Chesterton on Dickens: 5 Quotes (+1)

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Years ago, perhaps seven, a package arrived for me from a friend in California. A fellow bibliophile, she had been visiting a used bookstore in the San Diego area and had come across a few books she thought I might like. It was a tremendous gesture, and one I’ve not soon forgotten. One book was a 1910 edition of Florence Barclay’s The Rosary. Another was an 1880 edition of Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace. Both books were wonderful surprises and a reminder that I am blessed with amazing and selfless friends.

However the third book was my favorite as it is a biography written by one of my favorite writers/authors about perhaps my favorite author: Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men by G.K. Chesterton. Though originally published in 1906, this is not as old an edition as the others but is a Reader’s Club edition published in 1942. It is very dear to me.

I decided to read it again after seeing it on a shelf over the holidays just passed. Below are five quotes (plus a bonus quote) pulled from the first twenty-seven pages, about half-way through the second chapter. I wrote them down yesterday while sitting at a lunch counter downtown in order to share them here. I offer no commentary on them as any effort on my part would be superfluous. They speak for themselves.

To say that Chesterton was a giant among writers is an understatement. When combined with another giant of literature as his subject literary magic is the inevitable result.

dickens_lastofthegreatmen_readersclub

*****

One of the actual and certain consequences of the idea that all men are equal is immediately to produce very great men. I would say superior men, only that the hero thinks of himself as great, but not as superior. This has been hidden from us of late by a foolish worship of sinister and exceptional men, men without comradeship, or any infectious virtue. This type of Caesar does exist. There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.

*****

The spirit of the early century produced great men, because it believed that men were great. It made strong men by encouraging weak men. Its education, its public habits, its rhetoric, were all addressed towards encouraging the greatness in everybody. And by encouraging the greatness in everybody, it naturally encouraged superlative greatness in some. Superiority came out of the high rapture of equality. It is precisely in this sort of passionate unconsciousness and bewildering community of thought that men do become more than themselves.

*****

The other main factory of heroes besides a revolution is a religion. And a religion, again, is a thing which, by its nature, does not think of men as more or less valuable, but of men as all intensely and painfully valuable, a democracy of eternal danger. For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King. … It has often been said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.

*****

We do not understand the dark and transcendental sympathy between fairies and fools. We understand a devout occultism, an evil occultism, a tragic occultism, but a farcical occultism is beyond us. Yet a farcical occultism is the very essence of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It is also the right and credible essence of “A Christmas Carol.” Whether we understand it depends upon whether we can understand that exhilaration is not a physical accident, but a mystical fact; that exhilaration can be infinite, like sorrow; that a joke can be so big that it breaks the roof of the stars. By simply going on being absurd, a think can become godlike; there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime.

*****

It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst. There is nothing that so much mystifies the young as the consistent frivolity of the old. They have discovered their indestructibility. They are in their second and clearer childhood, and there is a meaning in the merriment of their eyes. They have seen the end of the End of the World.

*****

One more, from the final paragraph of the book:

Comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel; but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which through God shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road; the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters; and when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.

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Moments of glad grace

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The Reader by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)

The Reader by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)

When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

******

*Dedicated to a dear friend of mine met too late in life for either of us to pursue a relationship, yet over the years has become someone I love just as deeply and chastely as is possible. We share a love of good books, in particular Charles Dickens, and I once sent her an edition of A Christmas Carol. Over the holidays I saw in her Christmas photos that the book was on her living room table among all the decorations and a part of me smiled. I am sacramentally bound and am devoted to my family. There is no other place I wish to be just as she is. In life there are those souls to whom we simply connect on a deeper level than others. I am perhaps on overly-sentimental fool in this regard. Or hopelessly naive. Some will likely think this unseemly of me. Let them.

I’ve denied myself many things in this life. I’ve never denied my humanity.

All I know for sure is that words contain immutable powers. Among these powers is the ability to unite two souls across space and time in “moments of glad grace.”

