All posts by unwobblingpivot

The New Man

The New Man

by Thomas Merton (1961)

This is the least informal writing I have yet seen from Merton. And the most philosophical. Neither trait hurts the book, but I did find myself taking longer than usual to decide whether I would finish the book. Then about a third of the way through I began to start realizing that this could be one of his strongest works ever.

The topic is about Adam vs. the New Adam, Christ. And the Fall. And Baptism. It does not sound all that original, as St. Paul covers this quite well in his epistles. But in his usual fashion, Merton finds something new to say, and a way of saying it that holds the reader’s interest.

Let’s supply some excerpts to demonstrate the point. From the chapter “Life in Christ”:

Everything that has the power to make us real, to bring us to the fulfilment of our destiny, to perfect happiness, and peace with ourselves and one another, is contained in God’s will for us: first His will as implanted in our very nature, and then His will as supernaturally revealed. To want to know something besides this one great good, to desire to add the knowledge of evil to the knowledge of good by turning away from God, is to turn away from life itself and from reality. We die the death.

(pg. 185)

And again from the same chapter:

[T]he patience of the charitable man [is not] merely a hidden weapon by which he shames and defeats his enemies. It is the strength which knows the difference between good and evil, and which knows how to overcome evil with good. Without this strength, this alchemy which silently and inexorably destroys evil, the passive aspects of Christian charity would have no reason for existence. They are never really negative. They are the negation of evil, and evil is a negation. Hence even the passive elements in charity are positive, constructive forces. Very often they are more constructive than the more obvious and affirmative acts of the charitable man.

(pp. 191-192)

So as not to spoil it for you, I will omit the part where Merton gives the best explanation I have ever seen as to why Adam (and we along with him) lost his immortality.

 

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Navigating the Interior Life

Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God

by Daniel Burke (2012) with Fr. John Bartunek, LC, STL

This book has the same basic objective as Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Seeking Spiritual Direction, but it’s much shorter and addresses some topics not covered by Dubay, such as whether you should pay for spiritual direction.

It also advises the reader about preparing for sessions with your director. There is a questionnaire designed to help you identify your “root sin”, which is primarily what holds you back from progress. Finally, there is also a section on how to develop what is called a Plan of Life, which is not altogether different than how the monastic orders structure their day between prayer and work,  and which anyone can benefit from.

NOTE: Dan Burke and Fr. Bartunek started and continue to lead a blog with several other contributors (such as Anthony Lilles) on Roman Catholic spirituality called RCSpiritualDirection.com and it can be found along with other recommended blogs at our Online Spiritual Reading link at the upper right of this web page.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

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1  Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer

2  Gospel Spirituality & Catholic Worship: Integrating your personal prayer life and liturgical experience

3  Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer

4  Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

5  New Seeds of Contemplation

6  Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom

7  Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi

8  God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help

9  The Joy of Full Surrender

10 The Seven Storey Mountain

11 Beginning to Pray

12 The Everlasting Man

13 Back to Virtue

14 Journey to Easter

15 No Man is an Island

16 The Sanctifier

17 Orthodoxy

18 Fire Within

19 Love Set Free

20 Thoughts in Solitude

21 The Cloud of Unknowing

22 The Spirit of the Liturgy

23 Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within

24 Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes

25 My Other Self

26 The Science of the Cross

27 Treatise on the Love of God

28 Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment

29 The Wisdom of the Desert

30 Crossing the Threshold of Hope

31 The Imitation of Christ

32 The Interior Castle

33 Prayer Primer

34 The Screwtape Letters

35 The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross

36 Spiritual Direction & Meditation

37  Four Quartets

38 Overcoming Life’s Challenges

39 Jesus of Nazareth

40 Patience of a Saint

41 Navigating the Interior Life

42 The New Man

 

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration

by Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI (2007)

This book could be Pope Benedict’s version of “What I did on my summer vacation.” True. When it comes to theology this pope was a trekkie in every sense of the word. And I love him for it. I love that he didn’t let his job as the keeper of the papacy hold him down. He just had the good taste to make sure he did this stuff on his own time.  Not that he let that give him an excuse for shoddy workmanship. This book was world class all the way.

My favorite parts are the entire chapter on The Lord’s Prayer and the chapter on the parables, with particular mention to his treatment of The Good Samaritan. Another tip of the hat goes to the part called “The Dispute Concerning the Sabbath” in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount.

