Book Thoughts: Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue was a 1986 Catholic book by Peter Kreeft. It was originally titled For Heaven’s Sake but was republished in 1992 with a new name. Peter Kreeft has a doctor in philosophy, so this book was primarily about making an argument supporting the need for Western civilization to go “back to virtue”. To do this, the book was structured into two parts. The first part (Missing: A Virtuous People) described the overall problem: Western civilization abandoned the idea of virtues, leading to all manner of chaos. Eventually, this would lead to the destruction of humanity by war. To avoid this destruction, people needed to go back to the virtues Christianity had brought forth. The second part of the book (Key: Personal Virtue) detailed the four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, moderation), three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), and the beatitudes that oppose the seven deadly sins. The first part was the most straightforward with the second part being the real meat of the book.

I agreed with pretty much everything Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue.  It was surprisingly accurate given the date this book was written. Other than a few references to the Cold War, this text could have been written today. While the Cold War is over, I really feel like the Western world is going downhill, and that lack of religion is the reason. It’s possible to be a very good person without religion but very rare. Without having good ideals to live by, most people will be as selfish as they can get away with. Selfish people do not do good.

The role models of the modern world are professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians, but these groups are some of the worst in God’s eyes. They are not good people, so Mr. Kreeft challenged the reader to be that good role model in society. Without Christians leading good, holy lives the author predicted the downfall of modern civilization. I agree Christians need to be holy. I strive my whole life to optimize my life around the faith, so I can serve God and others the best I can. I don’t agree that we can turn civilization back to God though.

My feelings in the salvation of modern civilization is product of the time I have grown up in. I have seen people continually move further away from God. Never has there been a turnaround. I know nothing is impossible for God, but because I have never experienced any large change towards God, I just can’t see it ever happening. Our world is stuck in the gravity of the black hole that is hell. I believe the good actions of Christians can slow this process down but never turn things around. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We do the best we can, as I am, and trust God with the rest.

I focus on the low level, identifying needy people and serving them the best I can. Of course, I am willing to give my thoughts on how to be holy — that’s a big part of this blog — but in general, I don’t believe it will lead a revolution. It would be sad if this world was all there is, but as Catholics, we believe in heaven, eternal life. We have something positive to look forward to. We need to do our best to save our soul and the souls of others, but everything else is up to God.

Back to Virtue had a heavy foundation in philosophy and logic. This made it very dense and slow to read for me. It is a book to be studied, not just read one time and set aside. I always enjoy studying the faith though, so I plan to spend a lot of time rereading each chapter. In reading this book, I realized holiness and ideals can be thought about in more than one way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses more on the Ten Commandments, but a Catholic could also focus on the virtues as their guide for holiness. I will be looking into virtues more. If there is anything fruitful in this study, I will put it online for all.

Book Thoughts: Resisting Happiness

Resisting Happiness was a 2016 book by Matthew Kelly that my parish offered all parishioners after the Christmas services. It’s a nice yearly tradition to get some good reading material for the new year. This is the second Matthew Kelly book I’ve read. The first one was The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. That book had a lot of good ideas. I ended up writing them all down and implementing the best ones. Resisting Happiness felt very similar. Just like The Four Signs, it was a book about being the best version of yourself. This time it approached the idea from the angle of happiness.

Resisting Happiness had a total of 37 chapters. Each chapter began with a short anecdote from Matthew Kelly’s life. He then extrapolated what he learned from that experience into a Key Point that summarized the essence of the chapter and an Action Step the reader could take to improve themselves. I have already been doing much of what Matthew Kelly suggested, but some of them were interesting questions to answer or things I needed to work on more. I wrote down all the Action Steps, did the short term ones, and made plans for the long term ones.

I already do many of the Action Steps like praying daily and regular Bible reading. I already had plans for some of them like going to confession regularly. Others, like writing a spiritual plan, I already did on my own. However, two new ones I am starting are offering every activity to God for an intention and making a conscious effort to listen to God.

Resisting Happiness taught me that our ordinary life (work, chores, etc.) is pleasing to God just as dedicated prayer is pleasing to him, so our normal activities can be offered to God as a prayer for something in return. My intentions will all be for loved ones both living and dead. I am excited to have another way to give back to others that doesn’t require me to leave the house.

