January 29, 2016

Poem: Psalm

Psalm By Patrick T. Reardon   The Lord croons melodious tunes. Praise God. The Lord whistles cool breezes. Praise God. The Lord laughs deep from the belly. Praise God. The Lord knows humor as a faithful friend. Praise God. Garden dirt is under the Lord’s fingernails. Praise God. The grit of soil, the Lord knows. Praise God. Sweating, the Lord’s muscles strain. Praise God. The load down, the Lord’s muscles ease. Praise God. The Lord grieves. Praise God. The Lord weeps. Praise God. The weight bows the Lord’s shoulders. Praise God. The Lord’s shoulders take the weight in balance. Praise God. The Lord sings full-throated songs in congregation. Praise God. The Lord’s voice joins all the voices singing. Praise God. The Lord croons melodious tunes. Praise God. Cool breezes are the whistling of the Lord. Praise God. Patrick T. Reardon 1.29.16
January 27, 2016

Book review: “The Forgotten Frontier: Urban Planning in the American West before 1890” by John W. Reps

In 1856, some 60 Roman Catholics from eastern Iowa, calling themselves St. Patrick’s Colony, moved together to the Nebraska side of the Missouri River where they laid out an elaborate town site called St. John’s, near the present-day hamlet of Jackson. North-south streets were conventionally numbered [writes John W. Reps], but those running east-west constituted a partial hagiology of the canonized: St. Margaret, St. Elizabeth, St. Monica, St. Anastasia, and so forth. Even saints could not guarantee urban salvation, however, and after the financial panic of 1857 the town began a steady decline. By the mid-1870s it consisted of no more than a handful of houses, a fate shared by several others whose ghostly remains dotted the river bluffs. Throughout the 19th-century across the American West, pioneers crossed prairies, mountains and deserts, and built cities for themselves. Some, like St. Patrick’s Colony and, much more successfully, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, were seeking religious solidarity in the creation of their new urban places. Some wanted to be next to railroad lines or near established outposts, such as military forts and mines for gold and other precious ores. Almost all of them involved speculators of one sort or another. […]
January 25, 2016

Poem: Visions

Visions By Patrick T. Reardon I see the hand of God write on the wall the sins of the king. I see the bloody knife. I see the father lead the son to slaughter. I smell the burning bush. I see the furnace, three inside unburnt. I hear the walls fall, taste bitter herbs before travel, stand on sacred ground, see the salt woman, the honey and milk land, the river red with blood. I see the face of God I hear the Lord speak my name. I feel the touch of fearful blessing.   1.25.16
January 21, 2016

Book review: “The Law and the Prophets,” edited by Robin Fox

The man’s left hand is on the boy’s neck, holding the head down. On the boy’s face is a grimace. In this tight detail, nothing else of the man is seen except his right hand. It holds a sharp knife and is moving to make the initial cut. The man is Abraham. The boy is Isaac. The detail is from the 1603 painting by Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac. This image is featured on pages 68-69 in The Law and the Prophets, an art book published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Robin Fox was the editor, and the book was based on a 1967 NBC documentary by Richard Hanser and Donald B. Hyatt. To the left of the image are sparse words of text: And God’s servant, Abraham, obeyed. He journeyed into the Land of Moriah. And there he took the knife to slay his son Isaac, whom he loved.   A labor of love Nearly half a century after its publication, what’s striking about The Law and the Prophets is its earnestness. And its showmanship. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive. Consider the Roman Catholic liturgy with all the robes, candles, marble altars, […]
January 19, 2016

Book review: “A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence” by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Life is a journey. We get to the edge, and then — what? As a Catholic, I grew up with lots of talk about heaven and all the other aspects of the afterlife. As an adult, I’ve approached the question from a different angle. I am intensely aware that, when I look down the road of life toward its end, there is an edge beyond which I cannot see. It is as if life were a painting which has an exquisitely detailed mass of images on the left side but, on the right side, there is only blank canvas. Or, maybe, it’s not blank canvas. Instead, it’s a hole in the wall, dark, black, empty. I am intensely aware that, when I get to the edge of life, there will be this great formless white that will show nothing except all that white. When I cross the edge of life, I’ll enter that white, and maybe I’ll cease to exist, or maybe I’ll find myself in the process of reincarnation, or maybe I’ll discover myself to be in hell, purgatory or heaven. As a Catholic, I believe that there is some sort of an afterlife with God — that God […]
January 14, 2016

Memo to the GOP: Dump Trump

Enough is enough. It is time — right now — for the Republican Party to expel Donald Trump. If the GOP acts now, it will not only do the right and moral thing, but also it will take the offensive against a man who has bullied and hate-mongered his way into the heart of American politics. If Republican leaders don’t move swiftly and decisively, Trump will continue to poison the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — and poison this year’s presidential campaign. He will continue to call the shots, and the Republican Party will continue to dance to his tune. Trump’s unfitness for the presidency has become painfully clear by his words and actions. He’s a bigot, calling for a ban on Muslims coming into the United States, and a liar, continuing to assert the discredited claim of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the September 11 attacks. He has made fun of disabled people. He has belittled his opponents. He has denigrated women. He has demonized illegal Mexican immigrants as criminals and drug dealers.   Drummed out of the party Trump needs to be drummed out of the Republican Party. Right now. Karl Rove will know […]
January 13, 2016

