Friday, December 31, 2010

Those Victorians....

I'm watching Victorian farm and Victorian Farm Christmas that I taped from Knowledge network over Christmas.  A neighbour told me how good it was and they reran episodes on Christmas Day.  It's the day to day life of three people who went to live for a year on an educational farm in Shropshire, England, and then went back a year later to prepare for a Victorian Christmas at the farm.  They live how the Victorians lived without electricity or powered motors, doing things by hand or with the help of shire horses or donkeys.  And it is amazing the ingenuity they had.  I haven't watched the spring and summer episodes, just the fall and first two Christmas ones and they show them taking in the harvest with a horse drawn reaper and binder which goes at a steady clip around the field.  They have a session making bricks, hay, butter, flour, mincemeat, bread, soap, and beer, as well as long johns and paper blankets, and putting a metal tire on the wheels of a horse drawn carriage!  There are very healthy looking farm animals and the whole thing looks like a lot of fun if hard work.  I remember many things from my childhood in the English countryside.  I didn't live on a farm but spent most of my childhood on one.  Everything looks so lush and green.  Very different from our Okanagan dry valley.

Finish the old year with the best....

I thought I would finish the old and start the new year with the best of scholars:  Pope Benedict.  I listened to his book "Jesus of Nazareth" when it first came out on cd, but it was very unsatisfactory.  There's nothing like holding a book in your hands and reading it for yourself.  From what I remember he quotes extensively from the book of Matthew and since this is the liturgical year of Matthew's Gospel I thought it would be good to read it.  According to the back cover Pope Benedict said "This book is my personal search 'for the face of the Lord'"  In the introduction he speaks of the value of the historical critical method but says that this cannot take the place of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels and proclaimed in the Church.  In the first chapter he speaks of how the prophets of Israel were different from the fortune tellers of the surrounding nations.  They were to discern the will of God rather than fortell the future, and it is through his relationship with the Father that we are to understand Jesus.  It's a very dense book and one that I think I will reread from time to time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Light reading for the Christmas season

On my way out of the library a few days before Christmas I saw "Rumpole at Christmas", short stories by John Mortimer, on display.  I'm not a Rumpole fan and have never watched the series on Television, but I thought this would be a good chance to get to know him and have some light Christmas reading.  He's a delightful character, the stories are easy to read and it makes one think that the old England has not quite disappeared yet!  The book was published in 2009 so there's even a story about a Muslim student who issues a Fatwah against a professor, for including a chapter critizing Islam in her new book.  When the professor is found slain Hussein is the prime suspect and hated by all, but Rumpole going above and beyond his duty to defend his client hires a private detective to get some background information about the slain woman's family.  The case is not as simple as it seems of course and justice is finally done.  Tales of court are told with a cozy English background and the truth always comes out to protect the innocent and confound the guilty.  It's a fun read.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Selfish Giant

Watched a delightful story on EWTN last night:  the story of the selfish Giant.  It was introduced by a grandfather sitting talking to his granddaughter on Christmas Eve.  She wanted to open her presents after Mass but her parents were tired and wanted to wait until the following day.  So her grandfather told her the story of the Selfish Giant.  He lives in a big castle and has a beautiful garden.  The children from the village love to come and play in his garden and climb the trees, but the selfish giant wants the garden all to himself and chases them away.  After the winter the spring does not come.  The birds do not want to sing in the garden and winter stays bringing Jack Frost, the North Wind and snow.  The giant cannot understand why it is always winter in his garden, until one day he sees a small child trying to reach the branches.  The giant is sad and lonely and tired of winter and his heart is softened so he goes down to the garden and lifts the child up and the branches start to blossom and spring returns to that corner of the garden.  Soon the children and then spring return to all the garden and the giant looks for his little friend.  He knocks down the walls he has built around the garden and allows the children to play there. He sees many children but never the little child, whom he longs to see, until one day when he is old the child appears to him and the giant is angry to see scars on his hands and feet.  He asks the child who did this to him.  The child tells him that because he had welcomed him into his garden this day he will be with him in his garden forever.  When the children return that day they find the giant dead in the garden, gone to his heavenly reward.  The little girl gets the moral of the story and decides to give her parents a present this Christmas by letting them rest until the following day.  A touching Christmas story.

One of the best books...

