Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lepanto: The Battle Won by Prayer as told by Louis de Whol


Dear Misfits,

The Misfits met on August 10 to discuss “The Last Crusader, A Novel about Don Juan of Austria” by Louis de Whol.  It proved to be a fine, lite summer read.  Most of us thought the fictionalized action was over-romanticized and even sappy.  But what the story lacked in character development, it made up for in historical accuracy.  And let’s face it, we didn’t select this book because we were interested in the intrigues of the royal court; we wanted to read another story about the battle of Lepanto!  (Recall that The Misfit’s read Chesterton’s epic poem “Lepanto” in 2004.)


The battle demonstrated that the time of oared galley warfare had come to an end.  The Christian fleet towed six galleasses to the front of the formation where broadsides fired from the heavy guns of these innovative vessels buffered the Ottoman attack.  Admiral Andria Doria, whose contributions were minimized in the novel, recommended that the iron ramming prows of the galleys be removed and replaced with cannons aimed at the waterline of enemy ships.  He also had netting installed from the masts to the gunwales to slow the Janissaries boarding assaults.  The Janissaries were the best trained and fiercest fighters of their age, but their arrows could not pierce the armor worn by the Holy League fighters, who employed musket and arquebus fire from the rigging to wreak havoc on the decks of the Turkish vessels.

Although de Wohl depicted Pope Pius V praying for the victory, he failed to mention that the Pope implored all of Europe to join him in praying the Rosary.  Many credit the intersession of the Blessed Mother for the miraculous, last-minute change of wind direction that granted an advantage to the Holy League fleet.  In fact, The Feast of the Holy Rosary (originally known as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory) is celebrated on October 7 to commemorate these events.

One quote in particular was indicative of de Wohl’s understanding of the fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam.

“The Muslim, however, tried to cut the newfound bridge between God and man.  Christ, no longer the God-Man, became a mere, minor prophet who had to bow to Muhammad.  And Muhammad, too, was a prophet only.  Once more the bond between God and mankind was to be severed and the closest and most loving union broken.”

It was noted that Europe seems again threatened by the forces of Islam, except that their post-Christian culture lacks the collective will to effectively counter it.  And the United States faces similar threats as more Muslims immigrate to the country.  On the surface it doesn’t sound politically correct to speak of Islam as a threat in a country where we are supposed to value religious liberty.  However, we Catholics have always been counter-cultural and there are plenty of movements in our own country and "American" culture that run contrary to our beliefs.  We didn’t solve any problems and we know there are no easy answers, but perhaps we only need to look to the Gospel for inspiration.

            “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
            But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
             – Matthew 5:43-44.

This was the last of our summer meetings held at Loome Theological Booksellers at Claret Farm.  Thanks as always to Misfit Chris Hagen for his hospitality.  The outdoor gazebo provided the perfect setting for our discussion, even with early the darkness brought on by a looming thunderstorm; the outflow of which led to an abbreviated closing prayer.

The Misfits will meet in the St. Thomas More Library at St. Michal’s Church to discuss Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins” for our September meeting.  For those of you who don’t already own the book, get online and order soon with expedited shipping.  I didn’t find many copies of this book in stock in the Twin Cities.

In October the Misfits have decided to return to G. K. Chesterton!  We will read some more of Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries.  You will recall that we read “The Annotated  Innocence of Fr. Brown” for our April 2003 book selection.  For October, we will read "Father Brown:  The Essential Tales".  This definitive collection of fifteen stories, selected by the American Chesterton Society, includes such classics as “The Blue Cross,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Paradise of Thieves.” As P. D. James writes in her Introduction, “We read the Father Brown stories for a variety pleasures, including their ingenuity, their wit and intelligence, and for the brilliance of the writing. But they provide more. Chesterton was concerned with the greatest of all problems, the vagaries of the human heart.”