R. H. Mottram, looking back to Trollope and forward to Bellow

A young William Faulkner admired R. H. (Ralph Hale) Mottram, comparing the literary achievement of the British writer’s trilogy of novels about World War I with Stephen Crane’s insights into the reality of the American Civil War in The Red Badge of Courage. Yet, Mottram — a highly praised writer not just of war but also of life in a small English city; a poet and essayist; and a protégé and biographer of novelist John Galsworthy — is virtually unknown in literary circles today. I came across him in a roundabout way a decade ago, and have found his books richly satisfying, books that look back to Anthony Trollope and forward to Saul Bellow. According to scholar Max Putzel, Faulkner used Mottram’s writings on the war as a model for his own early work: Mottram had given Faulkner an example for dealing with war by indirection, understating or disguising the powerful emotions Crane had boldly undertaken to summon up…. Mottram’s three novels — The Spanish Farm, Sixty-four, Ninety-four! and The Crime of Vanderlynden’s — were set in Flanders, mostly behind the lines, and were based on Mottram’s own military experiences. They were published individually in the late 1920s and later issued […]
January 11, 2016

Book review: “Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales” by Terry Pratchett

Climbing a mountain in search of the abominable snowman, the group of adventures come across a tiny water wheel on which is attached a piece of parchment. It reads: When is a door not a door?… When it is a jar (ajar). Groan. Yet, this is not your run-of-the-mill (ahem) pun. As one of the explorers explains, this is a joke wheel. It’s like the prayer wheels of Tibetan Buddhism except, instead of a prayer, there’s a joke that’s repeated with each revolution of the wheel. It’s put there by the Joke Monks. You see, they think the world was created as a joke, so everyone should give thanks by having a good laugh. That’s why they tie jokes to the water wheels. Each time the wheel goes around, a joke goes up to heaven…. Do you know, they reckon that there are 7,777.777,777,777 jokes in the world, and when they’ve all been told, the world will come to an end, like switching off a light.” One character spends the rest of the journey wondering how soon the 7,777,777,777,777th joke will be told.   Cub reporter This scene with its pun, its wry humor and its fascination with religious faith […]
January 6, 2016

Book review: “The Holocaust in American Life” by Peter Novick

Peter Novick’s 1999 book The Holocaust in American Life examines in great detail and with great insight — and great skepticism — how the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II came to loom so large in the cultural, social and political life of the United States. After all, as Novick notes, none of the concentration camps was in this country, and no Jews living in the U.S. during the war were threatened. No Americans took part in the murders although some of the perpetrators moved here after 1945. It’s easy enough to overlook this reality today when the Holocaust is a major touchstone for American Jews and non-Jews alike, but it hasn’t always been such. There’s been an evolution in the importance of the Holocaust in American consciousness. It’s an evolution, Novick argues, that’s taken place mainly because of the perceptions and needs of American Jewry. Also important has been the perceived weakness or strength of Israel. And the loosening of ties among U.S. Jews. And the growing importance of the Jewish vote for all politicians.   “Inhibitions” Initially, American Jews were inhibited from talking about the Holocaust in public. There was a Cold […]
January 4, 2016

The Prayer of Pope Francis (Adapted from his speech at the conclusion of the 2014 synod)

Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to hostile inflexibility. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to treat symptoms and not root causes, to bind wounds without first treating them and curing them. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to transform bread into a stone and cast it against sinners, the weak and the sick. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of the Lord. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to act as owners or masters of the faith. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to turn our eyes away from reality.   Lord, help us build a Church that is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wounds. A Church that doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. A Church, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, that is composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. A Church that is the true Bride of Christ. A Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes […]
January 3, 2016

My Top Eleven Books of 2015

Why eleven? I couldn’t cut the list down to ten, that’s why. Last year, I read and reviewed 69 books on my website, some of which had originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune. This isn’t, by any means, a list of the best books of 2015. Some of the works among these eleven were published last year, but most are older. One came out in 1935; another, in 1890. They aren’t ranked, just given in alphabetical order. These are simply eleven that I’m really glad to have read. There are a lot of others. On another day, the list would be somewhat different, maybe a lot different. So, here they are along with a portion of my review:   “A House of My Own” by Sandra Cisneros With a phrasing and bravado echoing Saul Bellow’s Augie March, Sandra Cisneros writes: I was north-of-the-border born and bred, an American-Mexican from “Chicano, Illinois,” street tough and city smart, wise to the ways of trick or treat. Yet, even as she writes those words, originally published in Elle magazine in 1991, she’s undercutting them, explaining that, because of her Chicago birth and upbringing, she knew nothing for a long time about a key […]