May 30, 2012

A new shepherd for Chicago

Earlier this year, Cardinal Francis George turned 75 and submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XIV as archbishop of Chicago. As George said in an interview with the Tribune, it was “formula almost.” A requirement under Vatican rules, but, as the Cardinal indicated, not something the Pope is likely to act on for at least two years. Nonetheless, George has begun the transition process, tidying up his administrative house and naming new aides who will carry on the work of the archdiocese under the new archbishop — whoever that is. That’s a key question, of course, for me and for the other 2.3 million Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties. The spiritual leader of the archdiocese will set the tone for us in terms of how we pray together and live our faith. But the eventual appointment of Chicago’s new Catholic leader is also important for the millions of Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, other believers, agnostics and atheists in the metropolitan region.
May 30, 2012

Book review: “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” by Philip Pullman

As a Christian, I’ve read a lot of stuff by other believers about the life of Jesus and its meaning. In addition, I’ve always found it enjoyable and instructive to read what non-believers — or, at least, unofficial commentators — have to say. Historians, as professionals without the overlay of theology, shed an interesting light on what is known and what can be guessed. But, even more insightful are novelists who bring a keen eye and ear to the job. And many, great and not-so-great, have taken a shot at it, including Norman Mailer, Leo Tolstoy, Anne Rice, Reynolds Price, Jose Saramago, Jim Crace, Gore Vidal, Charles Dickens and Nikos Kazantzakis. Now, here’s Philip Pullman with his 2010 book “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ,” part of the Canongate Myth Series.
May 25, 2012

Book review: “Little Jackrabbit at Home in the Desert” by Jim Strickler, illustrations by Karen Pritchett

I’m not four-years-old, but I learned something from this sweet short story about Baby Jack — written by my friend Jim Strickler. I learned: • That a mother jackrabbit scrapes out a smooth spot under a sagebrush and lines it with her own fur as a place where she can give birth in private and comfort. • That the desert has “many wonderful sounds: the songs of a meadowlark, the barking of a prairie dog, and the ‘hooooo’ of the wind blowing across the dry land.” • That, during the heat of the day, a jackrabbit rests in a clump of brown grass where his fur blends in with the grass and the sandy soil so that “hungry coyotes and eagles that are hunting for food cannot see him easily.” • That jackrabbits have developed a way to chew a hole in a cactus in order to avoid “the prickly spines on the outside” and get at “the moist part inside.” • That a mother jackrabbit alerts her children to the presence of a coyote or other danger by “pounding one of her back paws against the hard ground.” I enjoyed Baby Jack’s joy at the departure of a coyote. […]
May 25, 2012

Book review: “The Warden” by Anthony Trollope

OK, “The Warden” by Anthony Trollope, published in 1855, is one of the classics of English literature. Over the past century and a half, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of readers have enjoyed Trollope’s humorous, poignant and sharp-eyed account of the travails of Rev. Septimus Harding, a minor clergyman in the (fictional) cathedral town of Barchester. Mr. Harding is the elderly warden of Hiram’s Hospital, a charity home established more than 400 years earlier for a dozen aged laborers no longer able to earn their daily bread.
May 20, 2012

Book review: “The Company of Glory” by Edgar Pangborn

Edgar Pangborn’s science-fiction novel “The Company of Glory” was initially serialized in three parts in Galaxy magazine in the latter half of 1974. It was published in 1975. Pangborn died on February 1, 1976, at the age of 66. I mention this because “The Company of Glory” is the story of Demetrios, a storyteller in the early stages of a post-apocalyptic world who is in his early 60s and in failing health. Is it in some way the story of storyteller Pangborn who, I would guess, was in failing health as he was writing this, his final novel?
May 16, 2012

Book review: “The Jesuits: a Multibiography” by Jean Lacouture

There are times when Jean Lacouture draws a picture of a particular Jesuit that takes your breath away. Consider his description of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the 20th century scientist-theologian who was silenced for much of his professional life by the church for describing an evolving Universe in place of traditional Catholic teaching of a static world, rooted in the Book of Genesis. Agnostic intellectuals and researchers, Lacouture writes, saw, in Teilhard, “a luminous personality almost recklessly offered, open to the point of innocence,” and a man in constant, quick movement, “pulsing with joyful vitality and optimism.” Further, he writes: Teilhard walked through life with long strides, from continent to continent, from millennium to millennium, from the Gobi Desert to Harar in Abyssinia, a beret on his head, or a sun helmet, or a turban, a cape slung across his shoulders, in shorts and bush jacket, wearing boots or rope soles — something of a Marco Polo, something of Claudel, something of Rimbaud — tough, laughing, pick or hammer in hand and a parable on his lips, twenty stories in his head, a too human human at once riveted in priestly fetters he had accepted and in permanent violation of […]
May 15, 2012

Book review: “Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseball’s Greatest Gift” by Harvey Araton

“Driving Mr. Yogi” by Harvey Araton is a fun book for a Yankee fan. I suspect it wouldn’t be much of a read for anyone else.
May 14, 2012