We hope to see many of you at our next meeting on Wednesday, September 14, 2016, at 7:00 pm in the St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Steve Ward
Scribe to the Misfits

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Flannery O'Connor Short Stories for Summer Reading


Dear Misfits,

We read three of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for our July meeting:  “Revelation”, “Parker’s Back”, and “Judgment Day”.  However, we were also encouraged to do extra-curricular reading, so a discussion of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" was almost inevitable.


“Revelation” was our starting point.  Like so many of O’Connor’s stories it includes a wonderful example of Grace offered in a completely unexpected way.  Misfits who have spent time in the south commented on how the vivid imagery painted an accurate portrait of sensibilities, both good and bad, that still seem to be prevalent today.  On one hand there is an emphasis put on southern hospitality and genteel behavior, but underneath there can be tendencies to view one’s self above other people or classes.  Mrs. Turpin responded positively to her opportunity for grace and O’Connor used the moment to impart a little Catholic perspective on the question of who will be first in the Kingdom.  The following is Mrs. Turpin’s vision of the Saved marching into Heaven:

“And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claude, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.  ….Accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior.  …  Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”

Grace was also found in “Parker’s Back”.  We had the sense that God was always looking out for Parker and realized that moments of grace don’t necessarily need to be religious experiences.  Who could have imagined that the change Parker felt when he first saw a tattooed man would lead him toward his salvation?  The other thing that impressed us was the amazing amount of symbolism throughout.  The tractor accident seemed reminiscent of the Burning Bush where Parker ended up shoeless on what he experienced as hallowed ground.  The Moses metaphor continued when Parker got the tattoo of Jesus on his back.  Just as Moses could not see God fully – only his back – the tattoo of Christ was the only one of his many tattoo’s that Parker couldn’t see.  But to me the most striking symbolism came in learning the meaning of O. E. Parker’s given name.  Obadiah means “Slave of God” and Elihue means “He is God”.  Parker responded to the grace offered to him, but to his great sorrow, his wife did not accept the grace offered to her.

Next we jumped to “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  I have been pleased, perhaps even proud, to count myself among The Misfits for many years.  All this time I only knew The Misfits were named for a character in a Flannery O’Connor story and I was satisfied with that.  But after reading the story for the first time I was forced to ask why in the devil we ever named ourselves for such a loathsome character.

For the record, it happened very early on in the history of our reading group and some of the specific details may have been conveniently misremembered.  But it is believed that the genesis of the association came in considering a line spoken by The Misfit in the story.  From his twisted perspective it is possible to get a sense that as Christians and sinners our punishment does not fit our crimes because of Christ’s mercy.

“I call myself The Misfit because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

In fact and on reflection, the character of The Misfit has many profound spiritual insights.  He very well understands the central question offered by Christianity:  If you accept that Jesus is God, what are you going to do about it?  The Misfit certainly wrestled with Grace at some point in his life and rejected Him outright.  However, in the end is he expressing disappointment, regret, or something else when he concedes that there is no real pleasure in life?

There was not enough time to discuss “Judgment Day” as the sun was beginning to set beyond the gazebo at Claret Farm.

For our August meeting, The Misfits will read The Last Crusader by Louis de Wohl.  The novel is historical fiction about Don Juan of Austria.  Mistfits will recognize Don Juan of Austria as the hero of Lepanto from the G.K. Chesterton poem, Lepanto, we read many years ago.  The Last Crusader is slightly long, 500 pages, but it promises to be an exciting summer read.

For our September meeting, we will read Walker Percy’s very quirky novel, Love in the Ruins.  “Percy brilliantly describes and satirizes the competing elements in this novel as an American Apocalypse - the country club conservatives, the "groovy" priests, the religious Right and Left, the technocrats, the sexologists, the racists, the Black revolutionaries, the drop-outs, and the sinister but bungling government bureaucrats who have their own vision of a "Brave New World."  Written in the 1971, it has a very contemporary ring to it!

