Ah, summer. The sun is shining. The beach is calling. There’s much more time for leisure (which is so important! Read Pieper if you need convincing.). For me, more leisure means more time to read and write and consequently, more time to explore the beauty of our faith.
Here’s what I’m reading this summer:
2. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
Speaking of works I will revisit for the rest of my life, I read Four Quartets multiple times a year, including every summer. I mentioned this genius work in a previous blog, and must bring it up again. This four-part poem from Eliot isn’t the lightest read, but there are plenty of commentaries out there for guidance. I recommend Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Written after his conversion, Four Quartets can be read as a response to Eliot’s earlier, more famous and more despondent poem, The Wasteland. Whereas The Wasteland wonders whether a life of harmony and wholeness is possible in the modern world, The Four Quartets presents God’s plan for salvation history as not only possible, but ideal. And let me tell you, Eliot’s incredible verse is a spiritual game-changer.
3. Spiritual Writings by Flannery O’Connor, edited by Robert Ellsberg
Flannery O’Connor never wrote formal ‘spiritual writings’; rather, this is a collection of her letters and other works that touch on spiritual topics. Her writing style is sharp and punchy and will have you on the edge of your seat. The collection includes one of Flannery’s more famous letters wherein she recounts her argument with a writer about the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Flannery says to the writer who has just asserted that the Eucharist is mere symbol, “Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.” If you like literature of the American South, snappy comebacks, and/or want to join the Catholic hipster scene, Flan is your girl.
4. 40 Years with a Saint: Blessed Alvaro del Portillo on Saint Josemariá Escrivá by Cesare Cavalleri
Saint Josemariá is a twentieth century saint who founded Opus Dei, a personal prelature in the Catholic Church that focuses on finding and serving God through everyday life. Opus Dei runs the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C., where many young professionals like myself attend talks and social gatherings. This book is the thoughts of one saint on another saint. That’s pretty awesome. There are also many awesome YouTube videos with footage of St. Josemariá which I encourage you to watch; it’s wild that we live in an age where we have footage of saints in action!
5. Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero for Our Times by Cristina Siccardi
Modern Catholic lore is full of epic stories about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. One of my favorites is that he used to go to the local pool hall and hustle the other players. When he won, he didn’t take his opponents’ money, but instead had them spend an hour with the Blessed Sacrament. I picked up this book to verify these stories and to learn more about the man who proclaimed, "Verso l ‘Alto!" (“To the heights!”) It’s not disappointing.
6. Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word by Msgr. J Brian Bransfield
As Catholics, we tend to get a bad reputation for our lack of engagement with Scripture (even though every Sunday Mass is flooded with passages and references). This book helps us dive a bit deeper both familiar and more obscure Gospel passages. If you want to engage more with Scripture this summer, this book is a great place to start.
7. Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
Everyone loves a good Russian novel and there are many (think Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov etc.). Laurus is a contemporary Russian novel about holiness. Laurus loses the love of his life when she dies giving birth, and the rest of the story is about how he comes to terms with his suffering and ultimately God. The book is extraordinary and the translation is superb. It’s also a great work of historical fiction, illustrating life in Russian during the Middle Ages.
Comment below with what you are reading this summer! And don’t forget to check out the many Catholic Apostolate Center eBooks by clicking here!
“[Jesus] saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him (Matt 9:9).” St. Matthew (a tax collector, dishonest and greedy) accomplishes what usually seems like the most difficult task: simply following Jesus. The calling of St. Matthew reminds us that authentic Christian life is quite simple: Get up and follow Jesus. This could also be summed up in the words of St. Faustina, to whom Jesus revealed His message of Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
As we all know, the Christian life is not always that simple. There is something to be said about why stories of the saints and stories of converts to the Faith are dramas of the highest caliber. I think we can learn a lot about the drama of the Christian life through the works of T.S. Eliot, one of the twentieth century’s major poets.
Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927 when he was 39 years of age. He became more fervent in his faith until his death in 1965. Eliot’s poetry is often divided by his conversion. Before his conversion, his notable works are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). After his conversion, he is known for “Ash Wednesday” (1930) and Four Quartets (1943).
Four Quartets is often considered to be one of the most important works of the twentieth century; it led to Eliot’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in my opinion, is the most incredible summation of the Christian life in poetry—only surpassed by Dante’s Divine Comedy (1320).
Without revealing too much about the poem (I hope that you will read it here!), I wish to share with you a relevant section. Eliot writes about the saints whom we should emulate, and how difficult that is:
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
This section can be found in the second of the Four Quartets, “East Coker,” in the final section of the poem, section five.
On one level, Eliot is speaking about writing, and the timeless struggle to produce great literature. He is probably referring to Shakespeare, Dante, and other great authors in regards to emulation. On another level, Eliot is commenting on the Christian life and emulating the saints that have come before us. Eliot speaks of the struggle of living an authentic Christian life— “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again.” But he sums up the task of Christian life quite simply, like the Scripture passage in the calling of St. Matthew: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” We shouldn’t let ourselves be consumed with all the exterior drama and complications of everyday life (though these things are important to function effectively in the world), but with the simplicity of Christian life.
Get up and follow Jesus, and don’t ever stop trying.
And read some TS Eliot in your spare time!
Question for Reflection: What prevents you from simply getting up and following Jesus?