Listening to God is hard for me because I am such a big thinker. I can sit for hours in silence just thinking about random stuff. It’s hard for me to empty my mind and just listen. I am taking what I learned from Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Prayer to incorporate listening to God into my life. I will be trying my hardest to always ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. Making this a habit will help me feel the presence of God much more.

Overall, I like Matthew Kelly’s message of being the best version of yourself. Before I even read any of these books, I had the idea to improve myself and be a saint. It has been continually reinforced with these books as well as my efforts on this blog. These days I have gotten used to the constant effort of improvement, but it was a major life-changing decision back then. I probably would have resisted had I known what the future had in store for me.

I developed several health problems over a six year period. They were easy to ignore at first, but slowly got worse. I prayed for healing for many years. Then my prayers were answered. For almost four months, I had no symptoms. I felt great. In return for God answering my prayers, I decided to start the path of improvement and become a really good person. Unfortunately, my good health was short-lived. The problems all came back worse than before. Since then I have had ups and downs with my health. Rarely, I have a good day or even a week but never several months.

I am still working on my health, but after working on it so long with no positive results, I don’t have any hope of being healthy again. I continue praying for it, but my hope is only in eternal life not any earthly happiness. So the primary thing holding me back from happiness is my bad health not any lack of action on my part. I did learn some things from this book, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Like most books, it was written for the average person with normal health, the people that have the freedom to do many things. On the other hand, my freedom is limited. I have freedom to do things from home or through the Internet. What I do outside has to be limited due to how much suffering it causes me. I still liked the book despite it not having the answer to my happiness. My happiness depends on God healing me permanently. Based on my past, that will never happen, so I am ever focused on the end of my suffering in heaven. Just because I am home a lot doesn’t mean I can’t improve though.

I still work on it every day. Most of my efforts are on improving my prayer life and sense of God in my life to ward off loneliness and finding ways to serve others from home. I’ve been working on this several years, but I continue to learn new things and start new practices. I continue to become holier and closer to God. All this excites me even more for my eventual peace in heaven. It’s so hard to wait many days. When the going gets tough I refocus on God with prayer and service. I am eager for the time of good health.

Speech Thoughts: Prayer

Prayer was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards. I saw this priest speak at a men’s conference, and he was very good. He really knew how to grab everyone’s attention. My dad bought a CD containing the audio of this speech. My mom happened to find it while cleaning out all the religious books and let me borrow it. Compared to Fr. Larry’s speech on Confession, this one didn’t have as much new information. The focus was using Jesus example of how to pray (the Our Father prayer) to guide us in the present time.

Fr. Larry explained how Jesus’ use of “Father” as a name for God was unheard of in his time. The priests of the time believed God’s name was so holy it could never be spoken. On the other hand, Jesus made God much more relatable. He is our Father. By comparing God to our biological father, we could understand the kind of relationship we should have with God. We should love him like a parent because we are children compared to him.

The next part of the speech was about “Your will be done”. Fr. Larry explained that we need to listen to God. It’s not just about what we want or even need. It’s what God wants. God knows what our needs are before we even sit down to prayer, so we don’t have to worry about him not meeting our needs. It’s okay to ask for things, but we always need to think about what God wants first. This requires a lot of trust in God.

Fr. Larry did his best to promote mass for the next part. The words, “Give us our daily bread”, are not just about God feeding us. All our physical, mental, and spiritual needs are wrapped up in this sentence. On top of that, “bread” also refers to the Eucharist, so “daily bread” means go to daily mass. I don’t think many people were interested, but I like the idea. Maybe if I can retire someday, though I don’t see that ever happening with how expensive everything is these days.

The last part I remember was about “…as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Fr. Larry gave the Bible reading where Jesus said we would not be forgiven by God if we did not forgive our enemies here on Earth. I’ve done pretty well at this one. Sometimes I do get disappointed or angry with people, but I always forgive them a short while later. For some people, this is the great battle of their life. I am thinking of people that were abused as children or went through a painful divorce. It’s really hard to forgive someone that has caused so much suffering. I am so blessed to have not had to live through such tragic events.

