There are several reasons I am enthusiastic about David Brooks’ new book, “The Second Mountain.” One is that Brooks seems to have embraced a philosophy I teach students at St. John’s University, the philosophy of personalism.
Two topics that caught my attention and have kept my interest during the many years in which I have been teaching philosophy are the meaning of commitment and the meaning of freedom. I have found that insights into commitment lead to insights into freedom and insights into freedom lead to insights into commitment.
There are two brief sections in David Brooks’ provocative book “The Second Mountain” (New York: Random House, 2019, pp. 346) that I found deeply disturbing and also challenging. They have led me to examine my life as a priest and as a professor.
I first came upon the word “acedia” while reading a book about culture when I was a student in the major seminary. It’s not a word that I hear my contemporaries using. In fact, except in this column, I don’t use it much either. My understanding is that the word means spiritual sloth or apathy. Persons suffering from acedia either have no interest in things spiritual or are unable to be excited or enthusiastic about the direction that their lives are taking.
Faith & Thought
I don’t know how many years I have been reading David Brooks’ column in the New York Times. My guess is that it has been close to five years. I also watch Brooks every Friday evening on the PBS News Hour as he discusses the week’s events with syndicated columnist Mark Shields. His comments are almost always illuminating.
I recently came upon two statements by atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, which would have convinced me, if I needed convincing, of the importance of reading great literature. What we read can profoundly influence our image of ourselves and our image of God.
One of my friends once told me that he preferred reading history to reading novels. As he explained why, I thought he saw history as dealing with truths and fiction as dealing with a world created by the novelist. I understood how my friend felt, but I had to disagree with him. If novels do not deal with truths, then what good are they?
When I was a student in the major seminary many years ago, I read Edwin O’Connor’s novel, “The Last Hurrah,” which years later was made into a film that was directed by John Ford. The film was good, but the novel is much better.
Preparing a series of short lectures on the Catholic novel for NET/TV has been a rewarding experience for me. Going back over novels that I have read many years ago, at least one back in high school, is like renewing old friendships.
Faith & Thought
I just finished reading what I think is an important, recently published book by Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.