Father Cory's Farewell

First, I want to express my sincerest thanks to everyone at St. Mark’s for all of your prayers and support this past year as I have had the privilege to serve as your parochial vicar. It was definitely a great formative experience and I will always benefit from the lessons learned in my time there. It is difficult to move on, but I trust that through the grace of God and by your continued prayers, I will do well in my new assignment and in whatever endeavors I am given to undertake in the future. I must also here say a word of thanks to all who gave me gifts and cards as I parted.

Second, I wish to pass along two “parting gifts,” of my own. The first is a coat of arms for St. Mark’s parish that I designed and had rendered by a local graphic artist for use in publications and anywhere else it might serve to help identify the community. Heraldry has long been of interest to me, which, given my many eccentricities, should come as no surprise to anyone. The proper blazon of the coat of arms, which is the technical way of describing it, is as follows: Vert, a fess argent, in chief a lion of Venice or, in base a crown or.

Which is a fancy way of saying “a green shield with a silver band in the middle and a gold lion up top and a gold crown at the bottom,” which should be plainly obvious upon looking at it. I took the crown from the arms of the Diocese of Charlotte, the Queen City. I chose the lion, of course, to represent St. Mark; this is his symbol in art for most of the Church’s history. The motto “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” which means “A voice crying out in the wilderness,” also reflects this, as it is not only a verse unique to St. Mark’s Gospel, but is the reason he is represented in art by a lion—a roaring lion recalls one crying out. This also reflects the mission of the parish and really any parish, to be a voice crying out to prepare the way of the Lord in the midst of the spiritual deserts of today’s world.

The other “parting gift” I will leave comes at the request of a number of people who wanted my reading list, or a list of books I would recommend, since this seemed to be a very popular topic in my homilies and talks. Many people came up to me each week and asked “What was that book you were talking about?” I had thought about doing my top ten books, or my top ten spiritual and top ten non-spiritual, and then it occurred to me that there aren’t only ten books I recommend to people, and, as should have been fairly obvious from my preaching, I don’t really think there’s much of a difference between spiritual and non-spiritual reading, in a manner of speaking. God speaks to us in our culture, even if the culture is broken. Broken mirrors still reflect some light. And so here is just a list of a handful of the books that are worth your while to read.

Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating. The book that sparked my intellectual conversion, if you can call it that. I read it in high school so I could argue with anti-Catholics I went to school with (and was even taught by in the classroom).

Fundamentals of the Faith by Peter Kreeft. First, anything by Dr. Kreeft is worth reading, and possibly several times. This collection of essays is on the essentials of Christianity, argued with his characteristic dry wit and deep philosophical insight. The initial chapters are on the existence of God, and they were among the first things I ever read explaining why belief in God is rational, when I was about 14 years old. This is perhaps the book that got me most interested in philosophy and theology as fields of study I could take up once I went to college. I still reread it occasionally.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I read this every year. Perhaps one of the best works of modern American fiction and one of the defining novels in the dystopian genre (Hunger Games ain’t got nothing on Ray Bradbury). It’s an excellent apologetic for the importance of the life of the mind and a cautionary tale about the isolating and dehumanizing effects of an overuse of technology. And you thought it was just about censorship.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Classic. I also read this one every year. Required reading for anyone, really, not just southerners. Has a lot of great things to say about problems of race and prejudice which, in the nearly 60 years since its publication, have only manifested themselves in perhaps nastier ways. And it’s told through the eyes of a child, giving it a very credible perspective.

Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. A spiritual classic. As I’ve related on a few occasions, I actually struggled to even like this book when I first read it, but I found it to be rewarding. After a few years I revisited it, with the benefit of more formation both intellectually and spiritually. I started rereading it to deepen my friendship with this great saint, who has never failed to be kind to me when I’ve sought her intercession. But perhaps that would be worth a book in itself…

The Way of a Pilgrim. The anonymously authored Russian spiritual novel of the 19th century. This is a great introduction to the Jesus Prayer tradition of the Eastern Churches and to the deep interior spirituality cultivated in that tradition.

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. A 250 page examination of conscience and perhaps the finest work on love ever written in the English language. This book has actually shaped my understanding of not only friendship, but priesthood within the context of friendship.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I read this book over a decade ago and quote it constantly, in spite of not having read it recently. Sets out an apologetic for the basics of Christianity; it was a series of radio addresses Lewis gave later in life. Excellently argued, and the moral and spiritual insights are very much enduring.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Perhaps the finest manual for the interior life ever put into fictional form. Lewis’ demon Screwtape is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood to instruct him on how to tempt and subvert a young man to lose his faith. Also reads as an examination of conscience—really helps make the point that temptation and sin aren’t only realities of the big, nasty sins that we truly feel great shame about, but rather the nagging little suggestions that erode at our virtue.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. (Sensing a theme here?) If The Screwtape Letters is a moral treatise on temptation and sin, The Great Divorce is the eschatological fulfillment of its themes.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. Punchy, witty, southern, Catholic. What more could you want? Be warned, she has three kinds of stories: Those which are essentially Catholic but not ostensibly so (Catholic ideas at the heart of the story even if no Catholic vocabulary is used), those which are ostensibly Catholic but not essentially so (Catholicism is a cultural reality in the story that could be dispensed with without doing violence to the lesson and manner in which the story is told), and those which you find yourself waiting for the punchline that makes the big philosophical point of the whole thing and it never comes and the story just ends shockingly and nearly gratuitously.

Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism by Fr. James Schall, SJ. I bought this book just for the title alone, no joke. I had met Fr. Schall when he came to speak at my seminary; he’s a longtime political science professor who retired some years ago from Georgetown. He’s also a longtime cultural commentator and promoter of the liberal arts. This book is a collection of essays that more or less goes into how virtue is attained even through things we find pleasurable, like sports and humor, and how even to think of heaven and hell are reasonable pleasures.

Leisure the Basis of Culture by Joseph Pieper. A classic of philosophy, Pieper argues that the modern world gets it backwards: we rest on the weekend so that we can work all week, when really God did not do this. God worked all week and then rested, and that rest is the whole point of our existence, resting in God. I recommend reading this one in tandem with The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel.

What We Can’t Not Know by J. Budszieszewski. Not only do I love this one because it’s an excellent treatment of natural law theory, but the title is a correctly-used double negative.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s a comic book about the art form of comic books, and has long been a favorite of mine. What he says about icons and the creative process are actually surprisingly pertinent to Catholic theology and to epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge.

Jesus Through the Centuries and Mary Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan. The author was a historian of religion, and he studies how Jesus is depicted in different ways in different cultures throughout history. This volume proved so popular it sparked calls for a follow-up about Mary. Both are very interesting reads, as they give you a broader sense of how Jesus and Mary have been received by different people and even different religions (one of the most interesting chapters in Mary Through the Centuries is called “The Heroine of the Qur’an.” The only sura, or chapter, of the Qur’an named for a woman is actually entitled Maryam).

The Noonday Devil  by Jean-Charles Nault, OSB. A treatment of acedia, commonly known as “sloth,” although that translation of the word doesn’t give its full signification. Nault treats of the history of the idea, which begins with the very earliest monks, as it was the temptation for the monk to leave his cell and abandon monastic practice. It shows up in different states in life, and Nault treats what it looks like to modern man—not only to priest and consecrated religious, but also to the married and even the single people living in the world. I would recommend reading the whole book, but you can also get a lot out of this book if you skip the technical and historical stuff in the first two chapters. The part about how acedia shows up in modern life is the real thrust of the book, although if you just read that, make sure to go back and read the historical stuff later.

- In Iç Xç
  Fr Cory

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