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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Short Story: A Sin Confessed by Giovanni Guareschi

Don Camillo is the central character, a Catholic priest, in a series of short stories by Giovanni Guareschi, an Italian writer who published in the years after WWII.  The short stoies are set in a small, northern Italian town and deal with the life and complications of Don Camillio as he upholds the Roman Catholic positions as Italy steers toward communism.  His arch nemesis is the Communist Mayor, Giuseppe Bottazzi, nicknamed, Peppone.  Now based on that you would think that these stories are pretty cerebral, but perhaps just the opposite.  It’s not that they lack depth or intellectual vigor, but that they are mostly comic, though it should be said not all.  The depth is in the humor.

Don Camillo is a big, brash man, passionate about the church and perhaps at times falls into a sin or two to make his point.  He speaks to Christ, and in turn Christ speaks back the moral position, which is sometimes not what Don Camillo wants to do.  Peppone may not be as brash, but perhaps equally hot tempered, and he is devious.  So you get a hot tempered priest, a hot tempered communist, both hot tempered Italians, and you have the ingredients of a lot of fun. 

Guareschi was in some ways like Don Camillo, a big brash man, but he certainly appears to have more of a sense of humor than his character.  Satire seemed to fit Guareschi’s writing well, and what could he satirize more than Church he was familiar with and the communists he detested.  Middle class in upbringing, he was clearly on the side of the anticommunists and actually a monarchist in his younger days.  He wrote for newspapers but his success at story telling led him to fiction.  There are some six or seven collections of Don Camillo stories translated into English.  Each story is typically not very long.  I had a collection when I was growing up.  A friend at Goodreads reviewed a collection, and it brought back some memories.  So I went out and got The Complete Little World of Don Camillo, translated by Adam Elgar, which contains over thirty stories.  Each story appears to be less than ten pages each.  

I read “A Sin Confessed,” which may be the very first Don Camillo story.  Guareschi introduces us to the character in the first paragraph as if he had never written of him before.

Don Camillo was one of those straight-talkers who are incapable of knowing when to hold back. On one occasion during Mass, after some unseemly goings-on in the village involving young girls and landowners far too old for them, he threw caution to the wind. Having started an agreeable homily on matters in general, he happened to catch sight of one of the guilty parties sitting right there in the front row. Breaking off from what he’d been saying, he draped a cloth over the Crucifix above the high altar, and planting his fists on his hips he finished his sermon in his own unique style. So blunt was the language of this great brute of a man and so thunderous the delivery that the very roof of the little church had appeared to shake.

OK, now you can see what I mean by a brash priest.  In the next paragraph we get the kernel of the story:

Naturally, at election time, Don Camillo expressed his opinions about leftwing activists in a similarly explicit manner, with the consequence that, just about sunset, as he was coming back to the presbytery, a great hulk of a man wrapped in a cloak darted out from a hedge behind him and, making use of the fact that the priest was encumbered by his bicycle and a bundle of seventy eggs hanging from the handlebars, gave him a whack with a stick before vanishing as if the earth had swallowed him up.

Don Camillo said nothing about this to anyone, but once he was back in the presbytery and the eggs were in a safe place, he went into the church to ask Jesus for advice, as he always did in moments of doubt.

‘What should I do?’ asked Don Camillo.

‘Rub a bit of oil and water on your back and say nothing,’ answered Jesus from above the altar. ‘You must forgive those who offend you. That is the rule.’

Don Camillo and Jesus go back and forth, the priest wanting to take revenge, but Jesus presenting the voice of conscience.  Here’s the conclusion of their exchange, Don Camillo speaking:

‘It’s pointless arguing with you, you’re always right. Thy will be done. We’ll forgive. But remember, if my silence makes that lot think they can get away with anything, and then they smash my head in, it’ll be your responsibility. I could quote you passages from the Old Testament …’

‘Don Camillo, you come here telling me about the Old Testament! I take full responsibility for whatever happens. But, just between ourselves, it serves you right. That little misfortune will teach you to play politics in my house.’

So Don Camillo forgave. But one thing stuck in his craw like a fishbone: the burning desire to know who had given him that tap on the back.

Now can you imagine, after some time has passed, Peppone comes in for a confession after 28 years of being lapsed and confesses that he was the one who hit the priest with a stick.  Enraged, Don Camillo absolves him, gives him ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys for a penance and rushes off to the crucifix to speak to Christ.

‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘forgive me, but I am going to beat him into a pulp.’