And finally, please don’t forget the challenge offered by Misfit Buzz last month.  After all these years we think it a good thing to have a standard opening prayer for our meetings.  I seem to recall there being some sort of contest or prize involved, but the details escape me now.  But if you have any ideas for an opening prayer, jot them down and send them to Buzz.  He will ensure that your work will be recognized and suitably rewarded.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Steve Ward
Scribe to the Misfits

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summer Evening with Graham Greene's The Quiet American


Dear Misfits,

The Misfits met on June 8 at Loome Theological Books to discuss Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American.  The Misfits have a fond appreciation for classic Russian novelists, but we agreed it was a pleasure to enjoy a short, readable novel after slogging through two months of Dostoyevsky.  The summer green, the evening air, the setting sun, and a Spotted Cow or two all combined to provide the perfect setting for our meeting held in the Claret Farm gazebo.  Thanks again to Misfit Chris Hagen for hosting.



Misfit Buzz began the discussion by providing some historical context for the Vietnam War.  Most of us are old enough to remember the war well, and some of us served in it, but this novel takes place before the United States became deeply involved.  Given that Graham Greene published the novel in 1955, it turned out to be prophetic as well.  It was also interestingly noted in a sidebar that, besides the struggles against French colonialism, a certain portion of the early aggression was fueled by Communists and Buddhists coming into conflict with Vietnamese Catholics, who were well established.

The story has two main characters:  Fowler – a newspaper correspondent from England, and Pyle – a CIA agent in the vanguard of US involvement.  The Misfits failed to find redeeming qualities in either man.  Fowler tried to use his objectivity as a reporter to rationalize his neutrality in the conflict, but it was his desire for and dependence on his girlfriend and mistress,  Phuong, that bound him personally to the war.  In the end he was compelled to take action, but even in doing so he tried to justify himself in such a way as to deny moral responsibility for the consequences.  Pyle was described as a naïve idiot who was oblivious to reality.  He was an inexperienced ideologue who felt the United States could impose democracy by teaming with the right ally to form a Third Force and gain victory by upsetting the existing balance of power.  He reminded us of the many shortcomings in American foreign policy throughout the years.



The love triangle between Fowler, Pyle, and Phuong is an allegory for the war itself.  Fowler represents the interests of colonial Europe.  He doesn’t want to be alone in his declining years in much the same way the French sought to maintain the status quo of colonialism.  Pyle is an idealist who fights the battle of Democracy versus Communism and he doesn’t care if innocent lives are lost in the process.  And Phuong represents most Vietnamese in that she simply wants a live of security, peace, stability, and happiness.

Finally we wondered if the character of Fowler is in some ways Graham Greene’s alter ego.  Certainly Greene’s political views are reflected in Fowler, and the opposite of those views is embodied in the antagonist Pyle.  But we also suspect that some of Greene’s conversion experience was expressed in Fowler.  Was there a period of time when Greene, like Pyle, didn’t believe in God?  And was Fowler’s conflict with his divorced wife drawn from his own experience.

Despite the fact that the main characters are shallow, more or less unbelievable, and generally dislikeable, we really enjoyed the book.  It sparked lengthy discussions about the war itself and what America could have done and what its involvement should have been.

To the Future: 

For July we are returning to Flannery O'Conner and will be reading selected short stories from The Complete Stories.  We will specifically read and discuss “Revelation”, “Parkers Back”, and “Judgement Day”.

For August we will read a novel that has great historical and some might say, topical interest:  The Last Crusader: A Novel About Don Juan of Austria by Louis de Wohl.  The novel portrays the great Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto.

Our next two meetings will be at Loome Booksellers/Claret Farm hosted by Misfit and bookseller extraordinaire, Chris Hagen.  Our meeting in July will be on July 12th and will start at 7:00 pm.  If you haven't been to a Misfit Meeting Under the Gazebo at Claret Farm, you are missing a literary and distinctly male, convivial experience (as in men discussing books and drinking fine beer.

