Lenten Reading: Finally Going to Read Augustine’s ‘Confessions’

After sitting on my shelf for two years, I have decided to finally crack open and finish Saint Augustine’s famous epic, Confessions. Augustine’s story of leaving his young life of hedonism and debauchery behind after making a monumental conversion to Christianity is a tale many people–especially millennials–find beckoning.

Learning about the scandalous and sinful early lives of saints offers hope. It proves that saints are not born saints and that we all have the ability to become saints no matter what one’s past is. It’s a hope that no one can take away no matter the situation.

The same curiosity leads many to read Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain which is another tale of a man preoccupied with finding one fleeting high after another before uncovering the truth in life, converting to Catholicism and becoming a Trappist monk.

Heaven is filled with converted sinners of all kinds, and there is room for more.
-St. Joseph Cafasso

If memory serves, Confessions is on the list of The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written, a secular list. The book is considered by both Christians and many non-Christians alike to be a masterpiece. Peter Kreeft calls Augustine a “saint of our times” because of how so many lost millennials are able to relate with his life as a teenager and young adult.

I was torn between three books to take up this Lent…all of which are already on the bookshelf: Confessions, CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, or St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout LifeIn partial help due to respected recommendation of a priest friend of mine, I think Confessions will be a fine choice! I’m sure there’s more to come on this…maybe a TSP Cliffs Notes? ☩

Cliffs Notes on The Seven Storey Mountain

This installment of TSP’s ‘Cliffs Notes’ isn’t like our previous ones. It’s not a breakdown of the entire book but rather just some quotes that I found insightful. Also, this is the first case that the subject is a book rather than a papal document. Many Catholics are familiar with Thomas Merton’s epic tale of conversion, The Seven Storey Mountain. It is often described as the modern-day version of Saint Augustine’s Confessions.

This book is easy for people who have abandoned their Catholic faith in their teenage and, especially, collegegriffin_-_dp_13 years to connect with. There were times I looked up from the book briefly and reflected on how it seemed like Merton was describing a past version of myself as he meticulously chronicled the story leading up to his conversion home to the Church. The book follows Merton through his childhood all the way to the Trappist monastery where he wrote the book. For those who are not familiar with the Trappist order of priests, they are probably the most disciplined order of Catholic monks that exists. Thomas came from an apathetic and anti-Catholic protestant family and, although well educated and cultured, was dissatisfied with the way he was living his life. As he realized more and more that only God could fill the empty part of his life, he was drawn closer and closer to the Catholic Church. The book was published in the mid-40’s and the terror of World War II plays an important role during his search for truth.

I am not going to review the entire book but Merton’s contemplative and philosophical musings on God, mankind, and the Church in this book are too rich to ignore. The following are all quotes from The Seven Storey Mountain with the page number cited at the end of each:

On Protestantism/Conversion

Another thing which Catholics do not realize about converts is the tremendous, agonizing embarrassment and self-consciousness which they feel about praying publicly in a Catholic Church. The effort it takes to overcome all the strange imaginary fears that everyone is looking at you, and that they all think you are crazy or ridiculous, is something that costs a tremendous effort.

What a revelation it was, to discover so many ordinary people in a place together, more conscious of God than of one another: not there to show off their hats or their clothes, but to pray, or at least to fulfill a religious obligation, not a human one. For even those who might have been there for no better motive than that they were obliged to be, were at least free from any of the self-conscious and human constraint which is never absent from a Protestant church where people are definitely gathered together as people, as neighbors, and always have at least half an eye for one another, if not all of both eyes.

[After attending my first Catholic Mass, a]ll I know is that I walked in a new world. Even the ugly buildings of Columbia were transfigured in it, and everywhere was peace in these streets designed for violence and noise. Sitting outside the gloomy little Childs restaurant on 111th Street, behind the dirty, boxed bushes, and eating breakfast, was like sitting in the Elysian Fields.

But the conversion of the intellect is not enough. And as long as the will, the domina voluntas, did not belong completely to God, even the intellectual conversion was bound to remain precarious and indefinite.

On the Soul

Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if the are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity.