‘Do not even dream of it,’ answered Jesus.  ‘I have forgiven him, and so must you.  Deep down he is a good man.’

‘Don’t trust the Reds, Jesus.  They lure you in just so they can take advantage of you.  Take a good look at him.  Can’t you see what a villainous mug he’s got?’

Well, I won’t spoil how Don Camillo gets his revenge, with Jesus’ consent no less, and Peppone even takes it good naturedly.  A happy ending for all.

These are a fun bunch of stories.

I came across this movie of Don Camillo, narrated by Orson Wells, of all people.  It seems like a patching together of various Don Camillo stories.  The opening part of the movie might be based on “A Sin Confessed.”  But I’ve only watched about ten minutes.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Dante's Paradiso Cantos I - V, Summary

Canto I

After Dante (the author, not the character) gives glory to God, he points out that one who returns from up high can neither fully explain nor fully grasp his experience, but he will do what he can.  In emulation of the classics, he invokes Apollo, the god of the sun, to help him in this effort.  It is now noon and Dante (the character) turns to loom at Beatrice, who is staring at the sun.  The light reflecting off her eyes pours into Dante’s soul so strongly that he can only sustain it for a short time.  But as he continues to gaze on her, he feels changed within.  Through her, he can see the heavens spinning like wheels, bright as the sun and on fire.  He feels his body lifting and asks, how could this be?  Beatrice explains that it is natural to be lifted toward the heavens, and that it is unnatural—because sin is the unnatural state in man—to be held down to earth.

Canto II

In a naval metaphor, Dante (the author) warns the reader that not all are fit to follow him on this journey.  Because of their innate thirst for God, the two pilgrims (Dante the character and Beatrice his guide) rise with the speed of an arrow shot to the first heavenly sphere, the moon.  Dante asks Beatrice, what do the dark spots on the moon signify?  She turns the question on him and asks him what he thinks they are.  After Dante answers incorrectly, Beatrice goes on to explain first why he is wrong (it has nothing to do with rare or dense matter) and second proposes an experiment of mirrors to arrive at the truth.  If the mirrors are staggered, then a light shining into them appears different size but the original light is the same for each mirror.  The differences in light and dark coloration on the moon is due to the different distribution of graces God has used to create the universe, though it’s the same light that shines on all.  It is the matter which has varying capacity to absorb it.

Canto III

As Dante was about to confess his error on the moon spots, he sees the outline of faces as if in the bottom of a pool of water.  The faces are all eager to speak to him.  Beatrice explains to him these beings are assigned under the sphere of the moon—the moon associated with inconstancy—because they in life failed in maintaining their vows.  She urges him to speak to them, and he finds the one who speaks back to be his cousin-in-law, Piccarda, mentioned in Purgatorio (cantos XXIII & XXIV) when Dante met her brother and his friend, Donato Farese.  In life she had vowed to be a nun but was forced out of the convent by her other brother to marry for political reasons.  Dante asks her if she is content to be in the lowest sphere of heavenly blessedness.  She responds that she has no desire for more, that she would not be blessed in the first place if her will was discordant with God’s.  She replies with the famous line, “In His will is our peace.”  She speaks of the spirit beside her, Constanza, the Empress and wife of Henry VI, who was also pulled out of a convent to marry.  So both have failed in keeping their religious vows, though both forced.  Piccarda then fades into the mist, singing Ave Maria.

Canto IV

Still at the sphere of the moon, Dante (the character) is perturbed by two equally perplexing implications of his encounter with Piccarda.  Beatrice reads his mind and formulates for him the two questions at the root of Dante’s confusion.  She answers the second question first by explaining that these souls do not reside in these heavenly spheres but appear to him at the sphere as a sign to reflect the distinct heavenly graces that people receive.  These spirits at the moon reside in Empyrean with all the other spirits in heaven but here reflect the lower rank they received.  This, she continues, is in complete contradiction to what is generally understood on earth.  He then answers the first question, pertaining to the justice of people forced from their vows being of lower rank.  It is true, they were forced, but nonetheless their wills to maintain their vows was incomplete.  Their will could have found an escape or even death to uphold their vows.  Satisfied, Dante asks a third question, can a person make up in some other way for a vow left unfulfilled?  Beatrice looked at Dante with eyes so radiant that it almost overpowered him.