With Warm Literary Regard,

Steve Ward
Scribe to the Misfits

******************************************************
"Every person that comes into this earth ... is born sweet and full of love. A little child loves ever'body, friends, and its nature is sweetness -- until something happens. Something happens, friends, I don't need to tell people like you that can think for theirselves. As that little child gets bigger, its sweetness don't show so much, cares and troubles come to perplext it, and all its sweetness is driven inside it. Then it gets miserable and lonesome and sick, friends. It says, 'Where is all my sweetness gone? Where are all the friends that loved me?' and all the time, that little beat-up rose of its sweetness is inside, not a petal dropped."

          FLANNERY O'CONNOR, Wise Blood

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

From the Library of a Canon Lawyer Part III - Balthasar, de Lubac, Daniélou, Bouyer, and more


Severe storms this week took out Loomebooks.com's server and so this week's eCatalog is published on our blog.

To order, please send an email to books@loomebooks.com with the book numbers from this catalog. We will return your email confirming availability, the S&H amount, and instructions for how to pay.

“I make no apology for the subject which I have chosen for my lecture – Constantine the Great and the Christian Church, for Constantine marks in his own person a turning point in European history. No student of the Middle Ages can evade Constantine: he is one of the few inescapable figures in European history and one of the most intractable.”

From CONSTANTINE THE GREAT AND THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH by Baynes.

This Week's Highlights:



1. BALTHASAR, HANS URS VON. Man in History: A Theological Study. London: Sheed and Ward, 1968.
X + 341 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Underlining to first 75 pages only. Owner's signature on front endpaper.
$120

2. BOSSUET, JACQUES BENIGNE (1627-1704). Oeuvres choisies. Chez Delestre-Boulage, 1821-1823.
19 of 21 volumes. Lacking volumes 18 & 19. 8vo. Bound in beautiful contemporary marbled calf, gilt borders, morocco labels. Slight rubbing, small crack to upper joint of volume one. From the library of Count Jean Baptiste Jourdan, marshal of France, with his book-plates on several of the paste-down endpapers. A lovely set.
$750



3. BOUYER, LOUIS. The Eternal Son. A Theology of the Word of God and Christology. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1978.
431 page hardcover in very good condition with d-j. Free of underlining and highlighting.
SOLD $90



4. [CYPRIAN], SAGE, MICHAEL M. Cyprian. (Patristic Monograph Series, No.1]. Cambridge, MA: The Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, Ltd, 1975.
VIII + 439 page softcover in very good condition free of underlining and highlighting.
$120



5. DANIÉLOU, JEAN. The Theology of Jewish Christianity. The Development of Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicea, Volume One. Chicago: The Henry Regnery Company, 1964.
XVI + 446 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Occasional underlining.
$120



6. [FELIX OF CANTALICE, SAINT], DE'ROSSI, ANGELO MARIA. Vita de San Felice da Cantalice. Religioso Capuccino . . . Seconda impressione. Napoli: Novello de Bonis, 1712.
XII + 333 + [3] page limp vellum bound volume (22.5 x 16.5 cm) in good condition. Library accession numbers on spine. Some ex-library stamps on inside. Some worming to top of pages but without text loss. Binding still strong.

St. Felix of Cantalice (d. 1587) was the first Capuchin to be canonized (in 1712).  He was a friend and advisor to St. Philip Neri in Rome.  Beloved of the Roman populace he was especially solicitous and tender to the children of Rome.  He considered himself the “Ass of the Capuchins” and his humility won him instant acclamation of sanctity upon his death.

Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917
$600



7. MABILLON, JEAN (1632-1707). Tractatus de studiis monasticis in tres partes distributus, cum quadam praecipuarum difficultatum serie, quae in autographorum operum lectione singulis quibusque saeculis occurrunt... Latinè vertit P.D. Josephus Porta Astensis... Editio altera [3 parts bound as 2]. Ex Typographia Andreae Poletti, 1745.
2 volumes: 8vo (22.5 x 17cm), [xxii + 366pp] & [xii + 302pp (2) + xvi + 272pp]. Beautifully rebound in dark quarter morocco with marbled boards, 5 raised bands, gilt lettering on spine, owner's inscriptions on title-pages in contemporary hand, library stamps on title-pages.
$450



