The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Re-reading Good Books

Lately I've been re-reading books I first read years ago. I often decide to read a book again because I enjoyed it so much the first time and simply want to experience it afresh. This is more often the case with fiction. And, yes, in a few instances, because of my aging memory, I'm unable to describe specifically why a book once pleased me. In other words, I've forgotten the details, but I know I enjoyed it and hope to do so once again. I am rarely disappointed. But in truth, every good book deserves a re-reading. I really believe this. In fact, there are books on my shelves that I've read three or four times, and some even more. We read good poetry again and again, so why not good prose? 

Of course as Christians we spend many hours re-reading Sacred Scripture; or at least we should. How did St. Paul put it?
"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness" [2 Tim 3:15].
Now, it seems to me, to reap such a harvest from the Bible demands a lifetime of reading and re-reading. Of course, some might disagree. For example, not long ago, in a casual conversation with a parishioner, I happened to mention our parish Bible Study and suggested he might enjoy taking part. He laughed, shook his head, and replied, "No need. I read the entire Bible, from beginning to end, many years ago. No reason to do that again." This comment began a brief, interesting, and very civil argument, an argument which I apparently lost since he has yet to attend our Bible Study.

Anyway, this all came to mind just minutes ago when I glanced at the stack of books piled high on the end table beside my easy chair. I'm always reading several books and those in this stack are the current crop. Surprisingly -- and it surprised even me -- of the seven books I'm now reading, four are re-reads. And so, today I thought I'd share these titles with you and offer my reasons for giving these books more than a single reading.

The first is The Building of Christendom, Volume 2 of a sweeping, six-volume History of Christendom written by Warren H. Carroll (1932-2011). Dr. Carroll, who founded Christendom College (Front Royal, Virginia) in 1977, wrote what I believe is the most extensive and the best modern history of the Church. It rivals the earlier, equally monumental, multi-volume History of the Church of Christ written by the French historian, Henri Daniel-Rops, between 1948 and 1965. 

Dr. Warren Carroll
I purchased and read each volume of Dr. Carroll's history as it was published (1985 to 2013). The final volume was completed by Anne Carroll after her husband's death in 2011 and published several years later. Each volume is not only thorough in its coverage, but also beautifully written -- real page-turners, which is remarkable for a six-volume history of over 3,000 pages. 

I especially recommend the volume I'm currently re-reading, Volume 2, which spans the years 324 to 1100. It reminds the modern reader that the Church has suffered far greater problems than those it currently faces. And through it all the Church survived these problems not because of men and their feeble attempts to solve them, but because of Jesus' promise to be with "you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:20]. 

The second book in my end-table stack is The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, written by Dr. Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), former University of Chicago professor and chair of the university's Department of the History of Religions. If you happen to have read Rudolf Otto's classic examination of the basis of humanity's religious beliefs, The Idea of the Holy, you will also enjoy Eliade's book. 

Dr. Mircea Eliade
I decided to reread the book because we have been studying the Torah (or Pentateuch) in our parish Bible Study. The Mosaic descriptions of early Jewish and pagan religious belief and practice found in these first five books of Sacred Scripture led me back to The Sacred and Profane, where Eliade delves deeply into humanity's ancient memory of the sacred and its impact on today's largely profane world. It's really a marvelous book.

The third book in my stack, Richard the Third, written by Paul Murray Kendall (1911-1973), was first published in 1955. For centuries, Richard, the last of the Plantagenet kings, has been portrayed as a miserable, murderous fiend. Even William Shakespeare allowed himself to be tutored by the Tudors and depict Richard in a most unfavorable light. 

Dr. Paul Murray Kendall
Dr. Kendall, however, invites you to forget all the distorted history written about the defeated by the victors and just examine the facts. Extremely well-written, this is among my favorite biographies and certainly deserves a re-read, especially since it's been a good 25 years since I last turned its pages.