Would that the world contained more of such moments.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

The Age of Innocence (1993)

The Way (#27): A vocation of matrimony

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#27

You laugh because I tell you that you have a ‘vocation for marriage’? Well, you have just that: a vocation.

Commend yourself to the Archangel Raphael that he may keep you pure, as he did Tobias, until the end of the way.

*****

A vocation is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which he or she is suited, trained or qualified. It is a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. Synonyms include: calling, life’s work, mission, purpose or function.

Though not as much as in times passed, the word vocation for many is still tied to a religious calling. But it has evolved with an emphasis now shifting to an individual’s development of talents and abilities in the choice and enjoyment of a career.

But it may apply to other areas, too. Areas such as marriage or parenthood.

Marriage is a Sacrament. A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification. Matrimony primarily affects the recipients as a social being and sanctify them in the fulfillment of their duties towards the Church and society. The man and woman are to imitate the union of Christ to His Church. (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Marriage is a higher calling, not to be entered into lightly with grand thoughts of expensive and fancy weddings, or feelings of the moment which cause us to rush into a commitment before we are committed. We must ourselves be ready for the lifelong commitment before we can expect another to do the same, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.

You may read the biblical story of the archangel Raphael and Tobias from the book of Tobit on Wikipedia. In Chapter 8, when Tobias and Sarah are wed, Tobias prays alongside his new bride

“Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed be thy holy and glorious name for ever. Let the heavens and all thy creatures bless thee.

Thou madest Adam and gavest him Eve his wife as a helper and support. From them the race of mankind has sprung.

Thou didst say, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’

And now, O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her.”  And she said with him, “Amen.” – Tobit 8:5-8

marriage of tobias and sarah_cropped

Meanwhile, in another part of his house, Sarah’s father Raguel prays for the couple:

“Blessed art thou, O God, with every pure and holy blessing. Let thy saints and all thy creatures bless thee; let all thy angels and thy chosen people bless thee for ever.

Blessed art thou, because thou hast made me glad. It has not happened to me as I expected; but thou hast treated us according to thy great mercy.

Blessed art thou, because thou hast had compassion on two only children. Show them mercy, O Lord; and bring their lives to fulfilment in health and happiness and mercy.” – Tobit 8:15-17

We all have a vocation or vocations. They are gifts to be nurtured, valued and cultivated, not too easily discarded or thrown away. Not to be laughed at.

Exit questions:

  1. When is the last time you prayed for your spouse?
  2. When was the last time you prayed with your spouse?
  3. Have you prayed for your children and their spouses lately?
  4. Have you prayed for the future spouse, even if their identity is yet unknown, of you…or of your children?

The Way (#26): Books for the newly married

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#26

Matrimony is a holy sacrament. When the time comes for you to receive it, ask your spiritual adviser or your confessor to suggest a suitable book. And you will be better prepared to bear worthily the burdens of the home.

*****

In two Saturdays we will attend the wedding of a young man who graduated high school ten years ago. During his four years of high school he was among the ten boys and girls his age who were a part of our Godteens group. During the school year these kids met in our home each Wednesday night for 90 minutes of lessons about faith, discussion and fun. At the time we had just one child ourselves and these kids became his adopted big brothers and sisters from the time he was four years old. We manage to stay in touch with most of them as they are scattered around the country via the military, jobs, and for one them, the priesthood.

Luke and his fiancé will be wed in ten days and it has sparked discussions between my wife and I about a wedding gift. While it’s easy to just go to wherever the couple is registered (or even log on and shop their registry from your home computer) we like to do something unique for the couple when we can. There was a time in America where every couple was given a family bible. Depending on how well you know the couple in question I still like to shop for a high-quality family edition bible as a gift. The bibles that have a special section of pages inside for the logging of family events: a sketch of the family tree, birthdates, wedding dates, baptisms, and even deaths. A place where someone could find comfort in a psalm or passage from Holy Scripture as well as looking through the family section and regaining an immediate sense of belonging.