[A]ll men who live only according to their five senses, and seek nothing beyond the gratification of their natural appetites for pleasure and reputation and power, cut themselves off from that charity which is the principle of all spiritual vitality and happiness because it alone saves us from the barren wilderness of our own abominable selfishness.

The life of a soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of all his strivings–by which man becomes one with God.

On Salvation

The mere realization of one’s own unhappiness is not salvation: it may be the occasion of salvation, or it may be the door to a deeper pit in Hell, and I had much deeper to go than I realized.

On the Nature of Mankind, God

It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago. People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity, How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us?

We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.

There is a great paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell.

It is a kind of pride to insist that none of our prayers should ever be petitions for our own needs: for this is only another subtle way of trying to put ourselves on the same plane as God–acting as if we had no needs, as if we were not creatures, not dependent on Him…

When the Spirit of God finds a soul in which He can work, He uses that soul for any number of purposes: opens out before its eyes a hundred new directions, multiplying its works and its opportunities for the apostolate almost beyond belief and certainly far beyond the ordinary strength of a human being.

It is only when we refuse His help, resist His will, that we have conflict, trouble, disorder, unhappiness, ruin.

Mary, The Saints

Glorious Mother of God, shall I ever again distrust you, or your God, before Whose throne you are irresistible in your intercession? Shall I ever turn my eyes from your hands and from your face and from your eyes? Shall I ever look anywhere else but in the face of your love, to find you true counsel, and to know my way, in all the days and all the moments of my life?
As you have dealt with me, Lady, deal also with all my millions of brothers who live in the same misery that I knew then: lead them in spite of themselves and guide them by your tremendous influence, O Holy Queen of souls and refuge of sinners, and bring them to your Christ the way you brought me. Illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte, et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis ostende. Show us your Christ, Lady, after this our exile, yes: but show Him to us also now, show Him to us here, while we are still wanderers.

People who look like saints to us are very often not so, and those who do not look like saints very often are. And the greatest saints are sometimes the most obscure–Our Lady, St. Joseph.

She was the Virgin who stood in the doors of the medieval cathedrals. She was the one I had seen in all the statues in the Musée de Cluny, and whose pictures, for that matter, had decorated the walls of my study at Oakham.
But that is not the place that belongs to Mary in the lives of men. She is the Mother of Christ still, His Mother in our souls. She is the Mother of the supernatural life in us. Sanctity comes to us through her intercession. God has willed that there be no other way.

The discovery of a new saint is a tremendous experience: and all the more so because it is completely unlikethe film-fan’s discovery of a new star. What can such a one do with his new idol? Stare at her picture until it makes him dizzy. That is all. But the saints are not mere inanimate objects of contemplation. They become our friends, and they share our friendship and reciprocate it and give us unmistakeable tokens of their love for us by the graces that we receive through them.

On Suffering

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffer the most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all.

The Church

Christ established His Church, among other reasons, in order that men might lead one another to Him and in the process sanctify themselves and one another.

[The intellect] is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of [our] passion[s], and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility.

What are your favorite quotes from Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain?

It also must be noted that Thomas’ best and most “Catholic” work was done before 1960. As he entered the 1960’s he started flirting with Eastern religious theories and Buddhism that can be questionable. Catholic Answers has more on that here.

A Daily Missal From 1957

I came across The Saint Joseph Daily Missal, published in 1957. I scanned the introductory pamphlet. The entire book is a fantastic resource for learning about every nook and cranny to the pre-conciliar Extraordinary Form of Mass. While this isn’t the actual book itself, you can get an idea how much the Church has changed their wording when describing things surrounding the Mass.


stjoe2 Continue reading

My Favorite Lessons from ‘The Secret of Mary’

The Secret of Mary was written around 1700 by Saint Louis de Montfort, a Priest known for his particular devotion to Our Lady. The Secret of Mary is very accessible despite being written nearly 400 years ago. It is an outlined dissertation on the importance of Mary in God’s plan along with step-by-step ways to better unite your heart to hers through prayer and good works. The description on the back of the booklet might better explain what St. Montfort does with this famous text:

In this short and beautiful work, Fr. de Montfort profoundly and elegantly explains the role of Our Lady in the life of all of those who recognize in their hearts the call to holiness that gives rise to the desire for an intense and authentic living of the Christian life.