For the last 15 minutes Fr. Larry put his own instructions into practice by leading everyone in prayer. The key thing was to imagine God through the image of Jesus standing in front of us. We could imagine what he looked like from his hair, clothes, skin, eyes, and more. That made it easy to see God is with us at all times and feel close to him. After developing a good image of God through Jesus, the prayer continued with repentance, surrender to God, allowing God to hold us, and praying the Our Father together with Jesus.

It would be too long to go into all the detail, but I got more out of this speech than I expected. I had copied a prayer format from a book by Matthew Kelly. This prayer was a good start, but I soon had a long list of petitions each day. I did do repentance and a tiny bit of listening to God, but the prayer was mostly about my petitions, what I want. I had been meaning to do more listening but wasn’t sure how. This CD came to me at a good time. I was able to combine the two prayer formats to create a new one that has the best of both. I start by surrendering to God, asking forgiveness and listening for his commands. Only then do I go into my petitions. I got rid of the long lists of petitions and now just ask for whatever comes to mind. These are the most important ones.

I am very excited to use this new prayer practice whenever I can. I can’t just drop everything for God, but I will ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. This will mostly be during my free time. Sometimes I will get direction from these prayers and other times I will have to make my own decisions, but I need to involve God. That way at my death I can say: “I did what God wanted. Wherever I have ended up is because of God.” Of course, I can’t listen to temptations and assume they are from God, but if I feel called to do some good action, I can make that decision knowing God wills it to some extent. As long as I involve God in my decisions, he will be happy with my life and have little to worry about. I hope this new prayer practice will allow me to serve others even better. If God has my back, the things I do should be more effective.

Book Thoughts: Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It!

Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It! is a 2006 book by Fr. Frank A. Pavone, M.E.V. This book was written assuming the reader was pro-life. It’s goal wasn’t to convert the reader to the pro-life cause but to reinvigorate existing pro-life believers. My mother let me borrow the book. I have been a firm pro-life believer for many years but haven’t been active in arguing it. I knew the Church teaching on abortion, but like many things in life, it can be thought about in many different ways. Fr. Pavone is the leader of the Priests for Life organization and has been active in the pro-life movement for many years now. He has a lot of experience in this area, so I really felt like Ending Abortion provided a thorough examination of abortion in America. The book approached the subject from six angles: The Activists, Arguments, Women, Babies, Celebrations, Abortionists, Government and Church.

The Activists provided quick and easy actions the reader can take right now to make a difference. The Arguments listed out the most common arguments pro-life people can make to counter the arguments of abortion supporters. The Women explained how women are also victimized by abortion. The Babies described the value of even the tiniest human life. The Celebrations went through how to promote the pro-life cause through national holidays. The Abortionists went into how to organically shut down abortion clinics by converting the people who support them. The Government gave the obligations Catholics have as civil servants to fight abortion through politics and government. Lastly, The Church showed the Church’s stance on abortion and the actions the clergy can take to end abortion.

Ending Abortion was an easy read but took longer than some books. The book was structured as a series of thoughts on supporting the pro-life movement grouped into eight categories. Each thought was no longer than two pages, so Fr. Pavone got to the point quickly. He wrote in plain terms, making each point very clear. Each thought was a totally new idea to think about, with its own beginning, middle, and end. This made the book excellent for a short daily reading of just one thought per day but not very good for long, continuous reading like I prefer. I read the book cover to cover because I needed to catch up on my Catholic reading, but I plan to go through it more slowly later.

Ending Abortion had a lot of good ideas and arguments. I’m sure all this information is available elsewhere, but I will be compiling it into a short cheat sheet and posting it on this website. I will be giving the book back to my mother soon but want to retain the essence of the book. Posting it on the website will also allow anyone else to enjoy this information too.

One downside to this book was that fact that it was written over ten years ago. Several times Fr. Pavone referenced new developments in the pro-life movement which is now old news ten years later. This is not his fault, just the effects of the passage of time. I do wonder if he has written a newer book on abortion, but almost everything in the book still applies today.