What follows are my recommendations based upon experience for couples who are Catholic. While these recommendations can also serve non-Catholic couples I would suggest you do some research of your own. I’d be very interested in your recommendations as well since obviously not every couple we know that gets married is Catholic.

Around ten years ago we began to get a different book for couples who were Catholic: The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word Catechism means “instruction” and that is precisely what this book does for any and all who want to know the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church. It is easy to reference, easy to read, and contains extensive indexes and footnotes for anyone who wishes to dig deeper.

catechism_catholicchurchPublished in 1992 this volume is divided into four parts:

  1. The Profession of Faith
  2. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
  3. Life in Christ
  4. Prayer

On the basis of Section Four alone I would recommend this book to everyone. It has been said, and I believe even documented (though I lack the links at this time to cite the studies), that “a family that prays together, stays together.” While there are those who will cynically scoff at this due to their own prejudices or jaded experiences I can point to many, many instances where I’ve seen this borne out.

For those who wish for a simpler “Q&A” approach there is the more recently published (and excellent) Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One more book section on the subject of prayer. In 2007 the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy released a revised edition of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. It is a great resource for parents, children and anyone else to explore the rich heritage and Catholic tradition of prayer. I have reached for this book several times through the years when dealing with a difficult situation or issue as it contains prayers for almost every occasion in the life of an average person. It is source of comfort in rough times…but also in times of good.

householdblessingsandprayers

Let’s face it: married couples face an uphill battle and an often hostile world. When looking for a gift for them as they launch into the world consider a book of faith that will feed them as much or more than any place setting they registered for.

The Way (#25): Quenching the light

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#25

Don’t argue. Arguing seldom brings light, for the light is quenched by passion.

*****

As a father to three children I’ve learned a thing or two about parenting and fatherhood. And as my oldest is set to begin his senior year of high school before setting out into the world to make his mark I realize I’ve learned a few other things. Things boil down to “Jeez, I’ve made a million mistakes with him that I will not make with the other younger two.”

I’ve also learned the maxim stated by St. Escrivá above. Because despite the fact that he would be loathe to admit it my oldest is just about a spitting image of me mentally, emotionally, and maturity-wise when I was his age. This is probably why we so often butt heads and are at odds. And when we are at odds there is the quiet yet white hot stubborn male-ego passion that quenches all light.

Behind him comes another boy, and then my little girl. She presents a whole other list of things I’ll be learning on the fly soon enough.

And so below are a few quotes, one or two of them humorous, regarding the subject most on my mind today.

*****

father-son_willowtree

Henry James once defined life as that predicament which precedes death, and certainly nobody owes you a debt of honor or gratitude for getting him into that predicament. But a child does owe his father a debt, if Dad, having gotten him into this peck of trouble, takes off his coat and buckles down to the job of showing his son how best to crash through it. – Clarence Budington Kelland

It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. – Johann Schiller

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. – Mark Twain, “Old Times on the Mississippi” Atlantic Monthly, 1874

Sons have always a rebellious wish to be disillusioned by that which charmed their fathers. – Aldous Huxley

By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong. – Charles Wadworth

There must always be a struggle between a father and son, while one aims at power and the other at independence. – Samuel Johnson

4 years: My Daddy can do anything!
7 years: My Dad knows a lot…a whole lot.
8 years: My father does not know quite everything.
12 years: Oh well, naturally Father does not know that either.
14 years: Oh, Father? He is hopelessly old-fashioned.
21 years: Oh, that man-he is out of date!
25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it.
35 years: Before we decide, we will get Dad’s idea first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: My Dad knew literally everything!
65 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.
– Unknown

Father, whom I murdered every night but one,
That one, when your death murdered me.
– Howard Moss, Elegy for My Father (l. 1-2)

One of the greatest things about daughters is how they adored you when they were little; how they rushed into your arms with electric delight and demanded that you watch everything they do and listen to everything they say.  Those memories will help you through less joyous times when their adoration is replaced by embarrassment or annoyance and they don’t want you to see what they are doing or hear what they are saying. And yet, you will adore your daughter every day of her life, hoping to be valued again, but realizing how fortunate you were even if you only get what you already got. – Michael Josephson

Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.  – Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan. – Garrison Keillor

Never raise your hand to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected. – Red Buttons

The Way (#24): Ventures in love

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#24

You are ambitious: for knowledge, for leadership, for great ventures.