The booklet is indeed short (and beautiful); it is only about five inches tall, three inches wide and 89 pages long. It can be read in one very short sitting even. The pages are broken into two main parts: The Secret of Mary and Consecration to Jesus Through Mary. I’m simply going to share some of my favorite passages from the first part for people who might have never been exposed to this great writer that so influenced so many popes (and future saints) such as Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius X, Pope Pius XII (“the Marian Pope”), and St. Pope John Paul II. St JPII said of Montfort’s work, “I understood that I could not exclude the Lord’s Mother from my life without neglecting the will of God-Trinity”.

Click the image to purchase on Amazon for under $6! (Other versions can be found for as low as a dollar even).

Each paragraph in the booklet is numbered and I will cite the paragraph number that contains the line I am quoting.

Part I
The Secret of Mary

11. As in the order of nature, a child must have a father and a mother, so likewise in the order of grace, a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his Mother.

14. St. Augustine even says that during their present life all the elect are hidden in Mary’s womb and that they are not truly born until the Blessed Mother brings them forth to life eternal. Consequently, just as the child draws all its nourishment from the mother, who gives it in proportion to the child’s weakness, in like manner do the elect draw all their spiritual nourishment and strength from Mary.

21. Let us not imagine, then, as some do who are misled by erroneous teachings, tha tMary, being a creature, is a hindrance to our union with the Creator. 

22. This does not mean that he who has found Mary by a true devotion will be exempt from crosses and suffering. Far from it; he is more besieged by them than others are[.] But along with their crosses she also imparts the grace to carry them patiently and even cheerfully[.]

24. There are several true devotions to Our Lady:

25. [F]ulfilling our Christian duties, avoiding mortal sin, acting more out of love than fear, praying to Our Lady.

26. [E]ntertaining for Our Lady more perfect feelings of esteem and love, of confidence and veneration. It leads us to [pray the] Holy Rosary[,] to honor Mary’s images and altars[.]

29. We should choose a special feast-day on which we give, consecrate and sacrifice to Mary voluntarily, lovingly and without constraint, entirely and without reserve: our body and soul, our exterior property[;] and also our interior and spiritual possessions[.]

30. We leave to her disposal all […] our good works, so that after we have made the sacrifice of them […] we are no longer the masters of any good works we may do; but Our Lady may apply them, sometimes for the relief or the deliverance of a soul in Purgatory, sometimes for the conversion of a poor sinner, etc.

35To give ourselves to Jesus through Mary is to imitate God the Father, Who has given us His Son only through Mary, and Who communicates to us His grace only through Mary.

36. To go to Jesus through Mary is truly to honor Jesus Christ, for it denotes that we do not esteem ourselves worthy of approaching His infinite holiness directly by ourselves because of our sins; that we need Mary, His holy Mother, to be our advocate and Mediatrix with Him, our Mediator.

39. [T]o give oursleves thus to Our Lady is to practice charity towards our neighbor in the highest possible degree.

40. (Quoting St. Benedict) When you follow Mary, you will not go astray; when you pray to her, you will not despair; when you think of her, you will not err; when she sustains you, you will not fall; when she protects you, you will not fear; when she leads you, you will not become tired; when she favors you, you will arrive safely.

46. [W]e must place ourselves as instruments in the hands of Mary that she may act in us and do with us and for us whatever she pleases, for the greater glory of her Son, and through the Son, for the glory of the Father[.]

47. She will be […] the oratory of our soul, in which we offer up all our prayers to God, without fear of not being heard; she will be a Tower of David, in which we take refuge from all our enemies; a burning lamp to enlighten our interior and to inflame us with divine love[.]

49. In everything we do we must renounce our self-love, because very often self-love sets itself up in an imperceptible manner as the end of our actions.

50. Beware of believing that it is more perfect to go straight to Jesus, straight to God. [I]f you to to God through Mary, y our work will be Mary’s work, and consequently it will be sublime and most worthy of God.

56. [S]he produces in the soul wherein she dwells, purity of heart and body, purity of intention and of purpose and fruitfulness in good works.

Now buy the book yourself and read it in 15 minutes!

St Montfort, PRAY FOR US!

St. Louis de Montfort
St. Louis de Montfort