8. SCHEEBEN, MATTHIAS JOSEPH. The Mysteries of Christianity. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1964.
X + 834 page hardcover in very good condition with d-j. Free of underlining and highlighting.
SOLD $60



9. TANQUEREY, AD. A Manual of Dogmatic Theology. [2 volume set]. New York: Desclee Company, 1959.
2 hardcover volumes in very good condition with d-js. Text clean, crisp, and bright. A handsome set.
SOLD $180



10. WOESTMAN, WILLIAM H., O.M.I. Ecclesiastical Sanctions and the Penal Process. A Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Ottawa: Saint Paul University, 2000.
XII + 290 page hardcover in good condition. Some highlighting.
$150


From the Library of a Canon Lawyer Part III continued:


11. ARRIETA, JUAN IGNACIO. Governing Structures Within The Catholic Church. [Collection Gratianus Series]. Chicago: Midwest Theological Forum, 2000.
XXX + 304 page softcover in good condition. Some highlighting.
$40

12. BOOZANG, KATHLEEN M. (Editor). Proceedings of the Symposium. Is a For-Profit Structure a viable Alternative for Catholic Health Care Ministry? Newark, NJ: Seton Hall University School of Law, 2012.
207 page softcover in good condition. Some highlighting.
$110

13. [BUBER, MARTIN], SCHILPP, PAUL ARTHUR and MAURICE FRIEDMAN (Editors). The Philosophy of Martin Buber. [The Library of Living Philosophers Volume XII]. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1967.
XX + 811 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Underlining and marginalia confined to chapter 30. Owner's signature on front endpaper and ink date of "-1967-" on bottom of title page.
$60

14. [CONSTANTINE}, BAYNES, NORMAN H. Constantine the Great and the Christian Church. Second Edition. London: The British Academy, 1972.
VIII + 107 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Some underlining and marginalia. Introduction by Sir Henry Chadwick.
SOLD $30

15. DANIÉLOU, JEAN. Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture.  A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea Volume Two. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973.
X + 540 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Some highlighting and underlining. Ink notes on rear endpaper. Binding strong.
$45

16. DANIEL-ROPS, HENRI. The Catholic Reformation.  Volume One. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1964.
360 page softcover in good condition free of underlining and highlighting. Spine curved and lightly creased.
 SOLD $25

17. DANIEL-ROPS, HENRI. The Catholic Reformation. Volume Two. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1964.
280 page softcover in good condition free of underlining and highlighting. Spine lightly creased.
SOLD $25

18. DE LUBAC, HENRI, S.J. Augustinianism and Modern Theology. New York: Herder and Herder, 1969.
XVI + 320 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Occasional underlining.
SOLD $35

19. DULLES, AVERY. A History of Apologetics. [Theological Resources]. New York: Corpus, 1971.
XX + 307 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Some underlining and marginalia confined to first 25 pages.
$25

20. FORTMAN, EDMUND J. The Triune God. A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972.
XXVI + 382 page hardcover in very good condition with d-j. Free of underlining and highlighting.
$30

21. GIUSSANI, LUIGI. Morality. Memory and Desire. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.
174 page softcover in very good condition free of underlining and highlighting.
$45

22. [MARCEL, GABRIEL], SCHILPP, PAUL ARTHUR and LEWIS EDWIN HAHN (Editors). The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel. [The Library of Living Philosophers Volume XVII]. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1991.
XX + 624 page softcover in good condition. Some underlining and marginalia confined to first 100 pages. Binding strong.
$28

23. MARINI, FRANCIS J. (Editor). Comparative Sacramental Discipline in the CCEO and CIC. A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of Members of other Catholic Churches Sui Iuris. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 2003.
XIV + 258 page green hardcover in excellent condition.
SOLD $40

24. MERTON, THOMAS. Monks Pond. Thomas Merton's Little Magazine. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989.
XVI + 349 page large hardcover in very good condition with d-j. Owner's signature on front endpaper. Ink note with dates to bottom of title page, otherwise clean interior.
$40

