The Gospel Truth

A Moral Tug of War

August 16, 2015
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One of my fondest memories from my college days at Holy Cross was the annual spring intramurals. While there were a variety of events, the tug-of-war had the greatest impact on my memory. The contest pitted the most brawny and surliest behemoths of each class against each other in an exhausting display of sinewy prowess.

Another kind of tug-of-war surfaced a year after my 1965 graduation. While teaching a religion class at St. Henry’s High School in Charleston, Mo., I used the book The Gospel According to Peanuts as one of my textbooks. In one of the illustrations, poor Charlie Brown bemoaned the moral tug-of-war that was raging inside his heart.

I believe that Charles Schulz, the late cartoonist, had used his hapless character to express a deep point of Christian theology. Charlie Brown’s conscience was caught in the invisible vice between the things he wanted do and the things he should do. Schulz successfully underscored the never-ending tension that is a universal quality of our divided human nature.

Like Charlie Brown, our moral struggle forces us to focus on the disparity between what we should be and what we really are.

Instead of the brawny linebackers, tackles, and guards in college, this moral tug-of-war pits the world, the flesh and the devil on one side and Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the other.

However, this eternal contest is not a simple black-and-white struggle. While the presumption of victory is always on the side of the Holy Family, there is a grave warning implicit for people who follow Church teachings, devotions and pietistic rituals in the course of this struggle.

A tug-of-war can take a long time, and there are definite strategies that are not apparent to the unschooled eye. In one such strategy the secular team eases up, ever so lightly on the rope, so that complacency, self-satisfaction or pride catches the religious team off-guard.

Mother Teresa is a good example of this. As a young nun bursting with love and enthusiasm for the Lord, she prayed that God would let her share in Christ’s suffering so that she could be one with Him.

God heeded her fervent wishes but instead of the physical pains of Calvary He sent her the most agonizing mental struggles of Gethsemane that brought her to the brink of despair. God was not being cruel but recognized that His eager servant could be susceptible to the righteous pride of an enthusiast. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk’s 2007 book, Come Be My Light poignantly captured her soul-rendering tug-of-war.

The best way to soften the direct impact of our personal inner tug-of-war is to regard this struggle as one of the crosses we have to bear daily. We can accomplish this by walking the narrow vertical path between the lateral temptations of a secular world and the proud seductions of the interior life.

Both can be devastating to the unsuspecting soul. This salvific route forms a simple cross (+), a symbol of God’s love for us. We should also see this as a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate saving power of the Christian sign of contradiction to the world. With Christ as our helmsman how can any of us fail to navigate the rocky shoals of these worldly and spiritual temptations?


A Thief in the Night

May 18, 2015
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When I was just a small boy, I remember the time my family returned late from an outing, only to find police cars in front of our home. A burglar was reported entering through the second story. After the situation seemed clear, my parents left me alone in their darkened bedroom. Still in the house, the thief made his final forage through the top drawer of my mother’s dresser. The Bible warns us to be vigilant because death can come when you least expect it, like “a thief in the night.” Fortunately he was only interested in money and ignored the dozing boy on the bed.

As an adult receiving mail was something I had grown to joyfully expect. I eagerly awaited its delivery because it brought me business reports, news periodicals, kind words from old friends, and an occasional check. Sometimes I would receive a postcard from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts where I matriculated over five decades ago. The school provides its alumni this unique way of informing us of the recent death of a classmate.

Over the years I have received over 60 such cards, out of a freshman class of 512. These postcards force me to search for any memories I might have had of the decedent. Sometimes the lack of any recollection saddens me for that missed opportunity for a personal connection.

The cause of death for my classmates has been varied. Two perished in helicopters in Vietnam. Several died of cancer or heart ailments and there was at least one suicide, a diminutive fellow who played Mickey Mouse at the 1965 World’s Fair. Of the number of classmates who entered the priesthood, one of the few who stayed was murdered, ironically by “a thief in the night” who had come to rob his rectory on the island of Jamaica a quarter century ago. I have grown to dread these postcards, not only because a forgotten friend may be on one, but because of their unspoken truth that there is one with my name on it waiting to be mailed.

