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.”


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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! 
(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

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities Today

Dear Misfits,

Our meeting last Wednesday evening was "the best of times".  As mentioned in my last email, we decided to hold our meeting at the Maple Island Brewery in Stillwater, MN.  I have to say that the insights and comments made by the Misfits on Charles Dickens classic novel,  A Tale of Two Cities, were particularly insightful.  I can also say that the comments became more insightful and at times, even brilliant, as the evening progressed.  I can only conclude that the beer produced by the Maple Island Brewery is an elixir conducive to a great book discussion and certainly to male fellowship.  Or so it seemed.

As to the novel itself, what can I say that has not already been said a million times--it is a timeless novel and will remain timeless.  Two things do come to mind

1.  Is there any other novel that has more memorable, iconic, opening and closing lines?  The novel begins "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....." and ends with "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have every known."  I can think of no other novel that has a more dramatic opening or a more moving conclusion than A Tale of Two Cities!  (Ok.  Someone out there prove me wrong.  Please cite author and title if you choose to engage!)

Dr Manette in Bastille

2.  Secondly, it is sadly topical that we have just read A Tale of Two Cities, a novel set in a city that has just experienced a barbaric act by men gripped by a hatred of the civilization that could produce a novel of such high literary regard.  The barbarism described by Dickens during the time of the "Terror" is mirrored by the men who struck Paris last Saturday.  The French aristocracy was the crucible that produced the "terror" of the French Revolution.  The twisted ideology of militant Islam has resulted in the terror of the modern jihad and the civilizational clash we are experiencing.

Now to the future: For December, we will read and discuss a short book and a short poem, both appropriate to the advent of our Blessed Savior.  Our book is Unless You Become Like This Child, by Hans Urs von Balthasar;  the poem is "The Journey of the Magi" by T. S. Eliot.

Unless You Become Like this Child is one of the last books written by van Balthasar before his death in 1988. The great theologian provides a moving and profound meditation on the theme of spiritual childhood. He argues 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. "This is an excellent book for those Christians who wish to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus's teaching "unless you become like this child...". This book also provides a helpful resource to Catholics who may be constantly challenged by fundamentalist Christians to be born again. Cardinal Von Balthazar very clearly explains what is involved in being like a child unto the Lord and gives his readers many insights into the mystery of life with God, the Father. It is a short book in terms of pages, but each page is packed with reflections."  The book is available on Amazon for $9.95 (Paperback)

[A copy of "The Journey of the Magi" is found here]

...  This is one of the first poems written by Eliot after his conversion to Anglicanism.  I look forward to discussing the poem with you as all of us will soon share in the quest of the Magi for the Christ child.


To remind:  our next meeting will be on Wednesday, December 9th, at 7:00 pm in the St. Thomas More Library, The Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, MN.

In the light of Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From Waugh to Dickens and Onward!

Dear Misfits,

We had a very lively evening last Wednesday discussing Evelyn Waugh's novel, A Handful of Dust.  The novel is generally regarded as one of Waugh's best.  Set in the 1930's, the novel's protagonist, Tony Last, is engaged in trying to maintain his anachronistic Victorian values in an increasingly volatile society while his wife, Brenda, involves herself in a pointless affair with her fatuous lover, the generally clueless, John Beaver.  As the story develops, Tony, having been betrayed by his wife, sees his illusions shattered one by one.  He seeks solace by joining an expedition to the Brazilian jungle where he finds himself trapped in a remote outpost as the prisoner and plaything of an insane settler, Mr. Todd. It has been noted that "Waugh incorporated several autobiographical elements into the story, notably his own desertion by his young wife."  Then, in 1933–34, he undertook a journey into the South American interior where a number of incidents and personalities from the voyage are incorporated into the ending of the novel. Tony's singular fate in the jungle at the end of the novel was first used by Waugh as the subject of an independent short story, published in 1933 under the title "The Man Who Liked Dickens".  In other words, the ending of the novel stands alone as a separate story.  And it works!  The ending "fits" and makes for a very poignant and effective end of the story.

Now to our book for October.....and November!  We will read and discuss  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  "The novel is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution.  It shows the brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution and has many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period. The novel follows the lives of several characters through these events. A Tale of Two Cities was published in weekly installments from April 1859 to November 1859 in Dickens's new literary periodical titled "All the Year Round".

We will read the novel in two bites:

For October, 2015:  Read the Book The First: Chapter I-Vi and Book the Second: Chapter I-XXIV

For November, 2015: Read Book the Third: Chapter I-XV.

The novel is available at Amazon or can be downloaded and read at The Project Gutenberg web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#link2H_4_0001

For December: We have decided to read and discuss two works reflective of the birth of the Christ Child.

The first is Hans Urs von Balthasar's Unless You Become Like This Child. This is one of the last books he wrote before his death in 1988.  The book provides a moving and profound meditation on the theme of spiritual childhood. In this book, von Balthasar argues that the central mystery of Christianity is our necessary  transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient "adults" into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of their Spirit.  The book is quite short at 75 pages.  It is available from Amazon for $ 8.26.

The second part of our December read is a poem by T. S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi"  It is a 43-line poem written in 1927 by T. S. Eliot (1888–1965). In the poem, Eliot retells the story of the Magi who travelled to Palestine to visit the newborn Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew. The narrative of the poem is told from the point of view of one of the magi.  The poem expresses themes of alienation and a feeling of powerlessness in a world that has changed dramatically. The poem's monologue incorporates quotations and literary allusions to works by earlier writers Lancelot Andrewes and Matthew Arnold.  The poem is widely available on line.  You may wish to use this website: http://allpoetry.com/The-Journey-Of-The-Magi

For January 2015:  We will begin the new year by reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The novella is by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State, in the heart of Africa, as told by the story's narrator, Marlow.

For February, 2015:  We will read a work of non-fiction, Thomas Merton's now classic conversion story, The Seven Story Mountain.

For March, 2015:  We return to one of our most beloved authors, Flannery O'Conner.  We will read, Letters of Flannery O'Conner: The Habit of Being.

For April, 2015:  We will read The Idiot written by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. The Idiot, alongside some of Dostoyevsky's other works, is often considered one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the "Golden Age" of Russian literature.

For May 2015:  We will read The Quiet American, an anti-war novel by English author Graham Greene.  The novel was first published in the United Kingdom in 1955 and in the United States in 1956. It was adapted into films in 1958 and 2002. The book draws on Greene's experiences as a war correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro in French Indochina 1951–1954. He was apparently inspired to write The Quiet American in October 1951 while driving back to Saigon from Ben Tre province. He was accompanied by an American aid worker who lectured him about finding a "third force in Vietnam”.

That should keep us busy well into the new year.  It is going to be another exciting and challenging year of reading he great books and authors of our Catholic literary tradition. Hard believe we've been at this for over 13 years!  We are so blessed.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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