I'm reading one of the best books I've ever read:  "He Leadeth Me" by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.  He also wrote "With God in Russia" an account of his experiences as a prisoner as a "Vatican Spy" in Russia, during and after the Second World War.  "He Leadeth Me" is more of a spiritual autobiography of those years, and in each chapter he draws out a lesson that he learned about himself and about God and about the human condition during those times.  As a seminarian in New York in the 1930's he answered a request by Pope Pius XII to go to Rome and study at the Russicam to prepare him to minister to Catholics in Russia.  When he was ordained the Russians were not allowing priests to enter their country so instead he was sent to Eastern Poland to minister to Catholics there.  When the Second World War broke out he found himself in territory occupied by Soviet Troops and eventually volunteered to work in the factories in the Ural Mountains, so that he could minister to the workers there.  Things didn't work out as he planned.  Twenty years of Soviet rule had made people indifferent to Religion and priests were looked down on and despised.  He was arrested when the Germans attacked Russia and was sent to the Lubianka prison in Moscow, and it was here that he really turned to God.  He set up a schedule of prayer for himself to mark the hours of the day and that is how he helped himself survive.  He speaks of the loneliness, the helplessness and the silence.  It's tempting to sit down and read the book all in one sitting but I'm reading it one chapter at a time to let the words sink in.  This is a book I will read over and over again, it's a wonderful testimony.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

RH and the good of man

One of the main points in Redemptor Hominis is that any system must be directed directly towards man and not some theoretical view of man or man en masse but towards the good of society and the individual in his deepest needs.  Man must be at the centre of science, economics and so forth.  I wonder if any of Pope John Paul's critics have bothered to read what he wrote.

Redemptor Hominis and Verbum Domini

Reading about Pope John Paul has inspired me to read Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man) his first encyclical.  Anyone who has read this could never say that he was out of touch with the modern world. "Atheism as a human phenomenon can only be understood in relation to the phenomenon of religion and faith.  Even from a human point of view it is wrong to see atheism as the only right of citizenship in public and social life, while believers are barely tolerated, treated as 2cnd class citizens or deprived of rights of citizenship".  I just heard this week how day care centres in Quebec, by law are not allowed to explain religious symbols or the meaning of Christmas to the children, and there are inspectors going around to make sure that the law isn't broken.  What secularists don't seem to understand is that they are not neutral, there's is a positive belief, something that they are forcing on others, and they say they are doing this in the name of tolerance and acceptance!! They also seem to forget that parents are the primary educators of their children.  Other states that have banned religion from schools are the Nazis, Communist Russia and Communist China.  What strange bedfellows.

The end part II...

I'm well into the book "The End and the Beginning" by George Weigel and have just finished the part that deals with Pope John Paul's final years and the witness he gave the world and the Church through his suffering...even though our bodies are frail and we become dependent on others we still have a contribution to make.  We can unite our sufferings to the sufferings of Christ and so help to redeem the world, and man's dignity and right to life depend not on another man's judgement but upon his being created by God in His image and likeness.  His mind was also clear until the end.  There's one quote that stands out in my mind.  Someone remarked to Cardinal Lustiger of Paris that Pope John Paul was out of touch with modern man.  And Cardinal Lustiger's comment was.."You have him confused with an American liberal."  There are many modern men who have a different philosophy of life than the American liberal.  And that's something we shouldn't forget or allow secularists to define modernity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday afternoon movie.....

Rented "Fiddler on the Roof"  from the local library last week and watched it yesterday afternoon. It being Gaudete Sunday I thought I would celebrate a little.  I'd forgotten how good it was....Jewish life in Russia in 1917 with the ominous signs of what was to come being apparent.  It's a very warm movie though, showing family and village life...the joys, the struggles, the adjusting to the changes that seem necessarily to come with time.  The father rejoices in his Jewish traditions as a way to cope until he's confronted with challenges to those traditions even in his family.  But there's something beautiful about the traditions....the wearing of a hat and prayer shawl, the keeping of the Sabbath and family prayer and the constant referrel to Biblical stories and an ongoing conversation with the Lord.  There's humour, toe tapping music and even a surrealistic dream as a way of explaning to his wife their eldest daughter's betrothal to the village tailor's son....a poor man....rather than the elderly rich village butcher.(A marriage arranged by the village matchmaker).
The people are poor materially but rich in relationships and culture and the movie is full of life.  At the end of the movie one feels sad with the family that it's all about to end....very sad.  ***** Five stars.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I also have two books that I am reading at the moment for the season of Advent and for a renewal of my consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  The first is called "Child of the Light" a small book for "walking through Advent and Christmas".  It's based on various Christmas Carols and has a meditation and short prayer for each day.  It's a great accompaniment to the lighting of our Advent wreath before lunch. It's published by Upper Room Books.
The second is "True Devotion to Mary" by St. Louis de Montfort.  An old text from the early 18th century.  As he had predicted the manuscript was lost for many years and then rediscovered by accident in 1842, by one of the priests of his congregation in St Laurent-sur-Sevre.  In May 1853 a decree was pronounced in Rome declaring his writings to be free from error, and True Devotion was translated into English by Father William Faber of the Oratory in England.  Since then it has never been out of print.
"Divine Wisdom, I love Thee unto folly.
I am Thy lover.
Thou alone in this world I seek,
Thou alone I desire.
I am a man gone mad with love,
Forever chasing Thee."
This I read for a few minutes before falling asleep at night. It's much better than a night cap.  St. Louis says that since Jesus came to us through Mary, the best way for us to approach him is through Mary.  She purifies all our intentions through her Immaculate Heart and all that she receives she gives to Jesus and keeps nothing for herself.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"The end.........