Speech Thoughts: Confession

Confession was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards on the Sacrament of Confession. My dad bought this CD at a men’s conference we went to a while back. I had totally forgotten about it until my mom happened to find it buried in the religious books. After listening to it herself, she let me borrow it. I already knew Fr. Larry was a good speaker from my time at the conference, so I was not surprised this was a good speech. It was perfect timing to listen to this now, with Lent being the time of confession, forgiveness, and repentance.

Many times I fall into the trap of thinking I know all about some aspect of the faith. Confession is one of the Big Seven (The Sacraments) in the church. Catholics like myself participate in the Sacraments many times a year. We know them well, so it’s easy to think we know all about them and have nothing to gain from a speech about the Sacrament of Confession. Fr. Larry did a great job of showing just how little I know. Even when I did know all about something, he was able to say it in a new and refreshing way. I truly believe much of studying the faith is looking at Catholicism from all different angles. In this way, we can know about how we fit into this faith from all different angles. In listening to a speech like Confession, we come to know ourselves that much more.

Knowing yourself is especially important in the case of Confession. After all, we can’t really change our ways unless we know completely and fully why we sin. It’s easy to read about various sins and understand the logic behind why they are wrong. What’s not easy is finding out why, despite having this knowledge, we continue to sin. The heart of Confession is looking at our deepest desires and longings and seeing why we choose sin as a substitute for God.

One of the main parts of the speech was a detailed explanation of sin and confession. Satan tempts us to sin through doubt, continually asking us to question God’s commandments. (“God didn’t really mean that did he?”) When we sin we are saying No to God. We are saying we know better than God. This is pride, the root of all sin. Sin is a cancer of the spirit. To treat cancer, doctors make sure to cut it all out. If any is left, it will just grow back. In confession, God does surgery on the soul. If we don’t do a good confession, some of that sin is left on the soul, and, just like cancer, it will grow back. With a good confession, the soul is totally clean.

The second big part was about how to give a good confession. Of course, Catholics know this means examining our conscience, so Fr. Larry went through the Ten Commandments talking about all the most common sins related to them. The last 5 minutes or so, Fr. Larry quickly rattled off around 30 easy questions to ask ourselves before entering the confessional. By the end of this part, everyone had a good idea of all their sins, many of which they had not considered before. Even though I wasn’t present for the speech, I could see many sins I haven’t really confessed very much or very well. I am eager for my Lenten confession, so I can say everything.

Because sin is such a big deal for all humanity, it would be very good practice to listen to this speech again every Lenten season. I only borrowed the CD, so I took lots of notes down instead. Then I can come back to my notes the next year. I am planning to write down the 30 easy questions on this blog in case anyone finds it useful. Every Catholic has done an examination of conscience and seen those long lists of questions, but I really like how short and sweet these questions are.

Speech Thoughts: 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy

7 Secrets of Divine Mercy was a CD recording of a talk given in 2015 by Vinny Flynn. The talk was based on a book by the same name, also by Vinny Flynn. The recording was about 45 minutes long. I found Mr. Flynn to be a great speaker. He spoke clearly, had a good personality, and kept the subject moving along. Humorous puns relating to the topic added a lot of humor to the talk. I have never heard a speaker use so many puns. It was his unique style.

I have prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for many years, so I knew the general idea behind the prayer. I never studied it though, so this talk gave me a lot of interesting concepts to think about. I knew the basic idea behind the secrets, but Mr. Flynn had new details and insights I hadn’t heard before. I am always amazed at how various parts of theology relate to each other. Through the centuries popes, saints, scholars, and others has continually developed new and interesting ways to explain the Catholic faith. After listening to this talk, I see that Divine Mercy is another way.

I really liked Vinny Flynn’s explanation of the Divine Mercy image. I’ve seen it many times before. I always saw it as just a painting of Jesus displaying how his Divine Mercy works. Mr. Flynn said the same thing but then added that the Divine Mercy image was actually a mirror. In this painting, Jesus is showing us what a perfect image of God looks like, so we aren’t really seeing Jesus in the image but God himself. Mr. Flynn then explained how we needed to “improve our image”, the 3rd secret. This pun explained that when you look at yourself in a mirror, you should see an image of God. This was a great way to explain my unending effort to optimize my life around the faith. My optimization is all about striving for perfection in holiness. That is literally improving my image of God.

