirred by the relationship between disruption and growth in her work. Grace doesn’t often happen without confrontation, especially confrontation between strangers. I’m also interested in the relationship between irreverence and reverence in her stories. You can’t have reverence without the other, you know? The Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” doesn’t reach out to touch the Misfit’s face until after she mumbles, “Maybe he didn’t raise the dead.” That’s the first point in the piece where she actively doubts, the first time she asks a question. The religion of complacency and denial and reward for social achievement–gone up in a flare. I don’t think that she would have come to that radical connection with the Misfit unless she’d opened herself up to doubt.
I also love what O’Connor does with tone–the almost slapstick, vaguely sitcom-y opening of “A Good Man” morphing into something so grave and pressurized that it’s almost unbearable. Try reading that whole story aloud in a group setting: It’s on fire. I’m always relieved by any piece of art that escapes its original terms, that’s given permission to leap and stretch and go to strange, anarchic places. Of course there’s still humor, dark humor, in the gravest parts of the story, but the story’s become another animal in its final pages. There’s such a lesson in that, not only in terms of content but form, too.
If you are interested to read the entire interview, click on the blog link above.
Chapters Three – Five
Hazel’s negotiations to buy a car have an easygoing humour, and we see more of his stubbornness, but I still don’t feel that I’m getting to know him. As he struggles to drive the roads of the town and on into the country, it seems that the landscape is without any distinguishing features, and Hazel doesn’t really know what he wants to do, until he remembers Enoch.
What is all this about Enoch’s blood? We’re told he “had wise blood like his daddy”, his blood gives him knowledge that something is going to happen, and he uses the messages of his blood to direct him. Okay, let’s think about this as a symbol. Blood can symbolize life or life force; blood is essential to the functioning of the body; the blood of Jesus is redemptive. (Jesus and redemption figure importantly in Hazel Motes’ preaching and his conversations.) So how are we to take the “wise blood” of Enoch? And what does it mean that, at the end of Chapter Five, he hears his “secret blood” beating in the center of the city?
In considering the book so far, I have to conclude that the author has a purpose in presenting to the reader such unattractive characters, such grotesques. My reaction has been, “I don’t know anyone like this, nor do I want to. ” But perhaps O’Connor is saying, in effect, “Push past those feelings and look at these people, consider them as possibly another level, another side of yourself. What if? What if you acted like this, said these things? Are you really so different?”
Our November meeting gave us a chance to talk about how glad we are to have come to know more about Blessed John Henry Newman from our current book, and how impressed we have been with his holiness. He gave up so much to convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism–family, friends, reputation, income, occupation, and personal comfort, but he did it with joy, relying completely on God. He is, or will be when officially declared, a modern saint, one for our own time.
Moving from the subject to the book itself, one member declared that the author, Zeno, takes it very easy on members of the Catholic clergy who were distrustful of Newman and caused a great deal of trouble, particularly Cardinal Manning and Father Faber. In her opinion, Zeno tends to whitewash them, declaring that they acted in good faith and therefore were not at fault for the miseries, hardships, and misunderstandings they caused. She feels that a truer picture is given by Meriol Trevor in her classic two-volume biography of Newman. Another member, however, felt that the particular focus of Zeno’s book, Newman’s inner life, was exactly what he was looking for and gave him the insight into Newman’s character that he valued.
We adjourned for tea and the dessert brought by ‘bookgetaway’, which was a great hit, prompting seconds (and maybe some thirds), as well as a request for the recipe. Over our goodies we demonstrated to contributing members how to post to this blog, and discussed what book we would like to read for our January meeting. Our decision was Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. We are eager to read the Pope’s insights into Scripture and into theological as well as historical studies of Jesus. Since the Pope has been working on a second volume to this work, it seems that this will be a good time for us to become familiar with this initial work.
We look forward to discussing Flannery O’Connor‘s Wise Blood on December 13, our next meeting.
The Road to Siena: The Essential Biography of St. Catherine by Edmund G. Gardner was recently reviewed by Brian Welter in The B. C. Catholic, and because I’ve always had an interest in Catherine of Siena but have not found a good readable biography, I checked out the book on Amazon. To my surprise, I found that ” this book was first published a century ago and was praised by Evelyn Underhill as the best modern biography of a saint ever written. Long out of print, this new edition has been slightly abridged and generously supplemented with the reflections of other biographers, historians, and artists–who shed fresh light on what we know about an amazing woman.”
Sounds interesting, eh? Catherine lived in the 14th century, a disastrous time for the Church, as the papacy had transferred to Avignon and many of the clergy as well as the papal court lived in corruption and scandal. She was a mystic but also worked with great energy for the reform of the Church, and was eventually declared a Doctor of the Church.
I’ve added this book to our Suggested Books page, thinking that when we’re ready to read another biography, this one might be a fascinating study.
