"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, June 13, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: Happy Catholic by Julie Davis

I’m not very good at book reviews, but a review of a non-fiction, devotional book requires I write a review.  There’s no analysis I can flesh out that makes for an interesting read.  Such a book requires I show you why it’s interesting and why I enjoyed it. 

Such a book is Happy Catholic: Glimpses of Godin Everyday Life by Julie Davis.  Now let me say I consider Julie an internet friend.  I’ve been a frequent visitor to her blog, also titled, “Happy Catholic”.  She’s even stopped to comment here on my blog once or twice.  She’s got a great eclectic blog on her reading interests, her faith, pop culture, cooking, art, music, film, and even an occasional joke.  It was her blog that gave me the concept for my blog, only I’m not as entertaining as she is.  A frequent visitor to my blog, Jan, called my blog a “stodgy old intellectual blog.”  (She said it in a nice way.)  LOL, well, Julie’s blog is none of those things.  It’s hip, fresh, and on contemporary culture from a Roman Catholic perspective.  Her motto which is right at the top of the blog and reflects her upbeat personality is, “Not always happy, but always happy to be Catholic.”  The blog’s got half a dozen tabs and couple of dozen cross links within the blog and makes for a time absorbing experience.  I wish I had half her blog skills…lol.  So check it out. 

I find Julie’s book hard to classify.  Like her blog it’s eclectic.  I would say it’s partly a Christian devotional and partly her perspective on cultural thoughts and memes.  And her perspective is of a Roman Catholic convert coming from an atheist family upbringing.  Yes, she grew up atheist, thinking that religion was nothing more than superstition.  Here’s her conversion story.  You can read it yourself.  The pattern of her book is to take an “echo of heaven,” as she calls it in her introduction which amounts to a penetrating cultural quote, and elaborate on why that echo points back to God’s truth, a sort of pulling back of a veil so that one can connect with God.  The echoes Julie hears come from everywhere, not just religious sources: TV, movies, Batman, actors, theologians, writers, novels, poetry, anecdotes, humor, prayer, scripture, rock stars, saints, and even Dr. Phil.  She makes the point that God’s grace comes from all over. 

I read Happy Catholic for Lent.  It makes for a great daily stop as one coordinates it with daily prayer and devotionals.  And so I place this review in a “Faith Filled Friday” entry.  Each “echo” and the illuminating commentary come in small chunks, a page or two, so that one can take in as much of the fresh air—and reading each bit feels like a cool breeze on a summer day—as one wants or has time for in each sitting.  I can only provide a few examples.  Each echo starts with a title, then followed by the penetrating quote, and then Julie’s commentary.  
 

Still Countercultural After All These Years 

Drinking beer is easy.  Trashing your hotel room is easy.  But being a Christian, that’s a tough call.  That’s rebellion.
                        -Alice Cooper 

If you care about what people think of you, then you should not have become Catholic.
                        -St. John Vianney
 

It is astounding that as far as we have advanced, there is still nothing more shocking to the world than a faithful Christian.  Jesus was radical in his time.  Following Christ makes us radical in turn.  We’re called on to slice through all those neat little boxes that people use to make things more understandable.  There is no political party we can trust.  There is no nation that gets it right.  There is no cultural group where we are going to completely feel at home.  We are the ultimate outsiders.  That’s OK, really.  If we’re doing it right, then we’re upsetting things because we won’t “settle” and we won’t conform.  We answer to a higher power. 

Take another look at the crucifix and remember that the only real original rebel, the one whose watchword of “Love one another” casts the world into confusion.  Then prepare to be fully yourselves in Christ and watch the confusion spread, along with the love.
 

There’s not much I can add to that.  We are the true radicals.  A rock star radical is nothing but a trite popinjay.  There is no sincerity; it’s all pretension.  To be a true Christian is really countercultural—certainly counter to today’s culture but probably always has been.  Here’s another. 
 

The Ultimate Recycling 

We all suffer.  Some suffer well, some poorly, some bitterly, some in union with Christ, some in union with our Lady and the Saints, some in union with God as they know Him, some only in union with the other people in the hospital and some all alone—but we suffer.  How much better it is to suffer even poorly and inconsistently in union with Christ.
                        -Fr. Benedict Groeshel
 

I watched my parents as their health worsened.  They thought God a myth.  They were angry and sad and hopeless and suffering.  To see their suffering going to waste broke my heart. 

