Monthly Archives: December 2011
According to Merriam-Webster.com a Luddite is one who is opposed to especially technological change. I work in IT and enjoy technology for the most part. But I have been slow to embrace the change when it comes to my books. At least until now.
After a few years of flirting with the technology I have succumbed and am now the owner of an e-reader. My wife purchased one for my birthday. I playfully posted the photo to the right on my Facebook last week and when I got home from work she met me in the kitchen and asked if I’d like to have a Nook or Kindle as a gift. While I like to think it was the cleverness of my hint I think she had simply finally had enough.
I have one vice. Well, that’s not true as I have more than one, but there is one glaringly obvious one: I can’t stop buying books. While I haven’t arrived at the awful state of affairs that those people on the television show “Hoarders”, I could be on my way if not stopped soon.
In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Danny Heitman wrote an excellent article titled E-Books and Life Without Guilt (subscription required). Within it he describes a part of the mania from which I suffer.
My brother Randy, an avid reader since childhood, has gone for e-books in a big way. He loves their convenience and portability. But as he recently confessed to me, the new electronic format has at least one other advantage: Put simply, my brother is no longer haunted by the physical presence of books he hasn’t read.
Like most bibliophiles, Randy still acquires many more titles than he has time to read, but now the neglected texts lie quietly in a digital file, out of sight and out of mind. With traditional books, on the other hand, the guilt of an unread novel, biography or history can linger visibly for a lifetime, the ghost of a good intention never fulfilled.
Why then, does someone chastised by so many unread books continue to add to the stockpile? Because when you have a home library, as writer William H. Gass explains, “you are constantly being solicited by good-looking texts to leave your present love for their different, more novel, pleasures.”
I like the reference to courtship here, since it puts a finger on why buying books—and then ditching them unopened or after the briefest of dalliances—is so much fun. This kind of fickle literary speed-dating is, in today’s world, probably the only form of promiscuity that can be indulged without too much ruin.
I have fifteen shelves stuffed with books. I estimate that I own enough volumes to fill twenty-five or more shelves. And while we do have plans to build ten more shelves with a storage hutch along a wall upstairs, you can see that I’ve got to stop. I have begun to sort through my collection as there are at least three or four shelves worth that can be donated. It’s a start anyhow.
The other start was to finally get a Kindle. After being asked to choose the model I wanted, I opted for the Kindle Touch. I did a lot of online research as well as personally testing out various models. In the end I decided I did not want yet another onramp to the internet or apps and all the distractions they bring. Like a friend who is considering the same purchase decision told me yesterday: “I don’t need yet another way to play Angry Birds.” I’ve already got a pc, a laptop, an iTouch and a Droid. No, I want to simply read, and to save space. Oh, and also money as electronic versions are often at least 50% of what the physical book expense is. Several may be had for under dollar if not free.
Twelve years ago I made the decision to put together a home library that my son (at the time we had only one child) and future children would grow up using as well as receiving once I’d left this living plane. There are volumes of myths, fairy tales and fables, histories, poetry, philosophy, theology, comedies and epic storytelling. The crown jewels are the leatherbound editions I own from Easton Press as well as from The Folio Society.
I will still continue to purchase traditionally published books, but with a much more discerning eye.
Most bibliophiles have a bedside stack. Below is a photo of a portion of mine next to the Kindle. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I wanted to demonstrate my dilemma. Consider this: that little Kindle is capable of storing up to 3,000 books. I have for years wanted a copy of the 5-volume Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. 4,000 pages, over a foot of precious shelf space, and at a price of anywhere between $150-$250. It now resides on that little Kindle. I purchased it last night for 99 cents. My gift has already paid for itself.
What follows is a list of the books in that stack. The Father’s Tale was my Christmas present. I’m a hundred pages into its almost 1,100 so far. I’m also reading the book on the bottom by Fr. Groeschel. And I’m in various stages of reading most of the rest.
- I Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ for Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel
- The Landmark Herodotus, by Robert Strassler
- Master & Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
- Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love, by Matthew Logelin
- The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Ozma
- The Father’s Tale, by Michael O’Brien
- Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen
- Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, by Thomas Howard
- Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot
- A Retreat for Lay People, by Ronald Knox
- Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Last Things, by Regis Martin
- A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller Jr.
- Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor
- To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostella, by Kevin Codd
Affirmations of Christmas
I believe that Christmas is more than a time for parties and ornaments; it is a time for remembering Christ and the incarnation of God’s love in human flesh.
I believe there are gifts more important than the ones under the Christmas tree, the things we teach our children, the way we share ourselves with friends, and the industry with which we set about reshaping the world in our time.
I believe that the finest carols are often sung by the poorest voices; from hearts made warm by the wonder of the season.
I believe in the angel’s message that we should not be afraid—that the Child of Bethlehem is able to overcome all anxieties and insecurities.
I believe in prayer and quietness as a way of appropriating Christmas—that if I wait in silence I will experience the presence of the one born in the manger, for he lives today as surely as he lived then.
I believe in going away from Christmas as the wise men went: “another way.” I want to be different when these days are past—more centered, more thoughtful, more caring.
And I believe God will help me. Amen.
— 1 —
I hope that everyone had a good Christmas. We stayed home this year for a change and it afforded me the chance to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at my home parish. The rest of my family was pretty tired so I attended solo on a beautiful starry night. I think only the Easter Vigil compares in its solemnity. I had gone to confession that morning and approached Holy Communion with a clear conscious and a cleaner soul. I don’t have words at the moment to describe it all, but if I could share it with you I surely would.
I arrived home to a sleepy house around 1:40. Santa came soon after and had a cookie or two. And yes…he did bring my daughter a new crown to replace the one her dad had sat on.
— 2 —
Apparently I’m about to lose some points on my luddite membership card. My wife did in fact order me a Kindle e-reader and it’s due to arrive today and in time for my birthday on Sunday. I’m going to write more on this later, but I am pretty jazzed about it. I considered the Nook Color or the Kindle Fire but opted for the less expensive Kindle Touch. The other two have more bells and whistles to be sure, but I am wanting a device that is strictly used for reading purposes. I already have too many ramps onto the internet, social media, and all of those distractions. I do not want yet another.
In trying to decide which book to upload first I have finally settled on The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. My wife has the paperback somewhere and it’s been a book I’ve always wanted to read. I can download it for free or for a few dollars (depending upon the edition). I have been doing some other checking: of the 144 items on my Amazon Wish List, 111 are books or sets of books. How many are available as Kindle editions I wonder?
— 3 —
A few weeks ago I decided it was beyond time that I began to simplify things in my life. Less objects, less possessions, less gadgets. More time, more relationships, more clarity. I suppose the Kindle is one of the means to those ends. I am still considering whether to give up my Smartphone (my mobile phone contract is up for renewal) and my online presence is likely to change. I am also doing a lot of long needed decluttering around my home office and storage room. I’ve exchanged a few holiday emails with a good friend of mine who is doing the same. I suggested we print “Simplify! Testify!!” t-shirts. But then that’s just one more thing to store, ain’t it?
— 4 —
In just a few days it will be 2012. I wonder if the Mayans (or was it Aztecs?) will be proven right?
Either way: Tibi omnia bona cupio.
I wish you all good things.
— 5 —
I submit that Ennio Morricone is one of the greatest composers of the last century. Sandwiched between my parent’s Beatles, Elvis and Bill Cosby LPs was the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and it became one of my first favorites as a little boy. I must have worn grooves into the grooves I played it so much. While he’s scored several movies including The Untouchables, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso and Once Upon a Time in the West, my favorite remains TGTB&TU. I recently stumbled across a video from a live concert he performed in Vienna of one of my favorite pieces, The Ecstasy of Gold. It got me to thinking about writing a post of similar pieces that involve a female vocalist wailing away because there are so many that I seem to like. This particular video gives me chills. Full orchestra, choir, and that soloist in a red dress flowing in the breeze as she sings like a banshee is great stuff.
May it be so on this the Feast of the Holy Family. And on every other day besides…
by Edgar Guest
A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season is here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.
Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board. Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown. ~ from a letter written by St. Thomas Becket
Meister Eckhart once said: ‘What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?’
“Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming in our hearts. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?
“Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen.”
