I enjoy reading blogs that are “slices of life,” talking about day-to-day events in real people’s lives. This gives me the opportunity to see Christ through other people’s eyes. A lot of the blogs I’ve linked to have this kind of beautiful discussion. You can get a clue from titles of blogs likely to have this flavor. Words like “Holiness, “Martha Martha” and Latin words for “flower” often predominate in introspective blogs. References to literature work to and you can't go wrong with blogs written by somebody who is called Enbrethiliel or self characterizes as a bad catholic. Here’s an entry that's one of my recent favorites. I can usually pass on Catholic websites whose titles evoke images of battle, warriors, defenders, etc., for example. That seems to be a sure sign that I will get deep into the type of apologetics that I object to.
I believe that a life lived holy and gracefully is the best form of apologetics and evangelism. When I see holiness, i say, "I want soem of that!" In my critical comment below, Steven Riddle and Elena both observed that they were brought (back) to the Church because of the work of apologetics. I don’t doubt that. A lot of our outlook on life is based on our experiences. I was born Catholic in a very Catholic home. I never had any great crisis of faith, never left the Church, so I can’t really appreciate the power of apologetics to bring people (back) to the Church and I'm glad they both took the time to point out how apologetics helped them. The continued attractiveness of the church to me is in observing the daily lives of those whose religion transforms them, even for mere moments, into persons of holiness--persons to emulate during that moment. That can happen to anybody at any time, fortunately. And, from what I can tell, the form of apologetics that most people describe favorably are “conversion” or coming home” stories, essentially grace in action in people's lives. That’s different than heated debates on the validity of the Novus Ordo. I don’t know too many people who chose the Church on intellectual grounds, but surely there are some.
This was a long background explanation for a book review. The book can be read on several levels, but much of the book is a tender and compassionate description on the day-to-day interaction between a very Catholic father and a holy daughter and it is this aspect of the book that moved me. The daughter was a 17th century Poor Clare cloistered nun who carried on a detailed correspondence with her obviously doting father for most of her life. Amazingly, 124 of her letters beautifully hand scripted letters are intact today. None of his to her survive, unfortunately, so the story is told through her eyes. The immediate thing that strikes today’s reader is how thoroughly religion unselfconsciously infused all day-to-day events in 17th century Italy. Instead of the numerical calendar, Saint’s feast days are often used to refer to events. Also, the extreme poverty that was the lot of nuns is casually treated as normal and something to offer up. Sister Marie Celeste, in spite of her cloistered poverty, makes her father potions to ward off the plague, sews new collars for him, makes sure his stored wines are decanted properly and the lemons are picked from the lemon tree. Her love for him, for her Church and for God is palpable in day to day routine events in her life. It radiates off the pages of the book.
Her letters usually begin, “Most Illustrious and Beloved Lord father”
and end “Most Affectionate Daughter.” Wouldn’t we all love to get letters like this from our grown children?
She asks little of him, some money to buy a small private cell instead of sleeping communally on the floor, as poor nuns did in those days. She also makes a request of her father to use his influence to have a decent (i.e. sober) priest assigned to say Mass for the nuns. It appears that many priests in those days were not really very holy at all and would easily curdle milk with their breath, put fear into the barnyard animals and scandalize the nuns. I would feel honored to have a daughter like Sister Marie Celeste and it’s pretty clear her father felt that way, too.
But, as this story of filial love and devotion is told in the foreground, historic events occur in the larger world stage, including the "trial of the century", the OJ Simpson trial of that century. The verdict in that trial was rendered:
We say, pronounce, sentence and declare that you Galileo, by reason of the matters which have been detailed in the trial and by which you have confessed already have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Hoy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believe, that which is false and contrary to scripture, that the sun is the center of the world and does not move east to west and that the earth moves and is not the center of the world…
Sister Marie Celeste’s father knelt down and replied:
I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, Florentine…swear that I have always believed, I believe now, and with God’s help I will in the future believe all that is held preached and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immoveable and that the earth is not the center of the same and that it moves…
In addition to the sentence of confinement he was also required to recite the seven psalms weekly. His daughter, Sister Marie Celeste took this obligation upon herself to perform this penance on his behalf, because, as she said, “With great zest, first because I believe that prayer accompanied by the claim of obedience to Holy Church is effective, and then, too, to relieve you of this care.”
The Book is Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, subtitled “a historical memoir of science faith and love.” I cried reading the description of the re-burial of Galileo in 1737, ninety years after his death. I hope what was described there is true.