Currently there are three books we are working on. The Confessions of Saint Augustine is a classic autobiography of the great Church Father’s life. The Reed of God is a spiritual classic by Caryll Houselander. Meditations for the Time of Retreat by Saint John Baptist de la Salle provides meditations for the brothers that are helpful to others as well.
The Friar Book Club offers an opportunity to read and hear books, as well as to get commentaries of books. We began with the Confessions of Saint Augustine. We have also added commentary on The Reed of God.
When I was a diocesan priest, the bishop at the time used to encourage the high school students at their confirmation to get involved in those things the parish offered. The challenge to me was that for the life of me, in many parishes, I wasn’t sure what that would be they could get involved in. I recently read on the Forming Intentional Disciples Facebook Group the frustration that it was hard to find things to offer people who were seeking to get involved with in their parish, since they felt there was nothing really available to become involved in.
This lead me to think that maybe I could help. I am a Dominican friar, and this website has been a great source of blessing to me and to others. So, I have decided to start a collection of books I have found interesting, either to comment on them by chapter (usually because the book is still under copyright and so I cannot post it), or to read aloud and post the text online. I’ve started with The Confessions of Saint Augustine. I will post a reading for the week from Saint Augustine’s Confessions, with some questions to consider. This can be used as an individual or as a group. I have chosen Saint Augustine’s book for two reasons. First, and most important, it is a great story of conversion that I think might get each of us thinking about our own need to convert. Second, since it is in the public domain, I can post the reading for each week here without copyright considerations.
I will provide both the written text, as well as an audio version you can listen to as a podcast. Stay tuned!
The Purpose of the Friar Book Club
The purpose of the Friar Book Club is to make available, both to read and to listen, the texts of books. Given copyright, it is not possible for this website to provide many modern writers in this way. But the classics, being free from copyright are a great way to become acquainted with the rich tradition and spirituality that we share today.
This selection of Meditations for Time of Retreat is geared first to the community of teachers, staff and administrators with whom I work. The hope is that as they become more steeped in the charism of Saint John Baptist de la Salle, they will also find their hearts moved by the faith and zeal that comes from the Holy Spirit.
In addition to the reading of the book, it is also the case that each section will feature reflection questions. The reflection questions provide a way to help understand better the text and to apply it to your life. Happy reading or listening!
The book is the work of Christian Brothers who translated it and provided ample introduction to the text. This was very helpful in not only making the text available, but more importantly just like De La Salle inspiring others to learn of this powerful saint and innovative educator.
How is it the work of De La Salle has lasted more than 300 years after his death? How is it the educational innovations he pioneered are still considered innovative all this time later? This section helps to show how it is this can be true. The training of teachers, and mixing students of all backgrounds together in one classroom are only a few of the things he has done that are still considered best practice today.
It is often the case that the best of innovations occur in the midst of the darkest times. With the Church in France, and the country of France both in dire straights, the climate was surprising fertile for those who see a spiritually internal prayer life as an essential component of faith.
Every one of us is the result of a collection of relationships. Saint John Baptist de la Salle is no exception. From his good fortune of being born in a wealthy family which allowed him to be well educated, to is connection with people of faith and his study for a doctorate, Saint John Baptist de la Salle had a collection of influencers.
So this Sunday we take a break from the Mediations for the Time of Retreat in order to read a meditation written by De La Salle for the First Sunday of Lent. This is actually from Saint John Baptist de la Salle’s Meditations, and not the specific section limited to the Meditations for the Time of Retreat.
It is one thing to simply mimic the work of someone else, but another thing altogether when the contribution you make to the body of work is original. The Originality of the work of De La Salle lies in his application of spirituality specifically to the work of teachers.
To understand the French School of Spirituality it is necessary to remember that life was more than a little chaotic for France, and for the Church. Still digesting the teachings of the Council of Trent, and responding to the secular threats posed by the Enlightenment, it is easy to see why the French School of Spirituality could be harsh in its understandings between the human person and God.
The challenge for these meditations is that for a long time they were not widely circulated or known, even though they were read to the brothers on their yearly retreat. But in recent times, they have come to be seen as more important to Lasallian spirituality than originally thought.
Sometimes there is a challenge when reading theology that it can be too esoteric, too abstract, too far removed from the ordinary experience of people. Even though De La Salle was a very learned theologian, his genius was to see the needs of the times, and to alter the presentation of his theology in a way so that people could understand it.
Each Monday we will post a new set of chapters from The Confessions of Saint Augustine. As The Confessions of Saint Augustine are not copyrighted, you can either read the chapter sections on our website, or listen to them as a podcast. Either way, the hope is that you will benefit by reading/hearing The Confessions of Saint Augustine, and pondering the questions we offer at the end of each section. Here is hoping you enjoy The Friar Book Club’s first selection.
The dangerous delight of sin. Why do I sin? Even when we decide to sin, it can be the case that I know it is a bad idea even as I sin. These chapters from Saint Augustine provide a reflection on a sin of his youth, namely the stealing of pears.
Adolescence and Spiritual Life. The introduction Book 2 of the Confessions starts with a summary that could be helpful. “He concentrates here on his sixteenth year, a year of idleness, lust, and adolescent mischief. The memory of stealing some pears prompts a deep probing of the motives and aims of sinful acts. “I became to myself a wasteland.” Even those who are only slightly familiar with Saint Augustine might know that he had quite the conversion story.
A question we have probably all asked at one time or another was this: When will I ever use this? We may have asked it in school, or in a lesson our parents tried to teach us or something more. But have we ever asked God to help us to use those things that we have learned in our childhood? And have we tried to ask God to help us discern those things that we learn into a focus into those things that we will in fact use to become closer to God, the ultimate purpose in our lives?
The first question raised in these chapters is the question of Augustine’s not being baptized even though he was quite sick as a child. We learn that his mother’s rationale concerned keeping him from the sin he could commit by his actions. Augustine would learn later in his life about the beauty of God’s mercy.
Augustine offers a reflection on knowledge and experience beginning with his infancy, which he admits he does not remember. Listen or read these chapters.
As we look to these next chapters, Augustine is pondering the very nature of God. And what he discovers is that there is much about God that to his mind seems to be a paradox. God fills the earth, yet does not contain it. God is in all things, but is not all things. We owe God a debt, but God never loses anything. Even though we cannot pay the debt, God is no less complete.
At the beginning of Augustine’s Confessions is a reference to Pelagius, who shares a belief that is probably common to many even though it is heresy. Namely, Pelagius believed that we were able to achieve our salvation by our own efforts, that we were not wounded by Adam’s sin. On some level it can be seen as a popular image of God holding a scale, our good works on one side of the scale and our evil deeds on the other. Then, whichever weighs more gets us into even. Namely, we earn our salvation because of what we do.
For the purpose of clarity, it seemed helpful to provide some definitions and explanations for some of the things mentioned in this introduction. Note that understanding these ideas is not essential to understand Augustine’s confessions.
I have long been a fan of Caryll Houselander’s The reed of God. Even though we are continuing with The Confessions of Saint Augustine, it seemed appropriate during this Advent season to make Houselander’s The Reed of God available as well.
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