25. MERTON, THOMAS and ROBERT LAX, ARTHUR W. BIDDLE (Editor). When Prophecy Still Had a Voice: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
XX + 448 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Ink underling confined to first 20 pages. Owner's signature on front endpaper and date of 2001 in ink to bottom of title page.
SOLD $25

26. PELIKAN, JAROSLAV. Historical Theology. Continuity and Change in Christian Doctrine. [Theological Resources]. New York: Corpus, 1971.
XXVI + 228 page hardcover in good condition with d-j. Very occasional underlining and marginalia.
$50

27. POSPISHIL, VICTOR J. The Law on Marriage. Interritual Marriage Law Problems. Code of Oriental Canon Law. English Translation and Differential Commentary. Chicago: Universe Editions, 1962.
221 page hardcover in good condition.  Marginalia on page 55 only.
$30

28. VAN DE SANDT, HUUB and DAVID FLUSSER. The Didache. Its Jewish sources and its place in early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2002.
XVIII + 431 page glossy hardcover in very good condition. Free of underlining and highlighting.
$43

29. WALGRAVE, JAN HENDRICK. Unfolding Revelation. The Nature of Doctrinal Development. [Theological Resources]. Philadelphia: Westminster of Philadelphia, 1972.
XII + 418 page hardcover in very good condition with d-j. Free of underlining and highlighting.
$25

30. WOESTMAN, WILLIAM, O.M.I. Sacraments. Initiation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick. Commentary on Canons 840-1007. Ottawa: Saint Paul University, 1992.
XIV + 348 page softcover in good condition. Highlighting. Owner's signature and ink "decorations" to front endpapers.

SOLD $30
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Friday, February 19, 2016

A Misfittian Inspiration from Thomas Merton

The Seven Story Mountain was an excellent book to read before Lent.  We were inspired by Merton’s detachment and aestheticism as we enter this holy season on Ash Wednesday.  However, the book was not without its practical challenges.  Several Misfits confessed to not being able to finish the whole book (the paperback edition is 462 pages), but vowed to do so when it became apparent that most of the meat is served at the end – especially the last 100 thought-provoking pages.  We agreed that it is an excellent source for those searching for God.

The first half of the book is dedicated to Merton’s early life –childhood, travels with his father, education, independence, lapse into sin, and call to conversion.  This narrative could have been judged to be somewhat mundane were it not for Merton’s ability to season it with detailed recollections of key people, places, and events that were the seeds of his eventual conversion as well as his philosophic and theological wisdom sprinkled throughout.  Writing was his true calling.

The tone changed in the second half of the book.  There was less action and more focus on Merton’s thoughts.  He had a close circle of friends during his journey, but he was most influenced by reading poets, philosophers, and theologians.  He had an immense intellect to comprehend dense material, but it was his will that enabled him to apply what he read to his life, which ultimately led to repentance, conversion, and a religious vocation.



There was one passage in particular that reminded me of The Misfits because I think it captures the essence of why we do what we do. The following was paraphrased from Part 2, Chapter 1, Section II (paperback edition page 197).

That course on Shakespeare was the best course I ever had at college.  It was the only place where I ever heard anything really sensible said about any of the things that were really fundamental – life, death, time, love, sorrow, fear, wisdom, suffering, eternity.  The material of literature and especially of drama is chiefly human acts – that is, free acts, moral acts.  Literature, drama, and poetry make certain statements about these acts that can be made in no other way.  You miss the deepest meaning if you reduce the vital and creative statements about life and men to the dry, matter-of-fact terms of history, or ethics, or some other science.  They belong to a different order.  All that year we were, in fact, talking about the deepest springs of human desire and hope and fear.

The final line of the book is an apt summary of Merton’s entire life as an author and seeker.  I also submit that it would make a fine motto for The Misfits.  And it is already translated into Latin for us! 
SIT FINIS LIBRE, NON FINIS QUAERENDI
(This is the end of the book, Not the end of the searching)

The Sign of Jonas was suggested to those who want more Merton.  It covers his life in the monastery.  The final chapter, The Fire Walk, was especially recommended and can be read as a stand-alone piece.  A copy of this book is available from the St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael.  It is also possible to view a short video of Fr. Louis (Thomas) Merton speaking on YouTube.



