Every month a group of men meet in the St. Thomas More Library in Stillwater, MN to discuss books. They call themselves (and I'm one of them), The Misfits. The group and discussions are led by "Buzz" Kriesel. Loome Theological Booksellers will make available copies of the books to be discussed each month. Below is Buzz's record of last week's meeting:
"This week the Misfits met to discuss an enchanting spiritual classic, The Way of a Pilgrim. We followed the book's anonymous author as he wanders about Russia seeking to learn the meaning of prayer and to discover how to pray constantly. He finds the secret he was searching for in the unceasing repetition of the words, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!".
Simple? Not quite! The Pilgrim discovers that the unceasing recitation of the Jesus Prayer will take him to the deepest parts of his being. The reader participates intimately in the Pilgrim's journey as he develops an interior life of prayer and achieves a profound communion with God. It was generally agreed that anyone reading this book will, like the Pilgrim, develop a deeper understanding of prayer and insight into realizing and achieving true "prayer of the heart".
Misfit Tom Loome opened our meeting by noting that the Jesus Prayer has only recently arrived in the Roman Catholic tradition of Prayer. Tom did a bit of research in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) and the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) and could find no mention of the Jesus prayer. However, Tom pointed out that the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has corrected that omission in the prayer life of Catholics. The Catechism recognizes the Jesus Prayer and includes it in the prayers encouraged for Catholics. CCC 435 : "The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words "through our Lord Jesus Christ". The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words "blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, says: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word "Jesus" on their lips."
To a man, we agreed that The Way of a Pilgrim should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand prayer, especially as developed in the New Testament and by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Your prayer life will increase dramatically after reading this book. You may not pray constantly but you will find yourself slipping comfortably into prayer throughout the day when thought of God or conversation with Jesus would not normally occur. This is a truly spiritual book and an important read for anyone who wishes to discover "the secret of true prayer, of faith, of keeping the commandments, and of salvation...."
Now to the future:
May: Our book for May is The Devil's Advocate by Morris West. In this very readable novel, we are going to find out about the process wherein the Vatican investigates candidates for sainthood. Central to the investigation is the office of the promoter of the faith popularly referred to as "the Devil's advocate". This is the Priest who has been given the task of finding the reasons why a person should not be given the title, "Blessed" and considered for eventual sainthood. The novel is set in the early 1950's in Italy. It is a fascinating tale of suffering, human failings, redemption and above all faith, set in Southern Italy during World War II. Monsignor Blaise Meredith, who is dying of cancer, has been assigned as the Devil's Advocate for the beautification of Giacomo Nerone. Monsignor Meredith is sent to a small town in Calabria to investigate the life and death of this martyr. The book is a very readable, Catholic literary classic. It is available from Amazon or from Loome Booksellers on North 4th Street in Stillwater [where it is 1 cent cheaper than at Amazon – editor Hagen].
June: We will return to Graham Greene for our June book. We will read Brighton Rock which is regarded as the third book of his "Catholic trilogy". The novel is a "blend of horror, adventure, mystery and morbid realism for this weird, sometimes original story of murders at Brighton Rock, the London Coney Island. An unprepossessing Londoner on a Bank Holiday is the first victim and his friend of the day investigates the murder, which was done by Pinkie, a boy of 17, heading a gang of racing racketeers, whose rule is threatened by another more powerful gang." Pinkie is bad; the girl he romances named Rose is good. Both are Catholics and the Catholic belief system looms large in this story, adding depth to Greene's excellent characterizations. See Misfit Chris Hagen at Loome Theological Booksellers for a copy or order on line at Amazon.
July: We will have a shorter read for July when we read C. S. Lewis's wonderful allegory of heaven, The Great Divorce. This is regarded as C.S. Lewis's Divine Comedy: "the narrator bears strong resemblance to Lewis (by way of Dante); his Virgil is the fantasy writer George MacDonald". The story begins when the characters in the novel are shown boarding a bus in a nondescript neighborhood. The narrator soon realizes that he is being taken to Heaven where the passengers on the bus are given a terrible choice, heaven or hell. The book's primary message is presented obliquely by declaring, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" The narrator's descriptions of sin and temptation will hit quite close to home for the Misfits. Again, Lewis displays his great genius for describing the intricacies of vanity and self-deception in everyday life. This novel will show each of us the consequences of everyday pettiness. Available from Loome Theological Booksellers or on line.
A final comment: Our Men's Reading Group continues to grow with new members added each month. It also seems that the novels we are reading get better with each passing book. It is heartening (and challenging) to think that we have only scratched the surface of all the wonderful books and authors still waiting to be read."