Another good reason to read the book once again is the recent (2012) discovery of Richard's remains near what was once the Greyfriars friary in Leicester, England. Richard, who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth, was apparently taken to the friary and quickly buried. Thanks to that truly miserable Tudor king, Henry VIII, the friary was demolished, along with all the other monasteries in the 1530s. After archaeologists located the site of King Richard III's grave (under a Leicester car park), scientists confirmed the identity of his remains via DNA and other evidence. 

The discovery led to a series of predictable controversies. Richard was very much a Catholic king, and the current monarchy is very Anglican, or at least purports to be. Where, then, should King Richard be interred? Suddenly everyone seemed to want the dead king's bones. What about a royal burial? He was, after all, a King of England. Queen Elizabeth II, perhaps thinking of her predecessor, that other Elizabeth, quickly quashed the idea. 

In my opinion -- although I wasn't consulted -- Richard should have been interred in a Catholic church after a suitable Catholic funeral Mass. A Mass was actually celebrated by Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at Holy Cross Priory in Leicester. But ultimately, in typically English fashion, it was decided to have an ecumenical service in Leicester Cathedral (Anglican) where Richard was entombed on March 26, 2015. Of course, all of this occurred long after the author of this biography had gone to his eternal reward. I wonder what Kendall, a professor of English at Ohio University, would have thought of all the hubbub surrounding the discovery of Richard more than 500 years after his untimely and tragic death.

The fourth book in the stack is The Battleground by Hilaire Belloc, the great English Catholic writer of the last century. My book shelves hold more than 30 of Belloc's books, but this just might be my favorite. It tells the story of the Holy Land and the religions that have battled for supremacy in this rather tiny but obviously precious chunk of earth. As an archaeologist friend once remarked to me, "They don't call it the Holy Land for nothing." Yes indeed.

Hilaire Belloc
Again, it was our examination of the Pentateuch in our parish Bible Study that reminded me of this work by Belloc and led me to turn to it once again. Although published in 1936, the book's message is perhaps more applicable today than it was when Belloc first wrote these words:
"That same force which destroyed the Crusades is present in Syria today, and it is as active as ever. It is disarmed, or partly disarmed, on the material side; but spiritually it is sufficiently armed. Whether Islam throughout the eastern world, from the Atlantic to the Ganges, will recover material equality with us of the West we cannot tell; but there is no rational basis for denying the possibility of that resurrection."
And because of the West's unwillingness to recognize that the current conflict is, at its very roots, a religious conflict, I expect that resurrection to continue. Perhaps I'll actually address my understanding of the unstable relationship that has always existed between Islam and the two faiths that arose out of the Holy Land: Christianity and Judaism. Let me just say, my beliefs are certainly not politically correct.

God's peace...

Monday, October 28, 2019

Groundbreaking for our new Family Life Center

Yesterday St. Vincent de Paul Parish began a new chapter in its life when Bishop Noonan (Orlando) celebrated our noon Mass and then led us all in the groundbreaking for our new Family Life Center. Many of us, representing the parish and those responsible for designing and constructing the new building, participated in the symbolic groundbreaking, tossing the dirt heavenward with the requisite golden shovels...all very exciting! Here are a couple of photos:
Fr. Peter, Bishop Noonan, and Fr. John wielding shovels
Deacons Dana & Greg observe

That's me (L), Fr. Peter, and Deacon Greg Shoveling
while Bishop Noonan and Fr. John Supervise
The new Family Life Center will be a large building constructed on the site of our original church, which first must be demolished. The demolition and construction will begin right away and the entire project is estimated to require slightly more than a year to complete.

Because our parish has grown so rapidly, and continues to grow, the new center will be a blessing. As our seasonal parishioners (aka, snowbirds) return, weekend Mass attendance climbs to six to seven thousand people. And given the large number of active ministries, all competing for classroom and meeting space, we have a dire need for the new facility. I'll provide occasional updates on the blog.

In the meantime, we thank God for all those who have contributed to make the new Center a reality, and we thank God for making it happen.