From the last chapter, Chapter Ten, “Jesus Declares His Identity”, we have an excerpt from a section called “The Son of Man”:

Let us turn now to the scriptural passages themselves. We saw that the first group of sayings about the Son of Man refers to his future coming. Most of these occur in Jesus’ discourse about the end of the world (cf. Mk 13:24-27) and in his trial before the Sanhedrin (cf. Mk 14:62). Discussion of them therefore belongs in the second volume of this book. There is just one important point that I would like to make here: They are sayings about Jesus’ future glory, about his coming to judge and to gather the righteous, the “elect.” We must not overlook, however, that they are spoken by a man who stands before his judges, accused and mocked: In these very words glory and the Passion are inextricably intertwined.

Admittedly, they do not expressly mention the Passion, but that is the reality in which Jesus finds himself and in which he is speaking. We encounter this connection in a uniquely concentrated form in the parable about the Last Judgment recounted in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46), in which the Son of Man, in the role of judge, identifies himself with those who hunger and thirst, with the strangers, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned–with all those who suffer in this world–and he describes behavior toward them as behavior toward himself. This is no mere fiction about the judge of the world, invented after the Resurrection. In becoming incarnate, he accomplished this identification with the utmost literalism. He is the man without property or home who has no place to lay his head (cf. Mt 8:19; Lk 9:58). He is the prisoner, the accused, and he dies naked on the Cross. The identification of the Son of Man who judges the world with those who suffer in every way presupposes the judge’s identity with the earthly Jesus and reveals the inner unity of Cross and glory, of earthly existence in lowliness and future authority to judge the world. The Son of Man is one person alone, and that person is Jesus. This identity shows us the way, shows us the criterion according to which our lives will one day be judged.

– pp. 327-328

Not everything in this volume is as readable as the passage above, but the entire thing is worth the challenge.

 

 

Overcoming Life’s Challenges

Overcoming Life’s Challenges: Lessons from the Life of Joseph

by Bill Crowder (1998)

This is not the sort of book I would normally choose for myself. It was given to me by somebody close to me and I am glad I finally read it–and wish I had read it sooner. In fact this book was exactly what I needed to read, and by the providence of God, my delay in reading it turned out to make for just about the perfect timing for having the greatest impact. (Sorry to be so vague, but this gets more personal than I am prepared to share in this sort of forum.)

So, with all that, I can highly recommend this book to anyone needing a little (or a lot of) inspiration to persevere in the midst of troubles.

This book uses the story of Joseph from the Old Testament (he of the coat of many colors) to show how we should trust in God, even when those closest to us turn on us. The chapters include overcoming treachery, temptation, disappointment, success, and bitterness. The author does a great job of showing how Joseph wasn’t altogether blameless and needed to develop humility–and that these experiences were tailor-made to help him do just that, as long as he trusted that God had a plan for him–a plan that was ultimately good, no matter how it might seem at any of the several low points along the way.

As it turns out,  this entire little pocket-sized book is online, so here is the link to it (the original 80 pages reformatted to 32). Personally, I liked reading the actual hard-copy book during breaks in a day filled with appointments and errands, better than I would have on my phone.

 

 

 

Four Quartets

Four Quartets

by T. S. Eliot (1943)

I understand and acknowledge that poetry is a little off the beaten track of expectations for recommended spiritual reading, but this is not typical poetry. It reads like a meditation, and in some parts, almost like scripture, or at least sermon. Eliot was a deeply spiritual man and struggled greatly to make sense of some of the tragic aspects of his life, one being the descent into insanity of his first wife, another being the realization of a love that could never be consummated. (Happily, he ultimately found love with somebody completely devoted to him, yet since it happened when he was relatively advanced in age, it too had an element of tragedy in that it was all too short.)

The Four Quartets is actually a series of four long poems consisting of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding, which were originally released gradually, one at a time. If you pay attention, you will see things that hearken to St. John of the Cross, such as references to the “darkness of God” in part III of East Coker:

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on              darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long                     between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of                      nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
     You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
     You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
     You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
     You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

– pp. 27-29

Here also is part IV of East Coker:

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

    Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

     The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

     The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

     The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

– pp. 29-30

 Here is another astounding passage from section V of The Dry Salvages:

More reflective moments

UPDATE: An unexpected find of a recording of Eliot reading the entire poem.