Book Break: The Seven Storey Mountain

MertonAutobioCoverLast night I finished Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which Venerable Fulton Sheen described as “a Twentieth Century form of the Confessions of St. Augustine” and which has entered my list of favorite books, perhaps in the top ten. Unlike some religious autobiographies written under inspiration or strictly under obedience, The Seven Storey Mountain is written by a writer, a craftsman and a poet. It is beautiful—honest and heartbreaking, profound and inspiring. It also provides a window into “enlightened” American culture between the world wars, providing a strong and particularly Catholic rationale as to how we got to this point.

Merton’s answer? In a word, sin. His, mine and yours. Continue reading

Called to Another Country

“The land you are to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come…” – Deuteronomy 11:10

I am reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a broken and sinful young man who grew up between the World Wars, converted to Catholicism in his 20s, and ultimately became a Trappist monk and priest. Merton is complicated, and his later writings indicate a potentially dangerous attraction to Buddhism. But externally, at least, he never left the priesthood or his order, and his conversion story is a profound and thought-provoking read.

Merton regrets that he did not have the sense to embrace the life of grace the Lord was providing on the day he joined the Catholic Church. Following his baptism and first Holy Communion, he returned to the life he led before—as an aspiring intellectual and writer—except with a few spiritual practices added to the mix: He attended Mass on the weekends and sometimes during the week, went to Confession more than once a month, and engaged in spiritual reading on a fairly regular basis.

To my eyes, that list reads like the makings of a strong disciple. Merton saw it differently: “A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on the operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead the life of the ordinary working man. And after the spiritual mangle I have gone through, it will never be possible for me to do without the sacraments daily, and without much prayer and penance and meditation and mortification.” Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: On Busyness

Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playground”—so goes the old saying, and I can verify its truth. So many of the sinful traps I fell into as a young man were concealed in downtime and baited with curiosity and pleasure.

It’s good for young men to keep busy, but I am no longer young. These days I struggle with having too much to do rather than too little, and that, too, can be a sin trap. A mentor of mine even has an acronym for BUSY:

Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke

Even if you work for the Church, as I am blessed to do, the acronym may still apply. Perhaps the best Christmas gift I got this year was the Monk Manual, a special sort of planner based on the prayerful patterns of work and reflection in monastic life. This beautiful leather-bound book serves not only to organize and schedule your work days, weeks and months, but leads you to examine what you achieved versus what is really important to you, at which points in the day you were at your best and worst, the state of your relationships and habits, and what God may be trying to teach you. Continue reading

Book Break: How to Be Holy

How-to-Be-HolyA few weeks ago, my spiritual director did something he’ s never done before: He directed me to read a book. This was not a casual suggestion. He said, “I want you to read it cover-to-cover as soon as possible, so if you are reading something else right now, stop.”

The book was Peter Kreeft’s How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, which is the popular Catholic writer and philosopher’s take on (“festooning of”) a spiritual classic, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. I have not read the latter, but have read just enough Kreeft to know to expect a relatively quick read, light in tone, punny in humor, and practical in content. Continue reading

More Connections: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

1232x_1I mentioned in my last post that Kate and the Engel clan had a young-reader biography of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lying around and I began reading it while I was alone at the lake. The book was Saint Margaret Mary and  the Promises of the Sacred Heart by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, and if you laugh to imagine me reading the book pictured, you might be surprised that I couldn’t put it down.

It’s not a brilliant novelization or spiritual classic—but began to draw together months’ worth of disparate threads into one taut cord between me and the Sacred Heart.

Continue reading