Canto V

Beatrice first addresses Dante's inability to directly look at her, telling him that she has flamed out more brightly because having moved closer toward God, she has more perfect vision.  Then she reformulates his question on whether a vow left unfulfilled can be made up.  Beatrice explains that one's free will given to God in a sacred pledge, one sacrifices further freedom.  The only allowable substitution for an unfulfilled vow must be of a significantly greater vow granted through God's representative, the Church.  She cautions about making foolish vows.  As fast as an arrow shot the two rise up out of the moon and reach the sphere of Mercury.  He sees a number of spirits there as if they are fish in a pond, and one approaches to speak to him.  He tells Dante that he and the spirits around him are on fire from the light from heaven, and then asks Dante whether he would like to receive some of this light.  Dante responds that he doesn't know who the spirit is and why he is under the influence of this sphere.  With apparent joy, the spirit glows even brighter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dante's Paradiso, Introduction

At the Catholic Thought Book Club, we’re returning to the Divine Comedy, and reading the last cantica, Paradiso.  You’ll be seeing a number of posts on it in the next couple of months.  Here’s the introduction I provided to this last section.

As an introduction to Paradiso, let me say up front that this is the least familiar to me of the three canticles.  While I had read Inferno and Purgatorio several times each (perhaps as many as four times) I have only read Paradiso one and a half times.  Many years ago I read it through, and then a couple of years ago I got to just about half way.  I was going to finish it, but then our book club selected it as our long term read, and so I started over with Inferno again and realized I would read Paradisio through when we got to it. 

When we had last left Dante (the character, not the author) at the end of Purgatorio, he and Beatrice were in earthly paradise and had set their sights for the stars.  Dante had undergone contrition, confession, and absolution and was ready for the holiness of heaven.  This last cantica is the final part of Dante the pilgrim’s journey through the world of the dead, now through the world of those in heaven.  So what can we expect here?  In Inferno, the goal of the journey was to reach through a winding funnel the heart of hell and to Satan.  In Purgatorio the goal was to climb along the edge of a spiraling mountain and reach Beatrice.  In Paradisio the goal is to rise through the heavenly spheres to reach Empyrean, the heart of heaven, and to God.

Just as Inferno and Purgatorio are each constructed to have ten major sections, so too Paradisio contains ten sections.  Ten is for Dante the number of perfection, and likewise the entire Divine Comedy is constructed to have one hundred (ten times ten) cantos.  Each of the canticas—a cantica or in English canticle, is a major division, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso—contains thirty-three cantos, which are subdivisions to the cantica.  That accounts for ninety-nine, and the hundredth is the introductory canto just before Dante the character enters Inferno.  Perhaps this is rudimentary for those who have read along, but perhaps there is someone starting with us in Paradisio.  If so, I urge you to read the introductions I provided to Inferno and Purgatorio.  It’s not difficult to start here if you allow yourself time to understand what has gone on.

The ten sections of Paradiso consist of seven heavenly bodies (moon, Mercury, Venus, sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), a section of consisting of an assemblage of stars, a section called the crystalline sphere from which God directly moves the universe, and finally Empyrean.  If Inferno was a downward slide allegorically suggesting the ease of sin, and Purgatorio was an upward climb allegorically suggesting the struggle of penance, then Paradiso is a rising allegorically suggesting the glory of salvation.  There is no effort in the rising.  Think of Dante and Beatrice, his guide for a good deal of Paradisio, as helium filled balloons being drawn toward God. 

In formulating the structure and nature of Paradiso, Dante was without doubt influenced by St. Paul when he talks of his mystical journey in Second Corinthians:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.  (2 Cor 12:1-5)

Without getting into the exegesis of this passage, we see there are multiple heavens and that his body or soul (he does not know which) is lifted up to paradise.  And it is unclear to Dante too whether his journey through the heavens is bodily or not. 

The pilgrims (Dante and Beatrice) do make stops at each of the spheres where they do meet other souls, but I should make it clear, since many make this assumption, that the souls do not reside in these spheres.  In a way this is a break as an analogs to Inferno, where those souls reside forever in those circles, and to Purgatorio where the penitents make their way through the ledges of the mountain. In Paradisio the souls all reside in Empyrean with God but travel to the spheres to show Dante the variation of graces bestowed by God to people.  Those souls have some characteristic of their sphere of influence but are not integrated to it.  If they were, they would be separated from God.  Indeed, there integration in Empyrean suggests a beautiful integration into the Body of Christ.