Good. Very good. But let it be for Christ, for Love.

*****

It can be said that ambition for knowledge and leadership without love are vanity. A vain pursuit of something that without a key ingredient, such as love, is empty, or even dangerous. Knowledge and leadership are often equated with power or a means to gain control over someone or something.

St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) was an ambitious lawyer who lost a case in spectacular fashion when it turned out that a key document in his case had been misinterpreted by him and in fact proved his opponent’s case instead. There can be little doubt but that the young Alphonsus with his high spirits and strong character was ardently attached to his profession, and on the way to be spoilt by the success and popularity which it brought.

He immediately left the law and began to study for the priesthood, certain that his humiliation had been sent him by God to break down his pride. This learned man of the law became a humble priest and preached in the rural districts around Naples and strove to never deliver a sermon that “the poorest old woman in the congregation could not understand.”

A selection from one of his sermons is in today’s Office of Readings (today is his feast day) and speaks to our portion from St. Escrivá:

All holiness and perfection of soul lies in our love for Jesus Christ our God, who is our Redeemer and our supreme good. It is part of the love of God to acquire and to nurture all the virtues which make a man perfect.

[…]

Since God knew that man is enticed by favors, he wished to bind him to his love by means of his gifts: “I want to catch men with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me.” And all the gifts which he bestowed on man were given to this end. He gave him a soul, made in his likeness, and endowed with memory, intellect and will; he gave him a body equipped with the senses; it was for him that he created heaven and earth and such an abundance of things. He made all these things out of love for man, so that all creation might serve man, and man in turn might love God out of gratitude for so many gifts.

Virtues? Gifts? What are these things Liguori is speaking about? Commonly known as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)

How do these gifts help us? The Baltimore Catechism says in #126:

The gifts of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) help us by making us more alert to discern and more ready to do the will of God.

If we have not love in our use of the gifts we have been given, we have nothing. It is not wrong to be ambitious or to seek to use the gifts given to us, as long as we remember from whom we have received such wondrous gifts and use them in a spirit of humility and love. Pope Benedict XVI said it better than I in his 2005 encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est:

Saint Paul, in his hymn to charity (cf. 1 Cor 13), teaches us that it is always more than activity alone: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). This hymn must be the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service; … Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.

This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10).

helping_hand

The Way (#23): Do More

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#23

You say that you can’t do more? Could it not be that… you can’t do less?

*****

To illustrate this point I looked no further than to the man who’s feast day the Church celebrates today: St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

When he had turned 20, Ignatius had hired himself out as a soldier. One day he was sent out to defend the city of Pamplona against the French when cannonballs began to pound the city wall. As Ignatius rushed to defend an opening in the wall made by cannon fire he was struck by a cannonball that shattered his leg. For nine months he endured a painful recovery in bed. From today’s Office of Readings comes this excerpt from the life of St. Ignatius by Luis Gonzalez that picks up the story:

Ignatius was passionately fond of reading worldly books of fiction and tales of knight-errantry. When he felt he was getting better, he asked for some of these books to pass the time. But no book of that sort could be found in the house; instead they gave him a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of saints written in Spanish.

By constantly reading these books he began to be attracted to what he found narrated there. Sometimes in the midst of his reading he would reflect on what he had read. Yet at other times he would dwell on many of the things which he had been accustomed to dwell on previously. But at this point our Lord came to his assistance, insuring that these thoughts were followed by others which arose from his current reading.