It is good to remember that each instance of suffering, large and small, can be offered to Christ to use in helping break the cycle of suffering for us all.  Not only does Christ use it for others, but somehow it also makes my suffering less.  Is it all in my head?  I don’t think so.  Somehow, at the human level, it removes the resentment that suffering generates.  I feel my suffering isn’t wasted.  It serves a purpose. 

It is a strange economy, this Catholic coin of using our suffering to pay the way for others. 

In the end, my parents’ story brightened.  They realized that God was something more than mythology. 

They met him themselves in their midst of their suffering.  It made all the difference. 

We all suffer.  How much better indeed to suffer in union with Christ.
 

Now that is as good a homily as you will ever get at Mass.  So how about the one where Julie quotes Batman. 

Why do You Think They Call It Willpower, Old Chum? 

Robin: Self-control is sure tough sometimes, Batman.
Batman: All virtues are, old chum.  Indeed, that’s why they’re called virtues.
                        -Batman TV Series
 

We have a shaky understanding of the virtues these days, perhaps because they require self-control to practice, and self-control has gone out of style.  The great thing about the virtues, however, is that they are the perfect opportunity to instill habits so that we don’t have to fight temptation every single time.  Our will is like a muscle.  If it isn’t exercised, then it gets flabby and can’t do the job it is meant to do.  I like exercising willpower just as much as I like jogging, which is to say, not at all.  However, I have found that it doesn’t take much self-denial to notice a difference in how much easier it becomes to turn aside from temptation.  And that feels pretty good. 

What are the virtues?  Glad you asked.  As defined by the Church fathers they are prudence, justice, restraint (or temperance), courage (or fortitude) , faith, hope, and love (or charity).  I don’t have the room to talk about them here, but it is worth seeking out descriptions to consider how to work them into our lives more fully. 

I believe Batman, after all.  They’re tough.  But worth it.
 

Reading her book makes one try to search out these echoes in one’s life.  I don’t think I have the ear to notice them as Julie does.  Here’s one last one, perhaps my favorite.
 

Shining Like the Sun 

In the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers… There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… It is so to speak his name written in us… It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…[T]he gate of heaven is everywhere.
                        -Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.  The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
                        -Revelation 21:22-23
 

The book of Revelation was written to bring light and hope during a dark time for Christianity.  Like all the rest of the Bible, of course, it also applies to our own journey though life.  John is talking about our lives, whether or not he knew it when he was writing.  That is part of the mystery with which the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Holy Scripture. 

What Thomas Merton saw was what John saw when he was writing Revelation.  Different times, different ways to express it.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, Emmanuel, God with us, is with us everywhere and always.  Giving us light, warming our souls. 

Kneeling, watching the halting parade of people coming for Communion, old couples clinging to each other shuffling by, tiny children waving over their parents’ shoulders at us in the pews, five little boys who came to Mass dressed for soccer, slouching teenagers in sweatshirts and jeans, I think of how we all shine like the sun.  I think of the city in Revelation with no temple, no need for light because God is everywhere. 

All of us called by God.  All responding in our own way.  All shining like the sun.  And I love them. 

Oh I love that Thomas Merton quote.  To see the light of God kindled in every human being is at the very heart of Christianity.  I love how Julie synthesized it with the Book of Revelation.  And I love her embrace of all of we who are made in the image of God.  That is special.

5 comments:

  1. Manny, you have truly humbled me. I don't have the words to express how you have touched my heart. This is like my own private awards ceremony and I am unprepared. Except to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. :-)

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    1. Well you do have a great blog, and I did enjoy your book. You're welcome.

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  2. Jan, yes that JanJune 14, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    A frequent visitor to my blog, Jan, called my blog a “stodgy old intellectual blog.” (She said it in a nice way.) LOL

    Manny, Manny, Manny. Is this the best you can say about me? After all the free advertising I've given you? And asked nothing in return? Not to mention, taken out of context that JOKE just makes me sound mean!!!

    I'm going to go cry now. Then I'm going to post some more pictures of telephone and light poles for you...sniff, sniff.

    HAHAHA HAHA

    Yes, Julie has a great blog. And so do you.

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    1. Hahahaha, you had me going there for the first two paragraphs. I did say you said it in a nice way. :) Thanks.

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