Critics of Paradiso say that it is the least polished of the three canticas.  I have not noticed that.  If I have my timeline correct, Dante (the author) started writing the Commedia in 1308 and completed first drafts of Inferno and Purgatorio by 1313, writing them nearly in parallel.  He spent the next four or five years revising the first two canticas and planning Paradiso.  He started Paradisio in 1317 and finished shortly before his death in 1321.  It’s conceivable he would have polished up Paradisio if he had lived longer just as he did the first two.  But having perfected the style and technique in the first two canticas, which spanned nearly a decade, he would need less time and effort in putting down the final third.  If it’s not as polished, it’s pretty darn good.

Some readers consider Paradiso the least interesting of the three.  Perhaps it’s because it deals with theological issues more directly.  There are less characters, and the pace is slower and more contemplative.  Perhaps it’s also because there is less narrative tension in Paradisio.  Inferno builds narrative tension through the personal dangers facing the pilgrims.  Purgatorio builds narrative tension through the struggle of cleansing sin.  Paradisio seemingly doesn’t have a narrative means to build tension.  Its sole tension is built on the anticipation of seeing God. 

If Paradisio lacks tension, however, the sheer beauty of its imagery and content makes it the most exquisite.  I think of the three canticas in this way.  Inferno is the most imaginative.  Purgatorio is the most human.  Paradiso is the most sublime.  It is here in Paradiso that all the themes are knitted together and reach closure.  What has been left incomplete is completed; development reaches denouement; intonations arrive to closed cadences.  It is good to recall the three overarching themes of the Divine Comedy: Man must be civilly responsible, man must seek the fulfillment of his Christian faith, and that the poet should create in an effort to capture God’s divine beauty. It is Paradiso we find the highest achievement of civil governance, we find most attainment of holiness, and we find the Empyrean, the mystical rose that represents perfection of God’s creation and on which the entire Divine Comedy is meant to represent.

With that, let’s get to Paradiso.

As to a reading plan, I don’t want to push myself at five or six cantos per week as I did while reading Inferno and Purgatorio.  I was more familiar with those and I still fell behind.  I looked at the division of the cantos and found some reasonable breaks.  So I propose the following reading plan of eight weeks. 

27 Jan – 2 Feb, Cantos 1 – 5
3 Feb – 9 Feb, Cantos 6 – 9
10 Feb – 16 Feb, Cantos 10 – 14
17 Feb – 23 Feb, Cantos 15 – 18
24 Feb – 2 Mar, Cantos 19 – 22
3 Mar – 9 Mar, Cantos 23 – 27
10 Mar – 16 Mar, Cantos 28 – 30
17 Mar – 23 Mar, Cantos 31 – 33

These are the discussion weeks, so the read prior is the time allotted to read them.  So you should start reading now.  Some weeks we have five cantos to read, some four, the last two weeks three cantos each.  This should give us a leisurely pace to digest the poetry.  I encourage you to read and post your comments.  If there is a particular passage that is giving you trouble, please ask and I will do my best to explain it.  As you can tell from my discussions of Inferno and Purgatorio, I love the Divine Comedy.  It’s the greatest work of literature ever written.

[We're already a week behind that schedule I put together.  This is a work I don't want to rush.]

Monday, February 18, 2019

Matthew Monday: Basketball Shooting Tournament

There hasn’t been much on the Matthew front to report lately but there was something back in November that I’ve been meaning to post.

As I mentioned back in October, Matthew decided to play soccer this year instead of basketball.  Well, as expected, the St. Rita soccer team is horrible.  Two years ago they didn’t win a game.  Last year Matthew played basketball, and the soccer team again didn’t win a game.  So far in the first halve of this year’s season—it gets divided by winter with a first half autumn and second half spring—they didn’t win a game.  In the meantime, Matthew had improved in basketball and wished he had joined the team.

But back in November, separate from the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), there was a nationwide basketball shooting contest.  It was essentially foul shots, though the younger grades were a step closer than the foul line.  Each school would pick the best two or three for each grade, send them to a local competition (Staten Island, in this case), the winners would go to a regional competition, and those winners would go for the national.

It was one day in early November that Matthew came home from school and said he had won the basketball shooting contest at his school for his grade.  I really didn’t understand the national tournament yet so I was confused.  But I have to admit I didn’t believe he had won any kind of basketball shooting contest.  He could barely reach the basket two years before and he hadn’t practice since.  Well, he did win his school competition, even over the ones on the basketball team.  And so he made it as the school representative for fourth grade at the regional.