A remembrance: AUDREY REARDON, June 21, 1926 – December 5, 1995

A eulogy by Patrick T. Reardon St. Thomas More Church December 9, 1995 Audrey Joanne Thomas……Audrey Thomas Reardon……69……the mother of 14 children……died Tuesday in her Oak Lawn home. Mrs. Reardon, who was born and raised in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, graduated from Providence High School. During World War II, she was a singer in USO shows for American troops in the city, and later worked as an executive secretary at the Loop headquarters of the Quaker Oats Co. On October 16, 1948, she married David J. Reardon, a postal worker who later served more than three decades as a Chicago police officer. The couple, who moved to the Ashburn neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side in 1969 and to Oak Lawn last August, raised fourteen children, all of whom still live in the Chicago area: Rita, Jeanne, Geralyn, Teri, Kathy, Marie, Laura, Rosemary, John, Tim, Eileen, Mary Beth, David and Patrick. She is also survived by 30 grandchildren. = I want to tell you about my mother……about our mother……about the wife of our father……about the woman who touched—directly or indirectly—the lives of everyone here today……and many, many more. Do you remember how bright and crisp and clear […]
May 11, 2012

Book review: “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens

I suspect that Charles Dickens was in a pretty foul mood when he wrote “Hard Times” in 1854. He draws stark differences between the “good” people and the “bad” people in this story, and assigns bleak fates to nearly all of them. As usual in Dickens, the “bad” people are those that the society of his day saw as good — the upholders of civilization, the ambitious businessmen who made the British Empire hum, the refined, the educated, the proper, the gentry and the would-be gentry. The “good” characters for him are those that civilized society looked down on — the workers, the domestics, the vagabonds, the entertainers. The salt of the earth. In “Hard Times,” the “bad” people are especially ignoble. They are blowhards and snoops. They manipulate others out of boredom. They bully. They lack self-knowledge. They are self-satisfied, unctuous. Supercilious. Insipid. Throughout the book, they cause constant havoc in the lives of other people, particularly the “good” characters. Those “good” characters, with the exception of clear-headed Sissy Jupe, are victims. One is victimized by her father and her own stubbornness. The father is victimized by his belief in “Facts!” An honest laborer has four separate persecutors, including […]
May 11, 2012

Memo to NATO diplomats: Ignore the Chicago hype

Hey, NATO diplomats! I’m know you’re being flooded with lots of official and commercial stuff about Chicago: Where views of the city are most beautiful. Where dinners are most tasty. Where to find the “real Chicago.” Ignore them. These attempts at indoctrinating you about the city, when not just out and out wrong, are as superficial as a picture postcard. Like Paris or Brussels or London, Chicago can’t be “discovered” in the course of a quick — or long — visit. People who have lived here their entire lives and love the city passionately are always learning something new. Let me offer something else. Let me offer you glimpses of Chicago that hint at its character and texture. If you can pull yourself away from all those world-shaping discussions of trade relations and military forecasts, you’ll get a richer sense of our city by experiencing one or more of these. Take a look, for instance, at “Childhood Is Without Prejudice,” the mural that, in 1977, William Walker created on the southern wall of an underpass beneath the Metra tracks at 56th Street, near Stony Island Avenue. Walker was the central figure in a collective of African-American artists who, in 1967, […]
May 7, 2012

Book review: “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” by Robert K. Massie

The subtitle of Robert K. Massie’s “Catherine the Great” is “Portrait of a Woman.” But that’s too limiting. This 574-page biography is the portrait of a person — one who happens to have been a woman and who happens to have been the empress of Russia for more than thirty years in the late 1700s. On the final page of the book, Massie makes the argument — hard to dispute — that Catherine was the greatest monarch of her era and the equal to her predecessor, Peter the Great. That’s saying a lot since Peter was the man who, four decades earlier, had dragged his nation out of the Middle Ages and into modern eighteenth-century Europe to play a significant role in world affairs. “Peter imported technology and government institutions,” Massie writes. “Catherine brought European moral, political and judicial philosophy, literature, art, architecture, sculpture, medicine and education.” Indeed, Catherine created the Hermitage Palace in St. Petersburg and its original collection of art by such luminaries as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Raphael and Titian. Today, it contains the largest collection of paintings in the world, and is considered one of the greatest art museums on earth. She also commissioned “The Bronze Horseman,” […]
May 3, 2012

A game

It seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. I mean, my two-year-old daughter’s decision to grab a long, exceedingly sharp butcher’s knife from the dishwasher and run the entire length of the house with it in her hand — and leap playfully onto the couch in the front room. I’d been unloading the dishwasher when Sarah wormed past my legs to get the knife. I think she just wanted to liven up the afternoon. I remember running as fast as I could after her, unable to reach down far enough from my height to slow or stop her, and worrying each second that, by chasing her, I was increasing the danger that she’d fall and the knife would go —- well, I didn’t want to think where the knife might go. It turned out fine. She got to the couch and I got to her without any slashes, punctures or other sorts of wounds occurring. Awash with relief and yet still coming to the full realization of how dangerous our little jaunt had been, I gave Sarah the only spanking of her life. That turned out fine, too. The three slaps I directed to her rump were […]