While reading the life of Christ our Lord or the lives of the saints, he would reflect and reason with himself: “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?” In this way he let his mind dwell on many thoughts; they lasted a while until other things took their place. Then those vain and worldly images would come into his mind and remain a long time. This sequence of thoughts persisted with him for a long time.

But there was a difference. When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.

*****

Ignatius became so inflamed with the idea of serving God that he ultimately didn’t ask himself “What more can I do?” He instead asked “How can I not do more for God?”

“Go forth and set the world on fire.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Way (#22): Be a saint

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#22

Be firm. Be virile. Be a man. And then… be a saint.

*****

Today’s entry is aimed most especially at men. I’ve read a translation that attempts to be inclusive and changes the word “saint” to “angel”, among other revisions. But I want to focus on the masculine today.

“We of my generation have lost one line of fortifications after another, the old South, the old ideals, the old strengths. We are now watching the followers of Jesus and Buddha and Socrates being driven from the face of the earth. But there’s time ahead, thousands of years: there is but one good life and men yearn for it and will again practice it, though of my contemporaries only the stars will see. Love and compassion, beauty and innocence will return. It is better to have breathed them an instant than to have supported iniquity a millennium. Perhaps only flames can rouse a man from his apathy to his destiny.” ~ William Alexander Percy, from his 1941 book Lanterns on the Levee.

In the passage above Percy seems to invoke a psalm prayed during this morning’s Office of Readings. It is a prayer against the proud.

Save me, Lord, for the good men are all gone:
there is no-one to be trusted among the sons of men.
Neighbor speaks falsehood to neighbor:
with lying lips and crooked hearts they speak.

A virile man is a man possessing strength and energy. One of the greatest sappers of these traits is gossip and apathy. Both of these are representative of an idleness of mind and spirit, a quality that is pervasive and consuming too many men today. We become, as C.S. Lewis described in The Abolition of Man, men without chests.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

The reasons for this are legion and today I will briefly discuss just one: celebrity worship. Due in part to the round-the-clock news cycles and the ever-decreasing attention span that relates only to short sound bites, people grow bored quickly and look for new heroes every day. But instead of seeking real heroes who perform heroic deeds or lead saintly lives of virtue (too boring!) we tend to demand a fresh new celebrity-a-day, be they a pop star, movie star, professional athlete or politician.

Historian Daniel Boorstin took note of this phenomenon in the early 1960s. The cult of celebrity was on the rise and he coined the phrase “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knowness.” They are famous for being famous. They occupy our idle minds and so we chatter about them. And when we do we ignore the real heroes, those whose lives and works have stood the test of time.

Worse, we are passing this trait on to our children who are rendered ignorant of genuine heroes: the Founding Fathers, Mother Teresa, Katherine Drexel. Occupying this vacuum are the tastes, vices and sexual habits of Kim Kardashian, Tiger Woods, or our political leaders.

Later in the psalm I cited above is a plea for the Lord to “help us and guard us from now to all eternity” while acknowledging that “the vilest are most honored of the children of men.”

Children today, as they were thousands of years ago when the psalm was composed, are looking for heroes to emulate and honor. What kind of role model will you be? What examples do you provide? What lessons are you teaching?

Dare to strive to be a saint. If not you, who will?

*****

The Example

A boy in the stands,
Front row seats,
He sees the names on their jerseys,
father_son advice_exampleThe shine of their cleats.

He picks out his favorite,
And mimics his game,
He’s got a new hero,
Their swings are the same.

He gets the player’s signature,
Collects all his cards,
Then turns on the news,
And forever he’s scarred.

Now ask yourself this:
Who will I be
When a boy in the stands,
Is looking at me?

Source: Baseballism.com

The Way (#21): Excuses

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#21

Excuses. You will always find plenty if you want to avoid your obligations. What a profusion of well-thought-out nonsense!

Don’t stop to consider it. Dismiss it and do your duty.

*****

I personally have a “to-do” list containing four items that I have let sit for almost two months because I just don’t want to deal with them or use the excuse of something more immediate coming up first. I’ve done this before.