(Living Faith, Vol. 4, # 3)
In his letter St. Thomas speaks of how many are needed to plant and water the faith that is spreading across the lands after the Incarnation. Eckhart, speaking more intimately to us as individuals, asks whether we can believe in our personal relationship with the babe. To kings and governments who see themselves as lords on Earth both thoughts are dangerous to their insecure grasping at power. History is replete with the results, and here are but two: Herod slaughtering babies in Bethlehem in order to kill the infant Jesus; Henry II inflaming four swordsmen to murder his former best friend Thomas in his own cathedral on December 29, 1170.
Today is the feast day for St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170). Becket was born in London and became a close friend of King Henry II. He was only a deacon when he was appointed chancellor of England. When he was ordained as archbishop of Canterbury, he underwent an abrupt conversion of life and began to defend the Church’s rights against the king. Becket had led a very debauched and worldly life and was placed into his position by his best friend Henry II in order to be a puppet of the state. Henry could not have foreseen the changes that his friend underwent once he became archbishop, however, and the two became enemies.
While the Christmas season is a time of unbridled joy, we need also recognize that not everyone shares our joy. Having the courage to follow the Holy Infant may gain you some enemies in this life. It is a courage that many lack as they love the opinions of friends or family more. Becket could have continued to live a long and easy life in the service of his friend and king. Instead he loved Christ; a love born in his heart.
If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to watch at least once the 1964 movie Becket. Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are magnificent in bringing this story to life.
A Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded us this day,
for the hope with which we expect the morrow,
for the work, the health, the food
and bright skies which make our lives
delightful for our friends in all parts of the earth.
“For the love that unites us.” Yes, love can and often does unite us. Yet the wolves are ever at the door. One of the things we gloss over in decorating our homes with our perfectly trimmed Christmas trees or porcelain Nativity figurines is that Jesus allowed himself to be born into almost immediate danger. We are reminded of this today as the Church commemorates the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
The Holy Innocents are the children who were killed at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews. If the population of Bethlehem is estimated as around 1,000, perhaps about 20 boys were slain.
There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers’ milk. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.
The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette…or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes no one is unimportant, no one is unnecessary, no one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.
Over 2000 years later the Herods of our modern world are still trying to smother Jesus in his creche. Indeed, many are going even further by attempting to kill him before he is able to leave the womb. I love that we remember this event so soon after Christmas as it serves to remind us that while we are celebrating the incredible joy that comes with the Incarnation, we must remain ever vigilant and on guard to ensure that the rights of the weaker among us are protected and that human dignity is the foundation for any government policy. The spirit of Herod unfortunately lives on in the halls of many government chambers.
In Stevenson’s beautiful prayer he speaks of love, of peace, and of hope. May we continue to pray for those things no matter the state of our lives or the world in which we live.
May the forgiving spirit of Him to whom we dedicate this season prevail again on earth.
May hunger disappear and terrorists cease their senseless acts.
May people live in freedom, worshiping as they see fit, loving others.
May the sanctity of the home be ever preserved.
May peace, everlasting peace, reign supreme.
Soundings, Vol. 2, # 12
Already the stripped trees are lying curbside, awaiting the garbage trucks. Yesterday I began to see posts from friends on Facebook stating that the decorations are all down and Christmas is over. It’s only Dec. 27th but already we’re rushing off to the next thing on the calendar. My wife said that while shopping yesterday for household supplies she encountered Valentine’s Day cards already being set out for display.
Trees, decorations and Christmas music are not necessary to keep Christmas of course. That is something that lives within our hearts and is an attitude that we go out with into the world.
How many of us have truly absorbed what Luke or the other Gospel writers were describing about the world into which Christ was born? Have they noticed the number of sick who appear in the Gospels? Who or what made them sick? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the “permitted religion” were realities that Luke kept in view of his story. (One could make an argument that we are experiencing this situation in our lands today.) All due to the so-called pax romana, or Peace of Rome. Into this truth of history appeared the pax Christi and some began to respond.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:15-20.
The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Deep down, don’t we all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days.
Christmas is far from over no matter what Madison Avenue tells us. The angels have only now stopped singing. The shepherds are only now finding the babe in the manger. Soon they will go out into the world and tell others of what they saw. Another who will do this only a few decades later is celebrated today by the Church with his own feast day: St. John the Evangelist. He, too, spoke to others of what he had seen. Below are are few simple suggestions for special gifts that I found by an anonymous source to help bring the pax Christi into each of our own little portion of the world.