The one card that upset me the most was the one I didn’t get. My roommate for three years at the Cross was a tall, blond fellow, named Peter T. Lawrence. While we were not bosom buddies he was like the brother I never had. He was a brilliant young man with a deep intellect that took me most of my life to approach. Yet he was troubled by some unseen drive or feeling that made him appear inward and even introverted.

We lost contact over the years. The last time I had seen him he had a wife and two beautifully blonde children.   It was 1980.   Years later I decided to write him and explain to him how much he had meant to me as a friend and how much he had inspired my intellectual drive before one of us ended up on a postcard. I also mentioned that if he chose not to answer I would understand.

Well nothing happened for six months. At Christmas I got a card with his name on it and his last known address. However it was not from Peter but from his widow. The last number of years had not been kind to him. He had been separated from his family and had suffered a series of strokes that virtually incapacitated him. On the prior New Years’ Eve, a massive stroke had ended his life.

I immediately contacted his two best friends from grade school and high school respectfully. The college finally got a notice of his passing and while it was mentioned in the Quarterly Alumni publication there never was any postcard. Peter did not get his postcard! There seemed to be some sort of cosmic injustice in that.

The undeniable truth is death comes to us all in many different shapes and forms. It is more inevitable than taxes. At birth each one of us is guaranteed two dates: the one on which we are born and the date that closes the brackets on our personal history. Better than any other line in literature, John Donne’s quote from his Meditations XVII, No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main captured the shared universality of our demise. Every time someone dies it diminishes our earthly existence and reminds us just how mortal we are.

Life is not only precious but also sacred. I am dismayed that so many people waste or carelessly throw theirs away. Sure life can be hard but too many people seem to have forgotten this life is but a preparation for the one to come. I am also amazed that so many make elaborate plans for “retirement,” only to die shortly after ending their careers. I often wonder if they planned as well on how they would spend eternity.

The daily obituary pages now offer us the smiling faces of countless strangers, friends, and family. Like my Holy Cross postcards, they serve as constant reminders that we should live each day with grace, good cheer and love as if it were our last, just in case that “thief in the night” might decide to take our most valuable possession.

 


Empty Shelves

April 12, 2011
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There is nothing more sad than walking into a home or a chain book store and seeing a stack of empty shelves.

The current decline of the mom and pop book store is disheartening.

One need only see the movie, with Meg Ryan, You Got Mail, which is a remake of the The Little Shop Around the Corner to feel the sadness that permeates the closing of a woman’s neighborhood bookstore.

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A sad sight

Losing a familiar bookstore is like losing a good friend.

Now the same malady is infecting even the big chains, like Borders, which declared bankruptcy this year and Barnes and Noble, which looms large, yet even B&N seems to be struggling.

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Forced to declare bankruptcy

Is it that people don’t read books anymore or is it that they just don’t buy them anymore.

Part of the recent is the switch from print information, both for news and recreation and the loss of an inquiring literate population which seems to have lost its curiosity about the meaning of life.

The digital age has also impacted traditional book reading.  I saw  my first Kindle on an airplane and from where I was sitting it looked like a large video game.

Then there is also something called the Nook that sounds more fitting for the first meal of the day. And then my daughter got an her first I-Pad.

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A video game for books

These were all new ways to read a book…virtually any book.

Now maybe I will be the last hold-out.  I never want to use these alternate reading methods.

I still read newspapers–home delivered.  Three in the morning  and later I but the New York Times but only for the pictures.

I want to be the Last Bibliophile who has the last book in the world.  I like to buy my books and take them home with me.  I like the interchange of having a real person wait on me.

I love the feel, the smell and the physical presence of a book.

Like so many people who wish they owned their own restaurant or race horse, owning a bookstore or even working in one has always been on my dream list.

Being surrounded by stack of books entrances me like a beautiful sunset.

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An enchantment

It is like having the world’s wisdom at your fingertips…if you know where to look.

