Thursday, December 10, 2009

Read Wisely and Widely!

Approved Authors
Two books I read just recently, which have nothing to do with each other, reminded me of the old wisdom which, over the course of history and once again today, many groups in the Church have formulated into a hard and fast rule and namely, that we should only read approved authors. Maybe I need to specify. Not only are we to avoid suggestive, amoral or immoral literature, but we need to seek out approved Catholic authors for our educational enrichment and general edification. We need to read healthy, in other words.

Educational enrichment is something different from recreational reading, which, I would contend, should still be edifying for us serious people who have set our hearts on the world to come. The so-called “beach novel” or reading-material-for-the-airplane should be viewed with a critical ecological eye. We cannot afford time wasted on trashing our minds and producing paper pulp while heaven is waiting and forests are dying.

In our visual, media-driven society, quiet time with a book comes at a premium anyway, all the more reason for choosing wisely what little we do read. Personally, I love reading. In my own estimation, I don’t really do enough reading and I marvel at those rare individuals I meet whom I would class not only as voracious readers but as people who retain and draw upon what they’ve read to illustrate or explain life. The life-long student is somebody I gladly place on a pedestal.

That said I’d like to recommend one old title and nix a new one.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (soon to be Blessed!), “Loss and Gain. The Story of a Convert”. This marvelous little book fell across my path almost by accident. After struggling through “Apologia pro Vita Sua” as a young man, I had written off Newman as an un-tasty vegetable for which other greens could easily substitute. Maybe I’ve matured, but maybe too “Loss and Gain” is the crown jewel that I somehow missed. At any rate, to my mind the Servant of God outdid himself in this character study of a young Oxford student’s journey from Anglicanism to Catholic faith.

Truth to be told, the book has served me well in trying to understand what makes young Catholics today tick, those who are hopefully on their way to finding for themselves and fully embracing the faith in which they were baptized as infants. If you are a Newman fan or fanatic and haven’t yet claimed this prize, do so at your earliest convenience. It is great literature and offers some powerful insights into the adult awakening of faith (I read it on Kindle, also purported as a wonderful way to save trees!).

Let me nix a new title, which to my knowledge is not even out yet in English. I have a French edition from October 2007 and just saw a newspaper review of the Italian edition from 2009, Edizioni Piemme. No doubt the English translation won’t be far behind. Olivier Le Gendre “Confession d’un Cardinal”. A friend who was unduly impressed by the novel asked me to read it and give him my thoughts. Here it is in two words: “pulp fiction”! Thank goodness none of my Euros went to pay for that paperback! If it hadn’t been for my friend’s earnest and honest query, the book would have been trashed by chapter 3.

Le Gendre, a layman, cloaks himself in the character of a fictional, over-80 and retired, composite cardinal: a liberal, Italian, confidante of John Paul II, who lives the better part of the year in Thailand… Not only is there no such, but I can’t imagine any cardinal with such an impoverished ecclesiology. The perspectives illustrated might be those of an unthinking and uninitiated, but I’d seriously question the existence of such ignorance of the Faith or the possibility of such a thoroughgoing rejection of the Creed on the part of anyone within the College of Cardinals (not even the doorman!).

With this book, Le Gendre has made himself spokesman for a computer forum, which one must be screened to enter ( There is no way of knowing if anyone who is a practicing Catholic under 70 years of age may be a member of the forum, but despite denials the overall impression is one of a rather weak-kneed conspiracy on the part of a coterie of relativists to undermine sound teaching and genuine Catholic faith.

Le Gendre’s thesis is that the Church has failed in its encounter with science (Galileo, surprise!), democracy (the Piedmontese Royal Family in 1870 and Garibaldi), and is in the process of losing out on the globalization process for want of the ability to cut itself loose from Creed and Catechism to sort of free-float, while holding hands with the dying destitute, prostitutes and other victims of Western imperialism in an Asia which Le Gendre would probably leave Buddhist or anything but Catholic firmly rooted in the Tradition.

I think that two things may have convinced Piemme to produce an Italian edition: animosity toward our present Holy Father and espousal of some vague type of Gnostic agenda. It could be that the proof reader didn’t get beyond the title, much as was the case of my poor old auntie, decades ago, who thought that “Valley of the Dolls” was a children’s book.

Enough said! Le Gendre fails to get my Nihil Obstat. The book criticizes a perceived euro-centrism in the Church and fails to get beyond a sad set of European clich├ęs, French ones to boot!

Approved authors, please! Even when it comes to novels, I am betting that few who may read these lines will have exhausted G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Evelyn Waugh and a couple other greats before the pulley falls into the well, your eyesight dims or the Trumpet sounds. Feed your mind as well as you watch your nutrition!

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