- a firm handshake to a shaky soul
- a kind word to a lonely person
- a warm smile to the disheartened
- a sincere concern for someone troubled
- a feeling of compassion for the neglected
- a comforting thought for the bereaved
- a respect for the dignity of others
- a defense of the rights of individuals
- a word of witness to help a seeking soul
- a Merry Christmas to all.
There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day,
and that is, keeping Christmas. – Henry Van Dyke
It’s The Day After. While retailers and Santa are weary and in need of rest, now is when the challenge of keeping Christmas begins in earnest for us all. Of making it last more than just one day of feel good family time with food and presents. Of finding the strength to start over after the endless buildup to a day when we exhaust ourselves in celebration. While the world started playing holiday tunes and marketing their wares seven or eight weeks ago and saying it was time to “Celebrate Christmas”, in truth Christmas has only just begun. And while on the Christian liturgical calendar the season of Christmas is celebrated until the Epiphany in the first week of January, in truth we are to keep it in our hearts and thereby put it into practice for the rest of the year. There’s our challenge. There is our call.
It was not by chance that Christ was born in a stable. What is the world but an immense stable where men produce filth and wallow in it? Do we not daily change the most beautiful, the purest, the most divine things into excrement? Then, stretching ourselves on full length on the piles of manure we create, we say we are “enjoying life.” Upon this earthly pigsty, where no decorations or perfumes can hide the odor of filth, Jesus was born and entered into the world.
So what to do for the next 364 days until we once again celebrate this holy birth? In his first encyclical letter written after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II provides us with an outline on how to begin to keep Christmas:
All of us who are Christ’s followers must therefore meet and unite around him. This unity in the various fields of the life, tradition, structures and discipline of the individual Christian Churches and ecclesial Communities cannot be brought about without effective work aimed at getting to know each other and removing the obstacles blocking the way to perfect unity. However, we can and must immediately reach and display to the world our unity in proclaiming the mystery of Christ, in revealing the divine dimension and also the human dimension of the Redemption, and in struggling with unwearying perseverance for the dignity that each human being has reached and can continually reach in Christ, namely the dignity of both the grace of divine adoption and the inner truth of humanity, a truth which-if in the common awareness of the modern world it has been given such fundamental importance-for us is still clearer in the light of the reality that is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the stable principle and fixed centre of the mission that God himself has entrusted to man. We must all share in this mission and concentrate all our forces on it, since it is more necessary than ever for modern mankind. If this mission seems to encounter greater opposition nowadays than ever before, this shows that today it is more necessary than ever and, in spite of the opposition, more awaited than ever.
Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man). 1979.
A more spiritual version of the famous Christmas story
by Sister St. Thomas, B.N.D. de N
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town,
St. Joseph was searching, walking up roads and down;
Our Lady was waiting, so meek and so mild,
While Joseph was seeking a place for the Child;
The children were nestled, each snug in their beds,
The grown-ups wouldn’t bother, there’s no room they said;
When even the innkeeper sent them away,
Joseph was wondering, where they would stay;
He thought of the caves in the side of the hills,
Let’s go there said Mary, it’s silent and still;
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Made pathways of light for their tired feet to go;
And there in a cave, in a cradle of hay,
Our Savior was born on that first Christmas Day!
The Father was watching in heaven above,
He sent for His angels, His couriers of love;
More rapid than eagles God’s bright angels came;
Rejoicing and eager as each heard his name;
Come Power, Come Cherubs, Come Virtues, Come Raphael,
Come Thrones and Dominions, come Michael and Gabriel;
Now fly to the Earth, where My poor people live,
Announce the glad tiding My Son comes to give;
The Shepherds were watching their flocks on this night,
And saw in the heavens and unearthly light;
The Angels assured them, they’d nothing to fear,
It’s Christmas they said, the Savior is here!
They hastened to find Him, and stood at the door,
Till Mary invited them in to adore;
He was swaddled in bands from His head to His feet,
Never did the Shepherds see a baby so sweet!
He spoke not a word, but the shepherds all knew,
He was telling them secrets and blessing them too;
Then softly they left Him, The Babe in the hay,
And rejoiced with great joy on that first Christmas Day;
Mary heard them exclaim as they walked up the hill,
Glory to God in the Highest, Peace to men of good will!