This is what happens…

I need to get from Point A to Point B which is 100 meters down the track. There are no obstructions, the weather is clear and there is no wind. But sitting in my lane about 80 meters down the track are a few obligations. Since Point B is weeks or months down the line this pile seems small and I can still see over it to the finish line. So I start down the track, figuring I’ll clear them out of the way when I get to them.

Only I don’t get to them. And with each passing meter down the track the obligations have grown taller as my excuses and delays have added to the height of the pile. In fact they have made their way under the track so now I’m not running on a flat surface with a tall pile in front of me but running uphill. The finish line is no longer in focus as with each meter the pile comes closer, grows larger and the incline I’m running gets more pronounced and a misty fog rolls in to further obscure my vision and clarity.

And yet…

If at any time I simply sat down for 20-30 minutes and took care of these four items and got them off my list the pile would deflate, the track would settle down to be flat and smooth again, and the finish line would be in plain sight with no uphill running required.

All because I wanted to avoid my obligations and my duty, whatever they may be.

There’s enough uncertainty in the mist ahead on this track of life. Help your clarity and your efforts by keeping the obstructions (and your excuses) to a minimum.

track lanes

Photo credit

The Way (#20): A saint? Make it so.

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From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character

#20

It is inevitable that you should feel the rub of other people’s characters against your own. After all, you are not a gold coin that everyone likes.

Besides, without that friction produced by contact with others, how would you ever lose those corners, those edges and projections — the imperfections and defects — of your character, and acquire the smooth and regular finish, the firm flexibility of charity, of perfection?

If your character and the characters of those who live with you were soft and sweet like sponge-cake you would never become a saint.

*****

The other night I couldn’t sleep and came across an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBCAmerica. You can read a summary of the plot for this episode but summarized further “Tapestry” was somewhat like It’s A Wonderful Life. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard isn’t given the chance to see what life would have been like had he never been born (ala George Bailey) he is instead given the opportunity to see how his life would have been different had he altered his personality as a younger, brash officer and instead been more pragmatic and careful. In short: what would Picard have become in later years had he altered his character and taken fewer risks? He is allowed to find out, and does not like the answer. Instead of the commander of a starship Picard is a Lieutenant junior grade in the astrophysics department. He seeks out First Officer Riker and the ship’s counselor Deanna Troi to have them assess the man he is in their eyes.

PICARD: Please. This is important to me. I believe that I can do more.

TROI: Hasn’t that been the problem all along? Throughout your career you’ve had lofty goals, but you’ve never been willing to do what’s necessary to attain them. 

PICARD: Would that be your evaluation as well, Commander? 

RIKER: I think I have to agree with the Counselor. If you want to get ahead, you have to take chances, stand out in a crowd, get noticed.

[snip]

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience. A second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

PICARD: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion and imagination. That is not who I am. 

Q: Au contraire, he’s the person you wanted to be. One who was less arrogant, and undisciplined as a youth. One who was less like me. The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted for much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. … He learned to play it safe. And he never, ever got noticed by anyone.

Photo credit: startrek.com

Photo credit: startrek.com

St. Escrivá points out that when we are involved in the lives of others we will feel a friction that naturally comes with that interaction. After all we are not all alike, and Thank God for that! It is through that interaction that we learn that to become influential or successful we eventually lose those imperfections in our character. Our rough edges are smoothed out. We become more flexible. We acquire wisdom.

At the end of that episode Picard is with Riker and reflecting upon the lessons he learned. He tells Riker: There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads, untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads it unraveled the tapestry of my life.”

And so it is with all of us. Do we have regrets? Yes. Are there things we would do differently if we had the chance? Probably. But never forget that it is because of the mistakes of our pasts and the lessons we hopefully glean from them when we take the time to thoughtfully assess and examine our lives that we became the person we are today.

A person who understands just how short and precious this life is.

A person of focus.

A person of character.

A person who can become the saint we are all called to be.