On this feastday of St. Luke the Evangelist, I received a link to this Foreword to Taylor Caldwell’s novel, Dear and Glorious Physician: A Novel About St. Luke. Since this book is on our Suggested Books list and is one that Tom and I thoroughly enjoyed, I thought I would pass it on to you, with a small commentary on our reaction to reading it.
Taylor Caldwell’s Foreword Here
When we read this book, we felt immersed in the sights, smells, and sounds of the time. The author does a wonderful job of recreating the societies and families in which her scenes are set, and you really do feel as though you are viewing that history. The book has been around for a long time and I had heard of the title but never read it, until it was mentioned to me by a friend who had recently converted to Catholicism. She is an athletic type, not usually a reader, but when she described to me how she had been swept away by this novel and how very much she had enjoyed it, I decided I had better have a look at it. And that was all it took–I too was immediately immersed in the story.
May our celebration of the feast of St. Luke bring blessings to us all!
The discussion of this month’s book, John Henry Newman: His Inner Life, was lively and the atmosphere sparked with strong views of this character, Blessed Newman. All agreed, however, that his overriding goal in life was to do the will of God, come what may, which led him down unexpected paths. His remarkable giftedness and keen sensitivity has often led Blessed Newman to be misunderstood, both during his life, by friend and foe, and down to our own time. Since this month’s gathering covered only the first seven chapters of the book, we can hardly wait for the discussion of the second half of the book at the November 8th gathering of the “Getaways”.
At the meeting, members, again after lively banter, tea, and chocolates, lighted upon the Flannery O’Connor novel, Wise Blood, for the December 13th gathering. Since most of the books we have read have been non-fiction, it was time to tackle a novel. Flannery O’Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She was a devout Catholic her whole life and died at the age of 39 of lupus. As a Christian writer, her work is message-oriented, yet she is far too brilliant a stylist to tip her hand; like all good writers, crass didacticism is abhorrent to her. Nevertheless, she achieves what few Christian writers have ever achieved: a type of writing that stands up on both literary and the religious grounds, and succeeds in doing justice to both. The novel Wise Blood can be read as a dark comedy, a philosophical novel, and an unsual case study of heresy and redemption. Although none of our members had read this novel, the synopsis and reviews of it promise to make it intriguing fodder for our December 13th getaway get-together. Here are a couple random reviews of the book:
“I was more impressed by Wise Blood than any novel I have read for a long time. Her picture of the world is literally terrifying. Kafka is almost the only one of our contemporaries who has achieved such effects. I have tremendous admiration for the work of this young writer.”—Caroline Gordon
“No other major American writer of our century has constructed a fictional world so energetically and forthrightly charged by religious investigation.”–Brad Leithauser, The New Yorker
I discovered this interesting interview while reading the Ignatius Press blog. The original is from Zenit. Pearce gives us some insight into famous literary figures who were influenced by Blessed Newman, and credits him with being the father of the Catholic revival in England.
from a drawing by George Richmond
“Newman is rightly considered to be the father of the Catholic revival…”From a wide-ranging ZENIT interview with the tireless Joseph Pearce:
ZENIT: Could you say something about your own reflections — as one who has spent significant time studying Newman — regarding the beatification ceremony?
Pearce: As an admirer of Newman, as an Englishman, and, more to the point, as an English Catholic convert, I was simply overjoyed by his beatification.
Newman is rightly considered to be the father of the Catholic revival and the seismic power of his conversion continues to reverberate throughout the English-speaking world.
The number of converts who owe their conversion, under grace, to Newman, at least in part, are too numerous to mention. As such, a few will suffice to illustrate the point.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, arguably the finest poet of the Victorian era, was received into the Church by Newman in 1866.
Oscar Wilde fell under Newman’s spell as an undergraduate and continued to admire him throughout his life. Wilde’s ultimate deathbed conversion, the culmination of a lifelong love affair with the Church, was due in part to the beguiling presence of Newman’s enduring influence.
Hilaire Belloc and J.R.R. Tolkien both studied at the Birmingham Oratory School, which had been established by Newman, the former during Newman’s own lifetime and the latter in his ghostly shadow a few years after his death. In both cases, Newman’s role in their Christian formation contributed to the faithful fortitude that animated their lives as Catholic writers of the utmost importance.
Others such as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark could be mentioned among the many others, documented in my book “Literary Converts” (Ignatius Press), who owed their conversion, at least in part, to Newman’s benign influence.
Last, and indubitably least, I must mention that Newman’s beautiful and profound “Apologia pro Vita Sua” played a significant role in my own path to conversion.
Read the entire interview, by Genevieve Pollock, posted today. [Sept. 27]
Posted in Current Book
Tagged Apologia Pro Vita Sua, book club, books, Catholic, Catholic book club, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Christianity, England, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Graham Greene, John Henry Newman
In today’s gospel we heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Here is an excerpt from Newman that takes a look at what can happen in this life if we in the First World take our fortunate lifestyle too much for granted:
A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well-furnished homes, the pleasures of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth–these, and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of heaven might come.
The excerpt is from John Henry Cardinal Newman: In My Own Words.