Sometimes I just stand in the middle of a line of book shelves and drink in the ideas and facts emanating from the colorful array of new titles.

I do have to confess that I never go into a library any more because the Internet is easier and while time may be money to some, to me it allows me to have more time for my personal reading.

Reading is a mental form of exercise that may help me fight the ravages of age, which often starts in the brain.

I Read about a 100 pages a day–sometimes more.

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A dual work out

I have been logging each book I finish with the date finished , the author, title and number of pages.

A couple of years ago, I read 128 books, my best ever.  Most years I can count on reading anywhere from 105-120.

Some times I can read as many as 250 pages while other days, reading 50 can be a chore.

When we go on vacation, my wife shops and I am content to sit and read one of my traveling books.

I judge the quality of a store by the comfort of its seats for waiting men.

I have sat on cold marble, dirty stairs and sometimes stood in a corner, just to get my fix.

I read all kinds of books–many of them novels.

James Paterson tells a good story.  I buy his books not for their literary content but for their swift-moving pace.

Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connolly are much better writers.

The later developed a character over the course of several books.

A detective, named Harry Bosch–short for Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th century Dutch painter, appeared in several of his books.

Connolly named Harry after this Dutch artist

Harry was a tunnel rat in Vietnam and was getting a little too old to feature.

He now writes about Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer.

I read a lot of non-fiction as well…especially current events, memoirs and history.

Of the later I read everything about the ideas that have launched our own culture, especially from the French Revolution, the Civil War and the early 20th century.

Right now I am reading John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden, Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth II, and David Goldfield’s civil war epic,  America Aflame.

I was inspired to do much of this reading by a history professor at St. Louis University, named Ed Maguire.

Dr. Maguire had a terrible stutter that affected his presentation but that didn’t stop him from teaching or passing on the secret of all education: Read books.  And I have ever since.

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Sage advice

I read exactly four books during my first eight years of primary school.  And my mother had to finish two of them for me.

I remember trying to read Black Beauty and could never get past the fourth chapter.

I did start reading just before graduation–Xavier H. S. had given us a book list and I read 11 books.

But in high school I did only the required amount of reading.

What changed my life was the advice from the recruiter from Boston College who told me that with a Verbal score of 417 (before it was inflated 20 years later) I could not get into his school.

And BC was where I wanted to go at that time.

So I got serious.  Like Cool Hand Luke said, I can eat 50 eggs.

Well I digested 50 books and the next time I took the SAT, my verbal had modestly increased to a 509.  Strangely my math score went from a 522 to 647.

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But could he read 50 books?

Forget BC, I could now go to Holy Cross.

By the way my verbal on the Grad Record Exam right after college was a 650, which placed me in the 92 percentile.

I can use words like sesquipedalian and polymath with comfort.

Books have paved the way for my life.

Since then I have always liked to have books around me.

They are my friends, my companions for a lonely night and my teachers.

I now have about 3000 books in my home–my wife calls them a nuisance.  I call them my library.

My book habit is getting expensive.  I collect discount coupons that I hate to waste.I have to buy at least one a day.  Sometimes, I load up with 5-6 books.

Right now I have more books than I will ever be able to read.  I am more like a collector or even a horder.

But for now my motto is so many books…so little time.

My wife says that some day she is going to bury me and my books in an 80′ hole.

I have become akin to the Fireman in Ray Bradbury’s classic,  Fahrenheit 451–the degree of temperature when paper burns–who did not put fires out but burned books–all books.  This lead to a cult that memorized the great books and passed them on.

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The end of books?

But during one such job he became curious and kept one of the books, which he then read.  Like me, he became hooked on books and started stashing them all over the house.

I do that now.  He put them in a fake TV, overhead lights, closets, under floor boards and any where that would store his treasure.

Books are essential for man’s right to know I fear that someday, despite all the electronic book-reading devices, people will be so dulled by their education, they will use these devices, merely for the distracting contentment of bread and circuses.

And what of the bookstores?  They will be nothing empty shelves which is like a world without lovea sad testament to the self-destruction of our civilization.

 


About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

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