Books Catholics Should Read: The Art of Being a Good Friend

August 15, 2011

I actually read this book a couple of weeks ago but with college move-in and family stuff, I’m only posting on it now.

by Hugh Black

This is a useful and meaningful book for anyone to read.  Friendship is life.  It is the journey towards a greater relationship with God.  Hugh Black teaches that friendship is an exercise in love.   As such we should learn to be as good a friend as possible and to choose the best friends possible — the type of friends who will teach us how to grow in love.

Much advice and reflections abound in this book.  The most important lessons, I think, are as follows:

  • Friendship is based in sympathy — learn to put yourself in your friends’ shoes and to sacrifice without expecting reward.
  • Friendship is your safe haven, and as such, you can’t open yourself up to everyone.  It’s naivety to believe everyone is your friend; you can be friendly with others, but ultimately, you need to choose your closest friends who will help you grow.
  • At the same time, you need to risk your trust.  Because if you don’t risk it, it can’t grow.  And if you don’t trust man, you can’t trust God.
  • Loyalty in friendship is built through little favors, which will then turn into the greatest trust and supremest sacrifice and service.
  • Human friendship is limited.  Some betray us, some of us drift apart, and some of us even move on to a life after death.  But when friendship is successful, it gives us even more hope and trust in the unlimited, perfect friendship with Christ.

This book was quite helpful, insightful, and beautifully written.  It’s the perfect book to read as I begin the new semester as I look to renew friendships with those around me.

Content:  An elaborate yet readable reflection on the nature of friendship and how to exercise it.
Style:  Hugh Black shows a masterful understanding of literature, history, and nature — and he uses images, examples, and metaphors from each of these to demonstrate his point.  This  book is much more of a reflection than a guidebook.
Catholic?:  Hugh Black was not Catholic, but his perspective is compatible with Catholic sentiment.

Overall:  3/5


Helpful Habits from Dean Woo

August 15, 2011

More and more I regret how late I have met ND’s former dean of the business school, Carolyn Woo.

She spoke at Notre Dame’s International Student Orientation welcome dinner tonight and offered some helpful habits for incoming students.  She herself was an international student:  She had left Hong Kong to study at Purdue in Indiana.  Her experience was typical of students who study away from home– she didn’t know how to read campus maps and felt perpetually lost, but most of all, she felt terribly alone and homesick.

At her lowest point though, what kept her head above water was her Catholic faith.  She broke down crying one day, so a Purdue staffperson asked her what her religion was.  The staffperson eventually connected her to the Catholic Newman community at Purdue, and it was from there that Dean Woo first found a support system.

Dean Woo then offered 4 helpful habits she adopted as a Catholic international student in America:
1)  Reflect on lessons learned, even if you think you have learned nothing.
2)  Attend daily mass.
3)  Learn to open your eyes to kindness.
4)  Be not afraid to plunge into the unknown.

Except for #2, these four habits don’t explicitly have a Catholic ring.  But when you examine them more closely, you can see that each of them are deeply rooted in Catholic teaching — particularly in the belief in God’s Providence.  It’s God’s Providence, after all, that keeps us faithful and hopeful even at our lowest points.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty bad at posting regularly on this blog (especially recently), but I want to change that.  In the next week I plan to post a reflection on the Catholic character of each of these habits from Dean Woo.  I think they’re a fine testament, again, to why being Catholic matters.

Books Catholics Should Read: Sanshiro

August 2, 2011

Not all who wander are lost. –JRR Tolkien

Ours is a society that praises dedicated drive and aimed ambition.  To “succeed,” young people need to know where they want to go, know how to get there, and do whatever it takes to arrive at their desired destination.

Sanshiro rejects that.  Indeed, it is filled with nostalgia for the naive wandering of youth.  Set at the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the oft-bewildered experiences of Sanshiro, a university student who leaves his remote agricultural hometown to study in the newly industrializing and Westernizing Tokyo.  It’s a coming-of-age novel of “growth without maturity”: Sanshiro reminisces and almost pines for the days when we could gaze up at the clouds and dream, unburdened as yet by the harsh concerns of reality.  It examines Sanshiro with an almost jealous sentimentality as he excitedly and clumsily wanders every path available to him–never committing himself to any one of them.  He is allowed to fall in love with someone he can never have because that is the glory of youth.

by Natsume Soseki

Sanshiro is Natsume Soseki’s cry to the ever-modernizing world.  There’s a certain sentimental beauty in being lost, because by being lost, we are able to stop the world and make sense of it–and in the course of things, we are able to appreciate it.  We should allow ourselves to fall in love with things we can’t have.  We should allow ourselves to wander and wonder.  Because these are the things that give life meaning.  We don’t necessarily need to learn from experience; we should be able to simply experience, and be grateful for it.

Sanshiro is not a call for us all to wander around in our own fantasy worlds forever.  But it is a reminder of the dreams and freedom we lose when we grow up.  Wandering, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re lost.

Content: Episodic adventures loosely connected by Sanshiro’s pursuit of a beautiful woman miles out of his league.
Style: Easy prose loosely divided into short 1.5-3 page episodes. 
The episodes flow smoothly together, though, so you hardly notice they are separate.
Again not necessarily so.  Still, I find that an appreciation for life as it is very Catholic in nature.  And the idea of wandering around till you find the direction towards which God is leading you is indeed very Catholic.

Overall: 3.5/5

Oh, how silly we are to those Europeans

August 2, 2011

I like history.  There’s at once a loftiness and an accessibility to it that allows anyone to grasp its grand breadth.  It’s why I love my summer job as a museum guide at El Pueblo de Los Angeles–the birthplace of California’s greatest city, and the home to the oldest house and fire station in LA as well as Old Chinatown.

Olvera Street, the prized Mexican marketplace of El Pueblo

It’s interesting comparing the different attitudes our tourists have towards history.  The typical American tourist–the one who cares a bit more than the casual passerby, at least–usually listens in wide-eyed awe when I teach about ranchero life in the 1840s or fire technology in the 1880s.  European tourists, however, are different.  They are among the most charming and pleasant people I meet at El Pueblo, and they are ever fascinated with the history of Los Angeles.  A few of them, though, can’t help but drop me an occasional teasing comment:  “You Americans get excited with a house built in 1818.  But the house I live in now has been passed down through my family for 400 years…and that’s not even saying much.”

No harm intended, only teasing.  But still, what a burn.  Talk about challenging the very legitimacy of my job.

Still, those European tourists got me thinking…because to an extent, they are very right.  If we are so impressed with a century-old building in one city, what are we to think of the Catholic Church, a 2 millennia old institution and global community that is living and vibrant even today?  We have to preserve “significant” buildings in Los Angeles against the march of time, so that they don’t disappear.  But the Church–the Church keeps charging on as alive as ever–even with the seemingly endless assaults that lay upon Her.

Now *this* is history.

Anyway, just some random thoughts I wanted to share.  The Church’s living history is just another reason to be proud to be Catholic.  The grand scope of the Church’s past, as well as the boundless hopefulness for the Church’s future, should be enough to inspire anyone who notices–even us silly Americans.