At the regional he was excellent.  He was something like 15 of 20 in the first round, and a little less than that in the second.  Unfortunately there’s not going to be much to show you because—mea culpa—I muffed the pictures and film.  I think I screwed up initially and then my phone battery died.  But here’s what I did take.  First a still picture of Matthew of Matthew getting the ball at the foul line.

And here’s a four second video of Matthew taking a shot.  The camera stops before the ball reaches the basket but I do think it went in.

Finally Matthew wound up in third place for the fourth graders.  Now that is third place for all of Staten Island, and we at Staten Island have a population for nearly 500,000.  That’s the size of a small city.  Here’s a picture of Matthew with his third place medal.

As you can bet, he wants to play basketball next year.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention.  Third place does not move on in the competition.  Only the first place winners.  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

In Memoriam: Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson was one of my dearest baseball players and the backbone of the great Orioles teams from 1966 to 1971.  Six years he played in Baltimore.  He led them to the World Series four of those six years, winning twice.  I became an Orioles fan in 1970 at about nine years old.  Here I am nearly fifty years later and still an Orioles fan.  I don’t remember the 1970 season.  My earliest baseball memory was the sixth game of the 1971 World Series, the Orioles against the Pirates.  The Pirates had a three games to two lead in the series and if they won the sixth they would be world champions.  The game went into extra innings, bottom of the tenth.  Frank Robinson got on base and somehow got to third.  The next hitter—I learned later it was Brooks Robinson—hit a bloop fly ball to shallow center.  Frank Robinson tags and beats the throw home, sliding over the plate to win the game.  That Frank Robinson slide into home to win the game is my earliest baseball memory.

Here, I found it.  This is my earliest baseball memory.

Frank Robinson passed away on February 7th this past Thursday.  He was 83.  He was a gentleman but he played with an intensity that was downright ferocious.  Here’s how the Baltimore Sun started his obituary:  

Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson had those skinny legs and a gingerly gait that made it seem as if his feet always hurt. But the ferocity with which he played baseball belied his appearance. He crowded the plate with abandon and hurtled into fielders to break up double plays. Once, at Yankee Stadium, he decked a fan who tried to rob him of a fly ball.

"I always had the willingness to push myself. I tried to be better than what I was," said Mr. Robinson, a 13-time All-Star and first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1982. "Sure, it’s just a game. But it’s my life."

He would be a hall of famer, hitting just short of 3000 hits and hitting 586 career home runs.  He would also be baseball’s first black manager and a first ballot hall of famer.  His number 20 is retired by three teams—the Cincinnati Reds, the team who drafted and played for ten years, the Baltimore Orioles, the team who he led to four World Series appearances, and the Cleveland Indians, the team with who he finished his career and who hired him as the first black manager. 

He was traded to Baltimore after the 1965 season when the Reds thought he was washed up at 30 years old.  From the Sun’s Obit:

Cast off by Cincinnati owner Bill DeWitt, who called him "an old 30," Mr. Robinson seethed.

"I was hurt and angry," he said at the time. "I feel I have something to prove and the quicker I can, the better off I’ll be."

And boy did he ever.  1966, his first with the Orioles, would be his greatest year.  Again from the Sun:

On Opening Day, 1966, in his third at-bat as an Oriole, Mr. Robinson homered in a 5-4 victory. One month later, he hit a pitch completely out of Memorial Stadium — the only player ever to do so.

"The [one-minute] ovation the fans gave me after I trotted back on the field following the homer was the thing I remember most about my years in Baltimore," Mr. Robinson said later. "I knew then that I had been accepted."

He hit a club-record 49 home runs, drove in 122 runs and batted .316. He led the Orioles to their first American League pennant and a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs, and both the AL and World Series Most Valuable Player awards. Moreover, he brought a brassy edge to the Orioles that remained long after his departure in 1971.

And then he was traded after the 1971 season.  I was heartbroken.  How could they trade Frank?  But at the point he was 36 and on the decline.  He would finish a few more years with several teams and become the Cleveland Indians player manager.  He finally retired as a player after the 1976 season. 

But I was too young to fully appreciate Frank Robinson as a player.  I got to really appreciate Frank when he became the Orioles manager during the 1988.  That year the team would lose its first 21 games and fire its manager Cal Ripkin, Sr. and put in Frank.  They had one of the all-time worst season records that year.  But the next year, 1989, not only did the team have a winning record but they actually competed for a division title, though they fell short in the end.  They went from a record of 54-107 and in last place 34 1/2 games out of first in ’88 to 87-75 in second place just two games out of first in ’89.  I remember that season so well.  We were actually in first for part of the season.  Just like 1966 was Frank Robinson’s great ball player year, 1989 was Frank’s great managerial year.  He was voted manager of the year.

