Books Catholics Should Read: The Modern Gentleman

December 9, 2011

Now here’s a smart little book for any man worthy of the name.  Dashing and delightful, sizzling and spicy, and altogether useful and inspiring, The Modern Gentleman is an essential bookshelf addition to the aspiring gent.

A miscellany of tips on manners abound, including:

  • when to clap at an opera or symphony
  • how to shop at thrift stores to fashion a distinctive style
  • where to take a lady on the first date (and how to know whether to continue to the romance, after)
  • alcohols to try before you die
  • how to work with a hangover
  • how to recover from conversational gaffes
  • how to rekindle flagging friendships (and how to know it’s time to allow bad friendships to flame out)
  • how to host a guest, and how to be one.
  • as well as “etiquette” for other odd situations, including skinny dipping and using the bathroom

The modern gentleman demonstrates restraint and respect, excellence and well-roundedness of character and intellect, and a joy and curiosity for life which he shares with others.  Rather than throwing tradition away, he educates himself in the classics so that he can become a true pilot of the new.  At all times he aims at self-improvement — at becoming the “dashing demiurge” instead of just “taking up space.”

Being a gentleman is not about following rules, or having certain skills or natural disposition.  The important lesson to take away from MG is that being a gentleman is all about attitude.  And attitude can be cultivated. Rules on manners can change, but it is the attitude — that of self-refinement — that remains constant regardless of the era or area.

I encourage you to pick up this book, and, in the concluding words of Mollod and Tesauro:

Best of luck to you, noble Cavalier of Life.  Go forward with strength, grace, mindfulness, and an occasional glass of Chartreuse.  The world will follow behind you.

in short…

Content:  Tips in topic-specific chapters written so you can start reading at any point in the book, but don’t forget to check out the introduction and conclusion!
Style:  Written with wit.  Punchy and poetic.  Memorable and delightful.  Mollod and Tesauro meticulously pen each word with pointed purpose and literary flair.  Textbook example of fine writing.
Catholic?:  While restraint is one of the cardinal virtues of a gentleman, clearly the authors buy into the aphorism that “moderation taken to an extreme is bad for you.”  Once in a rare while (or in a whole chapter…),
MG encourages indulgence in unsavory behaviors.  I’ll leave you to read and find out.  On the other hand, MG also demonstrates flashes of insights into the human condition which can be very, if inadvertently, Catholic indeed.

Overall:  3/5


Unifying Prayer at Notre Dame

December 8, 2011

Did another piece for MSPS’ Convos of Color blog on the power of prayer when it comes to race relations.  Check it out!

Prayer and faith is one of life’s most powerful unifying forces — especially at a place like Notre Dame.  Prayer offers us a unique opportunity not to put aside our differences, but rather to celebrate them coming together for a common purpose.

I saw that last week at the Asian American Association’s semestral Multicultural Rosary, at which 10 students gathered together to lead half a decade of the rosary each in a language they’ve studied or grew up with: from European (Spanish, German, etc) to Asian (Indonesian, Korean, etc) to even ancient (Latin).  It’s a tradition we revived last year, and it was touching for me last week to see how much it’s grown.  Though hosted by an Asian organization, participants included members from La Alianza and white students who had seen posters around campus.  It was a truly multicultural event.

Multicultural programming is a difficult task.  Minority students are always wondering how to reach out to other minority groups as well as to the majority.  How do we bring different people together and get them to talk so they can understand, empathize with, and support each other?

Here at Notre Dame, we have a unique advantage.  Notre Dame emphasizes faith, service, spirituality, and prayer like no other elite university.  It’s an important reason — if not THE reason — that students come here.  Prayer is one of the special ways that vastly different Notre Dame students come together.  It’s one of the special ways that diverse students can learn from each other and support each other without fear, nervousness, or awkwardness.

It doesn’t have all the solutions to fostering multicultural dialogue and understanding.  But it’s a good first step.

This’ll be the last time you hear from me this semester.  It’s been a pleasure.  Till next time, keep talking, keep thinking, and keep standing for what’s right.  Good luck with finals and Merry Christmas, all.

Where did the Rosary come from?

December 2, 2011

Last night, I did a multilingual rosary with some friends.  The question arose:  What was the original language of the rosary?  As a well-trained Classicist, I immediately answered “Latin,” but a friend responded right after that she thought the rosary originated in Ireland.  Turns out, none of us really knew from where the rosary came, so I decided to do some quick poking around online to find out.

Apparently, the origins of the rosary are pretty hazy.  Strings of beads were definitely used in pre-Christian times as aids in meditation and prayer (perhaps as early as 1700 BC, used by the cult of Shiva in India).  Early Christian hermits also seem to have used similar methods, like Paul of Thebes, who used pebbles to keep count of his prayers.  Eventually, prayer string beads gained popularity in Christian Europe through the 15th century, when they began to be called rosaria, or “rose gardens.”  (A “rosarium” designated any collection of similar material; a poetry anthology would be called a rosarium, e.g.)

St. Dominic

Tradition holds that Mary divinely revealed the rosary to St. Dominic.  But many Catholic historians dismiss that as legend, especially since St. Dominic is not usually associated with the rosary.  Most likely, the rosary as we know it developed slowly.  It was first used by religious orders to keep track of the 150 Psalms in the Bible.  Those who wanted to imitate the monks but were not literate enough to read the Psalms used the rosary for prayers they did know, such as the “Our Father,” as they reflected upon the lives of Christ and Mary.  (Our “Hail Mary” prayer originated from this; whenever the faithful began reflecting on the life of Mary, they offered the salutation that the Angel Gabriel offered Mary:  “Hail, full of grace!”)  Eventually, these elements — the psalms, the everyday simple prayers, and the reflections upon the lives of Christ and Mary — formed the rosary as we know it today.

When did the rosary explode in popularity?  In the 1500s, Eastern Europe was being ravaged by a Muslim assault, jeopardizing Europe’s control over the Mediterranean.  In 1571, Pope Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria and asked all the faithful to pray the holy rosary to implore the help of Mary, Our Lady of Victory.  Outnumbered but flying the blue flag of Christ crucified on their flagship, the Christians won a smashing victory at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, effectively crippling the Muslim Turkish threat to dominating the Mediterranean.  The next year, Pope Pius declared October 7 the Feast of the Holy Rosary, which is observed to this day.

I grew up praying the rosary with my family, and I love praying it with dear friends.  It’s a devotion to which all Catholics should commit themselves more.  The Holy Rosary and the divine intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary bring tremendous graces, and, as the Battle of Lepanto has shown, they can work incredible wonders.

further reading: History of the Rosary by Fr. William Saunders, The Holy Rosary: Origins from Holy Spirit Interactive, and Beads and Prayers: The Rosary in History and Devotion by John Desmond Miller.

also check out the thrilling account of Lepanto, 1571: The Battle that Saved Europe by H.W. Crocker III