Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Column: Summer reading

Fra Angelico The Conversion of St. Augustine
If you haven't encountered Pope Benedict's school of prayer, a series of general audiences from 2011, I highly recommend browsing them.  A convenient list with links is here. So far my favorite is the one about summer reading, linked below.

At the moment I'm reading The Hopkins Manuscript an early SF novel reprinted by the delightfully elegant Persephone Press. What's on your summer reading list?

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly on 6 July 2015, check there for more resources related to this column.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. —John 1:1

Chris was curled up on the sofa, recovering from getting his wisdom teeth out and reading. “Why did you pick up that book?” I wondered aloud. Biographies and American history are not his usual fare and we are finally past the summer reading list stage in my house. “It’s the book for all the first year students next fall.” Ah, and since he will be a new student advisor, he thought he’d get on board, too.

Summer with its long light-filled days seems the perfect time for reading, even for those of us no longer bound to lists. Many communities, from colleges to cities to entire states, take up a single book to read. This year, Philadelphia read Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train.

Reading one book gives us common ground to start conversations. It also lets us travel to new places and hear new voices together. Reading can move us, even transform us.

In July of 386, St. Augustine was sitting in his garden in Milan. He was ill and torn by indecision. Should he continue to teach, or should he follow St. Anthony’s lead and abandon everything for the sake of the Gospel?

Then over the garden walls he heard the voices of children calling out, “Tolle, lege!” Take and read. Augustine walked over to where he’d left his copy of St. Paul’s letters, picked it up and opened it at random to the 13th chapter of the letter to the Romans and read, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he did; he was baptized at the Easter Vigil the following spring.

This summer, my pastor, who is an Augustinian friar, invited us to “take and read,” to read one book from sacred Scripture from beginning to end. In the summer of 2011, Pope Benedict XVI, as part of his general audience comprising a “school of prayer,” made a similar summer reading suggestion, “to enjoy (the Bible) in a new way by reading some of its books straight through.”

My pastor proposed we try the book of Psalms, the 150 hymns and sacred poems the People of God have been praying for almost 3,000 years. In his remarks Pope Benedict recommended trying some of the lesser known books, even giving short teasers for the books of Tobit, Esther and Ruth. (Spoiler alert: he gives away the endings for all three!)

Whatever is on your summer reading list, stir in at least one by the best-selling author, God. May it move you, transform you and give you common ground with centuries of other faithful readers. Tolle, lege!


  1. Thanks in part to B16's suggestions, I did a series of "Bible Shorts" with our parish community -- reading Ruth, Esther and Tobit -- great times! Enjoy them all!

  2. Reasons to Believe in Jesus

    Reasons to believe Jesus is alive in a new life with God can be found in quotes from two prominent atheists and a biology textbook.

    Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

    Among the traditional candidates for comprehensive understanding of the relation of mind to the physical world, I believe the weight of evidence favors some from of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism. (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, location 69 of 1831)

    And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )

    Sartre speaks of the "passion of man," not the passion of Christians. He is acknowledging that all religions east and west believe there is a transcendental reality and that perfect fulfillment comes from being united with this reality after we die. He then defines this passion with a reference to Christian doctrine which means he is acknowledging the historical reasons for believing in Jesus. He does not deny God exists. He is only saying the concept of God is contradictory. He then admits that since life ends in the grave, it has no meaning.

    From the title of the book, you can see that Nagel understands that humans are embodied sprits and that the humans soul is spiritual. He says, however, that dualism and idealism are "traditional" alternatives to materialism. Dualism and idealism are just bright ideas from Descartes and Berkeley. The traditional alternative to materialism is monism. According to Thomas Aquinas unity is the transcendental property of being. Campbell does not even grasp the concept of monism. The only theories he grasps are dualism and materialism.

    If all atheists were like Sartre, it would be an obstacle to faith. An important reason to believe in Jesus is that practically all atheists are like Nagel and Campbell, not like Sartre.

    by David Roemer