Saturday, October 19, 2013

Encountering Legend and Legacy

The Death of Christian Culture
Senior, John
(2008-04-01). Ihs Press. Kindle Edition.

I have to say that, despite issues with glaucoma and advancing age and arthritis (ha!), it doesn't get much better than yesterday evening after I sat back having finished this great book.

Until now, John Senior had been almost an unnamed legend in my life, all the more marvelous for having taught years ago on the campus of a state university in Kansas. I know and esteem two of his disciples, fine men, fine priests, both of them now zealous bishops. I have admired Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma and wondered how something like that was possible, never questioning, just marveling at the impact a prof could have on young men, not at a Catholic school, but at a state university. A few years back in Martinique I had a marvelous visit with an old monk from Fontgombault; he shared with me his pride and hopes for his young American confreres, formed and sent home to the Plains to chase the vision of John Senior and much more.

It doesn't get much better, because this book from the 1970's, reprinted in 2008 delivers on all scores. It is indeed timeless and clear enough even for a Kansas undergraduate to understand. I recommend it highly to young and older adults. Yes, the title is ominous and the author takes a powerful stance, but more need to hear and respond to his clarion call. I'd love to know if he had a similar impact on young women years ago, as he did on these young men, who today shine like stars in the firmament or better like a city on a mountain top.

Just to be safe, I looked back at another book I had reviewed (Wiker, Benjamin (2008-05-06). 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help. Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition) and sure enough Matthew Arnold doesn't even get honorable mention there. In a sense, that enhances John Senior's assessment of the dire straits in which public education and society today finds itself. His analysis of the harm done to education by Arnold's dismissal of the classics is especially worth noting. Senior concludes his work with his own "Great Books" list for all from age 2 on up to young adulthood. Even if you didn't make it through half of those books, I'd be in favor of parents starting with small children by reading to them, just because it might transform family life and tempt a few people to become readers. I am thinking of an old Irish friend, whose nephew made it big in wholesale marketing of North Sea salmon. His dad loves to brag that the boy "wasted" his time at the University studying Greek and Latin letters. Translating subtle Irish humor into Americanese, Dad was simply saying that not only was his son a business success, but through education he had "gotten himself a life" as well.

John Senior sought above all else to give others a life rooted in Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. May the seeds sown through his teaching and writing continue to bear abundant fruit! I want to share two quotes, which must stand for the whole of an extraordinary work:

"Where are we now? Some think this is the dawning of the age of a Catholic Aquarius, of a new emerging Church, whose God is change. I think, like Dante, that in the middle of the journey of our life we have awakened in a dark wood to find the straight way lost." (p. 152)

"The greatest need in the Church today is the contemplative life of monks and nuns. The arguments and public martyrdoms are vain without the sacrifice of hearts. And what are the arguments and sacrifices for, except to bring us to the love of God? Apologetic has the mind of Thomas and the sword of Paul and the heart of them both and all the saints including, let us hope, the least of us. The spiritual life is not just for the great saints; it is the ordinary way of salvation. "(pp. 162-163)


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