Here is a wonderful tribute put together using Frank Robinson’s own voice.  I think it shows what a gentleman he was and what a tenacious ballplayer.

That is a wonderful tribute.  Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul rest in peace. He brought us joy.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Essay: “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler

We did something a little different at the book club at the turn of the year.  As a short term read, one week, we read and discussed an essay on how we might write notes into a book as we read.  This is actually a famous essay from the eminent scholar, Mortimer J. Adler,   and his essay is appropriately titled, “How to Mark a Book.”  The essay is only six pages, so you can read it in less than fifteen minutes.  You can find it here.  

It’s surprising how controversial a subject this can be.  Some find writing into a book a grave taboo.  I on the other hand write profusive notes in every book I own.  There seems to be two extremes.  Which side do you fall on?

Side note.  I just read Adler’s biographical entry at Wikipedia and I’m surprised to learn he was a convert to Catholicism.  I have read one of his books, though I can’t recall which, so I have known of Adler since I was a young man.  I didn’t know he ultimately became Catholic.

The following are my comments in our discussion at the Goodreads Catholic Thought Book Club.  Here’s a link to the thread

Comment 1:
Books are sacrosanct to me too, so I would never be careless with them. But I consider my thoughts to be sacrosanct as well, so I have no qualms writing my thoughts as I read to any book I own. Of course if I don't own it, that's different. I haven't read Adler's essay yet, so I'm curious to see how he recommends scribbling in the margins. I'll discuss some of my methods after I read the essay.

Comment 2:
I thought this paragraph made a rather interesting point:

But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini's score of the C-minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores—marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author.

A book has a soul that cannot be destroyed? But one should be free to tamper with the body...lol.

But the comparison to a musical score is really interesting. A musical score exists in sort of a metaphysical nether world. The story of a book, the lyricism, the ideas, they too exist separate from the physical book in a metaphysical realm.

John Replied to Comment 2:
“But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting...."

This is one of the ideas in Bulgakov's the Master and Margarita, isn't it? That even if you burn a manuscript you haven't destroyed the book itself, its metaphysical existence.

I replied to John:
Is it? The Master and Margarita has been on my reading list but I've never gotten to it.

Kerstin commented:
"I use laminated holy cards as bookmarks. They do double duty for me marking the page, and their long edges make for a great ruler substitute for underlining passages. ...it must be the German in me..."

I replied to Kerstin:
Ha, you should see my scribbles. And when I'm in a moving vehicle the lines come out as wavy as a trembling hand. Can you imagine standing in a crowded subway on my way off to college trying to underline while the train is bouncing and rocking...lol.

Comment 3:
Adler’s list of devices was very interesting.  Here’s my response to each one and then I’ll add a few of my own at the bottom.

1. Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements.

Absolutely.  That’s probably the most important single thing you can do, identify the salient points.

2. Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.

I do this too, but more if a lengthy passage is very important.  I do it in lieu of underlining.

3. Star, asterisk, or other doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. (You may want to fold the bottom corner of each page on which you use such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books are printed, and you will be able to take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it at the folded corner page, refresh your recollection of the book.)

I use asterisks too, again to highlight an import section.  So what’s the difference between my underlines, vertical lines, or an asterisk?  Not much actually.  Underlining is more when I think the particular language used by the author is significant. 

4. Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.

I don’t really do this, but then I don’t read philosophic works where the building of argument is important.  If there are several points I may list them, numbering them.

5. Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together.

Yes, I do this too but sparingly.  It’s a pain to try to find the page of the previous idea to tie them together.  I guess that’s my laziness.

6. Circling of key words or phrases.

Absolutely.  Very important.  A circle on top of the print stands out.  I also circle dates to orient the passage in time and history.

7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the sake of: recording questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the books. I use the end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance.

Yes absolutely.  A list of characters at the beginning of the book, an important thought in the margin, a summary of the salient point at the end of a chapter, an asterisk at the beginning of the chapter, what page important thoughts or events are located in the back of the book.  I never fold a page tip.  I’ll write that page number in the back. 

