What I learned on my vacation, about God and man
I returned to my desk full-time yesterday after spending a couple of weeks denying, as much as possible, that my desk even existed—attempting to slip quietly from routine into refreshment. Everyone knows that this process has inescapably limited results. The reason is found in a variation on an old French proverb: The more we change, the more we remain the same.
So the first thing I learned, and not for the first time, is that with most of us, Our Lord and Savior must be content with relatively slow progress. In daily human terms, the distance between a spiritual breakthrough and remaining in the same old rut is often externally tiny. What seems like a great insight or a deep commitment or a high point of spiritual awareness levels out rapidly as our lives continue to be influenced by old habits, personality traits, and ever-present weaknesses.
Progress there is, but it tends to be more visible in the difference between what we are still becoming and what we might otherwise have become over the course of a lifetime. The mere gap between yesterday and today, despite occasional emotional swings, is typically small. We do well to remember, then, that God manifested His presence to Elijah not in a mighty wind, or in an earthquake, or in a fire, but in a “still small voice” (1 Kg 9:13). As with Elijah, it is not our exultation that matters, nor what great deeds we see ourselves accomplishing, but only fidelity over many days—one much like another, usually, but each one just slightly better tuned to that still small voice.
Benefitting from Books
I also learned again that Sophia Institute Press does a very good job of making books available which assist in spiritual growth without requiring a great deal of time or intense intellectual labor. And yet they are always a step above the kind of breezy, self-help reading which too often makes one wonder whether the heart and soul can be truly nourished without at least a little something for the mind. Sophia hits the sweet spot for serious Christians who are not essentially intellectuals. Over the last few weeks, I familiarized myself with four of their new titles.
Continuing my opening theme, it is good to see the practical little book by Fr. Thomas F. Dailey, OSFS, entitled Live Today Well, and even better to see it firmly rooted in the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. After a brief introduction to Salesian spirituality, Fr. Dailey focuses soundly on the daily routine I alluded to above: Rising, preparation for the day, intentions, meals, work, leisure, the evening examen, and retiring to sleep. A final section highlights the use of “sacred moments” to foster spiritual rhythm and renewal.
Meanwhile, Kevin Vost, who holds a doctorate in Psychology, explores The Seven Deadly Sins, a task he appropriately roots in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. Dr. Vost first traces the spiritual history which has led to the traditional breakdown of serious vices into seven life-sapping categories. Then he proceeds directly to what he calls “battle plans” to overcome the unholy seven: Sloth, envy, avarice, vainglory, gluttony, lust, and wrath. Both books cover their designated territory in about 200 pages. They are well-organized, using a step-by-step format, and are very accessible without risking superficiality.
And now back to Elijah and the spiritual adventure of Sacred Scripture. Catholics sometimes fail to realize that the Word of God in Scripture conveys the grace and power of the Word of God Who is Christ Our Lord. Sophia has wisely brought out a new edition of a book by Thomas Nash first published by Ignatius Press in 2004, The Biblical Roots of the Mass. What I expected Nash to do was to trace the text of the liturgy to demonstrate its Biblical derivations. This would have been a simpler task, but what he actually did was something greater: He explores the roots of the nature and action of the Mass in the Old and New Testaments, including the Eucharist and the sacrificial Messiah prefigured in the Old Covenant, and of course the derivation of the power of the liturgy from the saving actions of Christ Himself in the New.
Finally, Sophia Press is offering a collection of eighty short essays by Catholic convert and apologist Dave Armstrong, entitled Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical. Reading this is very like reading a collection of CatholicCulture.org’s commentaries by Phil Lawler or myself; the little essays are drawn chiefly from Armstrong’s excellent work online addressing questions that come up again and again as Protestants challenge the faith of their Catholic neighbors. A great many individual topics are covered, but the subtitle will give you the idea: “From priestly celibacy to the Rosary”.
Renewing Family Ties
Also during this relaxing period, I was able to renew ties with all of my children and their children, but in particular my oldest son Christopher, his wife Ellen, and their two little boys, Jeffrey and Nathaniel, who are usually fairly far away. I may already have mentioned that Chris is a philosophy professor at the University of Dallas. I always look forward to discussing my own half-baked ideas with him, since he can provide not only his own keen insights but a summation of the great classical and Catholic philosophical tradition. (My philosophizing is far more home-spun, though rooted in the same realism and, of course, the same Faith.) Anyway, Chris and family were visiting “one last time” before flying off to Rome where Chris will teach for two years at UD’s Rome campus.
Now I hinted above that the more we change the more we remain the same, and I am—as all my readers must surely have guessed by now—in many ways essentially an intellectual. Consider, for example, my coverage in previous reviews of hefty works by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer (start with the latest, Fr. Robert Spitzer on happiness: An effective approach to God?). But to my amazement, there is an easier way to get the gist of Spitzer’s arguments.
It turns out that Fr. Spitzer gave the 2014 Aquinas Lectures at the University of Dallas. Chris arrived for his visit with two copies of the little book Fr. Spitzer had developed from the lecture series. It further turns out that Chris was selected by the University to write the Foreword. All of this is quite appropriate, for Fr. Spitzer’s great strength is summarized in the title of the book: Evidence for God from Physics and Philosophy, and my son the philosopher’s expertise is in both Aristotle and the philosophy of science.
Apparently while on vacation I also learned—again not for the first time—that I am proud of my kids. I think you can just barely make out “Foreword by Christopher V. Mirus” on the cover image below. But perhaps enough is enough. It really is good to be back.
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