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