Other things I do:
1. An exclamation mark on the side to highlight a well written or beautiful section.  Double exclamation marks for something exceedingly well written.
2. An arc of a line to connect something on the top of the page to something on the bottom.
3. A definition of a word or term that comes up in the writing that I needed to look up.
4. Emotional reaction that I might have to a passage.
5. Question mark on something I don’t understand.

Comment 4:

Also, has it been said?  I always use pencil, never ink.  I live with mechanical pencils either in my shirt pocket (Yes, I'm a geeky engineer) or scattered through the house.

Comment 5:

I think one other thing should be pondered.  How does marking a book in the new world of ebooks work?  You would think it would work the same way but I find it different.  Certainly one can tack notes on any given page, and my current Kindle has four colors of highlight to choose from.  But still I find it different.  I find that I do not scribble little notes as often as when I have a pencil in hand.  It tends to be rather tedious to open up the notes page and write a thought.  I certainly don’t do it just to put a question mark or an exclamation mark in the margin.  I can’t circle an important word or date.  I highlight it, which I guess is the same.  My previous Kindle only had one color, if it was a color, but now with four colors I have created a hierarchy with the color scheme.  That helps.  Red would be the most significant and perhaps equivalent to my asterisk in pencil.  In the Kindle format I now never list the characters at the beginning or collate motifs at the end of the book.  In short it’s is not as detailed as with pencil and paper book.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn, Part 3

This is my third and final post on Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World.  You can find the first post here.  
And the second post here.   

Part 1 addresses chapters 1 through 4.
Part 2 addresses chapters 5 through 7.
Part 3 addresses chapters 8 through 14.


Chapter 8: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Hahn outlines the significance of Jesus being born in Bethlehem.

Chapter 9: “Do You Believe in Magic”
The Magi, who were gentiles, followed the star to find truth and give gifts to the new born king of Israel.

Chapter 10: “Shepherds, Why this Jubilee?”
Hahn connects the historical role of a humble shepherd to the shepherds who will be among the first informed of Jesus’ birth to the child who will eventually become the Good Shepherd.

Chapter 11: “The Glory of Your People: The Presentation”
Hahn provides the context to the three post birth Jewish rituals: the circumcision, the child’s presentation, and the mother’s purification. 


Chapter 11 was probably the most difficult for me.  It probably requires a deeper understanding of the Jewish rituals.

Circumcision is easy enough to understand but Hahn takes it further than I ever thought.

Israel’s covenant with God was “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8); and, though Jesus, as God, was not bound by the law, only he could fulfill the law perfectly, precisely because he was God and therefore sinless. And so he did, as his parents took him to be circumcised, perhaps at the synagogue in Bethlehem.

Christians have always seen this moment as an anticipation of Jesus’s crucifixion. It was the first shedding of his blood, whose value was infinite. Because of Jesus’s perfection, this rite by itself possessed power enough to redeem the world; yet he pressed on to a more perfect fulfillment and more complete self-giving. To his own law he would be obedient—“obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8).  (p, 128)

First I had never heard that Jesus’s circumcision was a prefiguring of His crucifixion, but I can see that.  But Hahn says that “because of Jesus’s perfection, this rite by itself possessed power enough to redeem the world.”  You mean that Christ did not have to be crucified?  I can see the circumcision as a foreshadow, an echo, or, as Hahn initially says, an anticipation of His ritual death, but in lieu of it?  That seems like a step too far. 


I have to admit, I really don’t understand that distinction Hahn makes concerning Jesus’s Presentation at the Temple. 

Luke’s narrative is quite odd.  He describes Jesus not as being “redeemed,” but rather as being “dedicated” or “presented” in the Temple.  It’s an important distinction.  The law did not require that all first born males be redeemed. (p.129)

Hahn goes on to explain.

If Jesus…was dedicated to God and not redeemed, he belongs to God permanently…Thus, Luke presents Jesus as a uniquely righteous first-born, who—unlike other Israelite males—did not need to be redeemed from service to the Lord, since he was not unclean.  Instead, he was consecrated as a firstborn (Exodus 13:1-2).  (p. 130-131)

So the distinction lies between redeemed versus consecrated.  If someone could explain that distinction further I might get it.


Another interesting tidbit from chapter 11 is that Hahn tells us that Luke is one of the possible authors for the Epistle to the Hebrews.  I had not heard that.  I just finished reading the Epistle to the Hebrews as a continuous read and that does make sense.  The writing styles are similar.



Chapter 12: “Flight Into Joy”
Hahn explains how the flight into Egypt resonates in Biblical history.