Consideration of Merton’s later writings posed questions for us about whether or not he lost his way.  However, instead of focusing on his personal life and celebrity or the subject matter in his later books we gave discussion to the times in which those works were done, namely the early years of Vatican II implementation.  We expressed regret for the Catholic institutions and devotions that were lost almost overnight.  If anyone can recommend a good source or essay explaining the reasons for the rapid decline of religious communities in the United States following Vatican II, The Misfits would like to hear of it.

MARCH  We will read Letters of Flannery O’Connor:  The Habit of Being.  It was suggested that Buzz might highlight selected letters to be discussed at the next meeting.

APRIL  We will re-read The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.  I believe this is the first time that The Misfits will discuss a book twice, but The Way of the Pilgrim is well worth a second look.  Here is the preview that was posted in March 2009.

We will be reading a very unusual and profoundly spiritual book, The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way.  This is widely regarded as one of the most deeply spiritual and enduring classics to come out of Russia.  It is the tale of a nineteenth-century peasant's quest for the secret of prayer.  It tells the story of an anonymous pilgrim as he travels over the steppes of Russia seeking the answer to this question:  How does one pray constantly?  "Ultimately, he discovers the different meanings and methods of prayer as he travels to his ultimate destination, Jerusalem."  I hope you will be as intrigued by this book as I am.  It is available from Amazon for $9.95 in the edition translated by Helen Bacovcin with a forward by Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.  (Father Ciszek is now deceased and is being considered for canonization by the Church.)  [Update:  The Amazon price for a new copy is up to $12.20.]
Yours in Christ,

Misfit Steve



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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Kurtz in Trump

Tonight we affirmed that “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad is an important book to read and that it is as relevant today as it was in 1899.  The novel is short – 80 pages or so depending on the edition – but it is very dense.  We agreed that this book needs to be read more than once in order to better grasp the intended messages and themes.  Conrad makes frequent use of foreshadowing and foretelling as the narration moves forward.  The symbolism and meaning of the heart of darkness is to be taken on many different levels.

On the surface Conrad sheds light on the injustice that was Belgian Colonialism in the Congo at the height of the ivory trade.  And by exposing these evils, we felt that he was offering commentary on England’s own colonial endeavors.  It was noted that publication of this novel was the catalyst for some reform in England.



The main characters in the novel are Marlow, the narrator, and the enigmatic Kurtz.  As Marlow steams up the river he begins to hear stories about Kurtz’ accomplishments, exploits, and methods.  He becomes intrigued by this “remarkable” man despite all signs that Kurtz has gone mad.  The farther he travels upstream, the deeper the darkness becomes.

Parallels were drawn between Kurtz and latter day dictators:  Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and dare we even say Donald Trump?  Now no one suggested that Mr. Trump seeks to be a dictator or is capable of the atrocities committed by Kurtz, but it is hard to argue some similarity to Kurtz when you consider the megalomaniac tendencies, charismatic personality, and seeming willingness to use any means necessary to accomplish stated objectives.  The point is that we are constantly surrounded by Kurtz's in our modern society.  And we must be vigilant so that we do not become Kurtz's ourselves.

We came to understand that Kurtz represents the heart of darkness that is in all of us, or at least the potential for it.  We wondered if at the time Marlow finally met Kurtz, did Kurtz have any free will remaining?  Had his soul become so dark through habitual evil transgressions that he was unable extricate himself?  Kurtz seems to have been at this point as witnessed by him leaving his sick bed and crawling through the jungle to attend again the wicked rites with the native people who worshiped him.  Marlow blocked his physical path, but would Kurtz be saved?

