Thursday, March 14, 2013

Books and the Conversion of Saint Augustine

Dear Misfits,

We've finished reading another classic of Catholic literature, St. Augustine's The Confessions.   For me, it was also one of the most compelling conversion stories I have ever read.  In this remarkable autobiography, St. Augustine, a 40 something Bishop, sets out to write of his journey of faith from his birth to his "second birth" when he is received into the Catholic Church.  Every part of St. Augustine's story is as relevant today as it was 1600 years ago when he wrote his "confession".

One of the most striking things about The Confessions is the role that books played in the eventual conversion of St. Augustine. The books that Augustine read throughout his life were the guides used by God to bring him into the Faith. One of the most compelling stories related by St. Augustine is the scene with the children in the garden chanting "tolle lege, tolle lege" ("Pick up and read, pick up and read").  (See Book VIII, Chapter 12)  He turned to the Bible, read the first lines that came to him, and was converted to the Faith when he read the words that lay before him: "Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires." (Romans 13: 13-14).  There are many other examples in The Confessions where St. Augustine was moved by books but it was the book of Paul's letters that was the occasion of his accepting Christ and the gift of faith.  

The Confessions is, simply put, a spiritual classic.  And again, I recommend the translation by Sister Maria Boulding, OSB as edited by Father David Meconi, S.J., and published by Ignatius Press as a "Critical Edition". I think it is simply the most readable translation that is out there. (Ok, you defend the translation that you read...I think think that the Ignatius Edition is the best!)

And now to the future:

For March, we have chosen to read Marilynne Robinson's highly acclaimed novel, Gilead. The novel won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was a 2004 National Book Critics Circle Winner. Gilead is the fictional autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, an elderly Congregationalist pastor in the small, secluded town of Gilead, Iowa who knows that he is dying of a heart condition. The novel begins in 1957 as the Reverend Ames explains that he is writing an account of his life for his seven-year-old son so his son will have memories of him after he is gone.

The story spans three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century. It is a profound examination of the relationship of fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. “Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate)”. The luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. The novel is available at for $10.99.

For April, we will read a novel by Dean Koontz, an author who may surprise some of you. I've only recently learned that Koontz is a convert to the Faith and a wonderfully articulate one at that. We will read the first book in the Odd Thomas series (now four novels) called, strangely enough, Odd Thomas. Odd Thomas, who narrates the story, is odd indeed: only 20, he works contentedly as a fry cook in a small fictional California town, The story line of this novel, "like most great stories, runs on character-and here Koontz has created a hero whose honest, humble voice will resonate with many. In some recent books, Koontz has tended to overwrite, but not here: the narrative is as simple and clear as a newborn's gaze. This is Koontz working at his pinnacle, providing terrific entertainment that deals seriously with some of the deepest themes of human existence: the nature of evil, the grip of fate and the power of love." The novel is available at Amazon for $9.99.

For May, we will read an autobiography that will resonate with and enlarge upon a number of the fictional works we have read on the persecution of Priests and Catholics during Elizabethan England. We will read The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest written by Father John Gerard, SJ. Father Gerard was a remarkable Priest at a time when being a Catholic in England invited torture and imprisonment; to be a Priest was treason as declared by act of Parliament. The book is available from Amazon for $10.64.
Finally, let me wish each of you a joyous Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year. I look forward to another year of reading with you and encourage you to submit any recommendations you may have on books you want us to read. (I have attached an updated list of books we have already read along with a consolidated list of authors.)

Our next meeting will be on March 13, 2013, at 7:30 pm in the St. Thomas More Library at The Church of St. Michael in Stillwater, MN.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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