and the beginning."  The book I've been waiting for. (The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy) by George Weigel.  I read his first volume "Witness to Hope" a few years ago when it first came out and loved it and Pope John Paul.  What an extraordinary man he was: a man of character, strength and Faith.  I've just started this book and it takes me back to the time when I was so inspired by this man.  From the confusion of the Post Vatican II Church he led me back to the faith of my youth, but with wider and deeper and greater understanding.  The first two chapters of this book that I have just read, focus on Poland during the Nazi and Communist regimes and Pope John Paul's life and witness during those times.  How his early experiences of war and dictatorship, and the loss of his family, shaped his faith and his actions.  His was such a positive vision of the human person, just reading about him is stirring.  I read about 20 pages every morning and that sets me up for the day and makes me want to persevere in my daily life.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canadian History dull......?

Not when you read a book like "Champlain's Dream"  by David Hackett Fischer.  (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize).  It's exciting to read about the early exploration of Novia Scotia, then Acadia, the grandeur of the country and river St Lawrence, the encounters with the Indian nations and the struggle for survival in New France.  Champlain is described as being friendly towards the Indians and treating them with respect, unlike the Spanish and English colonizers further south.  He seems to have been soldier, sailor, adventurer, diplomat, peacemaker, economist, explorer, cartographer, artist, commander and gardener.  His marriage was not a happy one at first but his wife eventually came to Quebec for a while and learned enough of the Indian languages to teach the children and nurse the sick.  Early colonies were decimated by scurvy during the long, cold winter months when supplies ran out, and ships carrying provisions were not able to cross the Atlantic until spring.  There was cooperation between Indians and the French thanks mainly to Champlain's treatment of them.  They exchanged young men to be brought up in the customs of the other and to learn their language.  Champlain worked under three different rulers:  the favourable Henri IV (1589-1610), the hostile regency of Marie de Medici, and the young Louis XIII.  He also worked with the famous Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis' chief minister, but the two of them never saw eye to eye.  Recollet fathers and later Jesuit priests went out to the new colonies, to attend to the religious needs of the people and to convert the Indians.  I'm about 3/4 way through the book and enjoying it, especially since we lived in Montreal for many years, and know some of the territory mentioned. I'm also familiar with the winters!  I wish I had known more about Champlain when we lived there, but this book was only published in 2008.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hamlet, the one and only.....

I've been watching Joseph Pearce's series on Shakespeare on EWTN for a while and thought it time I saw one of the plays for myself.  When I was in Convent School in the north of England years ago we studied Shakespeare: a comedy and a tragedy each year of secondary school. In the early sixties I was lucky enough to spend a week at Stratford on Avon for two years in a row with some school friends.  There we often saw a matinee in the afternoon and another play at night.  I also remember seeing Sir Lawrence Olivier play Hamlet on film. These experiences gave me a taste for Shakespeare that has long been neglected. My quest took me to the local library and Hamlet was first on my list.  I took out the BBC version with Derek Jacobi playing Hamlet and Patrick Stewart, Claudius his uncle, and Claire Bloom, Hamlet's mother.  It was like falling in love all over again....I also took out the play in book form and that's what I'm reading now.
Favourite phrases (apart from the obvious ones):
Horatio:  "O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!"
Hamlet:  " And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
               There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
               Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Hamlet   "Forgive me this my virtue;
               For in the fatness of these pursy* times
               Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
               Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good."
It seems the times were not so far removed from our own, these words could have been written today.
*flabby, out of shape

Snowy wintery day in November

I've started this blog to keep a record of the books I read, and what better day to begin than on a dark day in November when it's cosy inside, and just the right time to curl up with a good book.  For several years I had eye problems and couldn't read at all.  Now there are so many books I would like to read - a veritable explosion - that I thought it would be good to keep track of the better ones.  My tastes tend towards Catholic writers of past and present, history, drama, poetry and health, and so much more.  There might also be a few asides because even for a confirmed bibliophile there is life outside of books, although books enrich our lives.  So to the books I'm reading now......