We spent a great deal of time discussing Kurtz’ last words, “The Horror!  The Horror!”  We wanted to know if the meaning of those words was rooted in utter despair or reflected the first glimmer of repentance.  While the text above and below that passage didn’t provide any definitive clues as to Kurtz’ ultimate salvation, the episode had a profound effect on Marlow.  It is here that Marlow decided to remain loyal to the memory of Kurtz, the nightmare of his own choosing.  Later, Marlow is faced with a choice as he approaches Kurtz’ “Intended” fiancée.  He would be doing justice to expose Kurtz and tell of all his wicked deeds – but in the end he chose mercy, because telling the whole truth would be altogether too dark.

Marlow’s tale told, the novel ends abruptly with Conrad’s foreboding synopsis.  He seems to be warning us that success in our immediate future is not at all certain and if we are not careful and diligent we could easily become immersed in the immense heart of darkness.

Misfit Steve Ward

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Is the Child the Gift or is the Gift for a Child?

Dear Misfits,

We entered into the Christmas Season with a meeting devoted to the birth of the Christ Child and to our becoming like the Christ Child.  The meeting began with a discussion of T. S. Eliot's perplexing poem, "The Journey of the Magi". We generally concluded that the plot of the poem was not difficult to understand but the sheer depth of the symbolism Eliot packed within the story of the Magi is another matter altogether. We recognized references to small bits of Shakespeare and several specific Bible passages. We found that a rough grasp of the poem wasn't all that difficult.  However, reading it for a deep understanding of all that it contains is another matter.  As an example, for the Magi, "this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us" because the Magi could foresee, in the birth of the Christ Child,  the loss of their traditions to the impending Christianity that would transform "the old dispensation" of their faith and gods.  It is also necessary to mention that this is the first poem Eliot wrote after his conversion.  Elements of the poem do reflect his conversion but also show lingering doubts as to the full meaning of Christ's birth and resurrection.



Our discussion then shifted to Hans Urs von Balthasar's book, Unless You Become Like This Child.  The central theme of the book is a very deep, theological examination of the meaning of Christ's statement, "Amen I say to you: Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter into it." (Mark10:15)  It is the last book von Balthasar wrote before his death in 1988.  The book is a moving, profound meditation on the theme of spiritual childhood. In the book, von Balthasar's presents his conviction that the central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient "adults" into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of their Spirit.  The book is theologically dense in the beginning (the first three chapters) and somewhat difficult to read and understand.  Then, the book shifts to examine this core statement on the meaning of Christianity:  "Only the Christian religion, which in its essence is communicated by the eternal child of God, keeps alive in its believers the lifelong awareness of their being children, and therefore of having to ask and give thanks for things. Jesus does not insist on this 'say please', 'say thank you', because the gifts would otherwise be refused, but in order that they may be recognized as gifts."  And the greatest of the gifts we can be given, is the gift of Faith.

Before we concluded our meeting, we discussed a "Bookplate" for the Misfits.  We were greatly inspired by the beautiful bookplate the St. Agnes Misfits designed.  Misfit Nick Markell has agreed to design ours....and would like any input you can give him on what our Misfit bookplate should represent/reflect.  We are also interested in creating a motto for our reading group.   Once we have a motto, Misfit Brad Lindberg will render it in Latin.  One initial proposal is "We read, therefore we are".  Can we do better than that?  Let me hear from you.


Our Future Books:

Our novel for January is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.   In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century.  I think it will be a good novel to begin our new year of reading. 

Our book for February is The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton.  I remember reading Merton's story of his conversion many years ago and thinking that this could be a novel.  It is a fascinating read and one of the most "accessible" conversion stories ever written.  (My opinion!)

Then in March, we will read Letters of Flannery O'Conner:  The Habit of Being.  This from a New York Times review:   “To compare her with the great letter writers in our language may seem presumptuous and would have elicited from her one of her famous steely glances, but Byron, Keats, Lawrence, Wilde and Joyce come irresistibly to mind: correspondence that gleams with consciousness.”

Finally to remind:  Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, at 7:00 pm, in the St. Thomas More Library, The Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, MN.

In the Light of Christ,

Misfit Buzz