Chapter 13: “Blessed Trinities: Heaven and the Holy Family”
Hahn contemplates upon why God entered the world and entering revealed how God is both a family and love.

Chapter 14: “Joy to the World”
Hahn explains why we celebrate Christmas, why it is important to do so, and the joy it brings to us and to the world.


I recently saw a video from a vlog (I think that’s what it's called) titled "The Ruben Report" where Bishop Barron and Rabbi David Wople were discussing issues and religion.  You can find that video here.

They mostly agreed on things but they did stumble on a disagreement on the nature of God, of course, given their two different religions.  Around the 24 minute mark the Rabbi says Jews see the Father as perfect, why does He need to be three?  A few minutes before that Bishop Barron explained the central tenet of Christianity that God became man, but he never fully answered the Rabbi.  The conversation drifted onto other things after that.

But Scott Hahn in chapter thirteen asks the very question, "Why did God become man?  It is one of the insolvable mysteries, like Why is there something rather than nothing?" (p. 145)

To answer the good Rabbi one could just say that's what it is, just like gravity attracts and not repels.  God chose to do that, and it doesn't make Him any less perfect.  Bishop Barron says it's a mystery, but it's not a mystery.  Scott Hahn answers it.

But in this instance an angel gives us a clue by way of the Scriptures. It is the angel who tells Saint Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Surely Jesus’s name, given by heaven, tells us something about his purpose. He came to “save his people”—more specifically, to save them “from their sins.” To do this is a pure act of merciful love, because sins are by definition offenses against almighty God. Yet it is God himself who has taken flesh for the sake of our salvation. He came, moreover, not just to save the wayward members of his chosen people but to save even the gravest sinners of Babylon and Egypt.

In the act of saving us, God drew close to us, so that we could see him and touch him. He became a baby, so that he would need to be picked up and caressed, changed and fed.

As we draw close to God incarnate, we can see more clearly the nature of God eternal. And that, too, was why he became man; revelation is bound up with our salvation. In our fallen state, with our darkened intellect and weakened will, we could not see God or know him, though we could know that he existed.

God drew close so that we could see clearly—and know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). In eternity, that is his deepest identity. Before he created anything to love, he was love; and love is an act that requires both a subject and an object, a lover and a beloved. God is that pure act of love. Because of the revelation of Christmas, we know that love as the Blessed Trinity. Pope Saint John Paul II summarized the matter in a memorable way: “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of family, which is love.”  (pp. 146-148)

God became man to (1) to save us as part of mankind, therefore redeeming mankind, because it was mankind that lost salvation, (2) to show us that God is love, (3) to reveal that God is a family of persons bound in love of which we are supposed to emulate, (4) to draw us close to Him since He took on physical presence, and (5) to show us that God can humble Himself to come as a babe that requires love and care.


I thought the final chapter was a superb way of concluding the work.  First Hahn points out what makes Christianity special because of Christmas.

No human mind could have invented the triune God.  He is not a God we can contain in our categories or tame by our thoughts.  No human mind could have conceived a God who is love and who loves us as if we were gods.  No human mind, unaided by angels, could have dreamt up Christmas.

Christmas makes us different.  Christmas sets us apart.  Christmas calls us to share in divine love—and then to share that love with an unbelieving world.  (p. 163)

So in chapter thirteen Hahn tells us why the birth of Christ is so important, and then he tells us why we should celebrate it.  God entered humanity for our salvation, and that brings joy to us and to the world.

God has created the whole world for the sake of the joy we celebrate at Christmas.  He fashioned human nature so that every man, woman, and child should desire Christmas joy and seek fulfillment in Bethlehem, the House of Bread—through the Bread that came down from heaven.  God made us so that we would find all other joys unsatisfactory aprt from the joy of Christmas.  (pp. 164-165)

So we should spread this joy, despite the commercialism twist that it has taken the last hundred years.  Hahn is not afraid of the commercialism.  In its own way, it’s “an acknowledgment of Christmas joy.  It’s the market’s awkward attempt to join the party and capitalize on joy” (p. 166).  And why is Christmas joy so important?

Because the world offers countless pleasures, but no lasting joys.  What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow—even amid persecution, flight, and exile.  (p. 165)

It is amazing how people can be secular all year long but celebrate Christmas.  In Christmas those people come the closest to tangibly experiencing Christian jubilance, but it still falls short of full mystical joy.  This is our calling as Christians, to bring people to this joy.