The 6th secret was about “the eternal now”. I know that heaven is not bound by the time of earth, but Vinny Flynn brought this paradox back into my mind. The basic idea is that when we sin Jesus literally feels it on the cross. How can this be? According to our Earth history he has already been crucified, died, and resurrected, but somehow our sins in the present affect Jesus in the past. Along the same line, our prayers in the present and our offerings of suffering somehow help Jesus in the past. This paradox is a mystery, but it is refreshing to know that my actions today have a big impact on Jesus. It makes my life feel that much more important.

Mr. Flynn also explained how this paradox applies to the souls of loved ones that have passed from this world. This means our prayers in the present for the dead can somehow still help a soul’s purification even if it already happened in the past. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve always heard people say no prayers for the dead are wasted. Now I have a better understanding. Whether their souls are still being purified or are already experiencing the Beatific Vision, our prayers will help.

I really enjoyed 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy overall. It was both educational and entertaining. I have only gone into maybe 10% of the content in the talk, so I recommend you get a copy of this for yourself. I only listened to the talk. The book probably goes into even more detail. It will really help you see the faith in a new light. Sometimes that is enough to put you on the path of major change towards “improving your image”. I will be thinking about these things when I pray this chaplet again.

Book Thoughts: Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission: 5 Steps to Winning the War Within was a 2012 Catholic book by John R. Wood. This was one of the many books I received from my parish for free. Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission was one of the better ones. I liked a lot of what it had to say. John R. Wood used the terminology of fighting a battle to help explain the concepts. In the first two chapters, he explained the situation. What is going on? Why is it happening? Where do I fit in? The third chapter was a call for the reader to conquer their bad habits and addictions. The fourth chapter was about using all the tools we have to defend ourselves from the Enemy. In the fifth chapter, he explained how to fight back against Satan both internally and in the world.

The overall goal of Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission was to teach the reader how to be a saint. The first five chapters ended with one step of the mission to become a saint. The last chapter wrapped up the first five chapters in a nice summary, coaching and motivating the reader to get started on their journey to sainthood. I appreciated the length of this book. The other books I have received for free have been pretty short, but this one had some depth to it. I really enjoyed all the examples John Wood gave from his own life to back up his points. My favorite chapter was the 4th chapter about how to defend against Satan. I loved how he used the concept of a highway to describe all the tools we have at our disposal for our protection.

There were many good ideas and words of wisdom in Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission. I will probably compile that stuff on this site one day, but the one thing I really learned while reading this book was that I have a lot of jealousy towards others. It used to be that I was jealous of others’ wealth. Now my big source of jealousy is the good health of other people. I was really jealous reading about John R. Wood’s life and seeing all the big accomplishments he’s made. Despite being a similar age I don’t have any accomplishments in my life. It’s all because of my health.

The longer I live the more little health problems I seem to develop. Individually, each of them is just an annoyance, but all combined they really prevent me from doing everything I would like. I usually have one or two good days a week when I feel great and ready to go out into the world. Then reality comes crashing down, and I am feeling bad again. I always feel held back by my health problems, so they really make me jealous of healthy people.

It is not right to be jealous of the good things in others though. Instead, I am doing my best to transform any jealous thoughts I get into positive thoughts. In this case, I turned to gratitude for all the good things John R. Wood has done. I’m sure he is an inspiration to a lot of people. I want him to continue all the good he is doing and reach even more people with his work. I also spent some time looking at some good things I can do no matter how I am feeling. I may not be able to go out into the world and impact so many people like John R. Wood has, but there are a few things I can do.

I have thought about what I can do for a while. I call it my holy work. The simplest thing is praying for others. Since I’m home a lot of time, I have that much more time to pray for others. There is always someone in need of prayer. Since my health problems cause me a lot of suffering, I also can offer up a lot more than the average person. I don’t know how it helps others, but it does somehow. I am constantly asking God to make use of my suffering to help others. I have this website where I can write my thoughts about the faith that might help someone someday. I also have a few other ideas I haven’t started yet.

I feel happy doing what I can, but I hope I can become holy enough to lose this envy. In terms of this book, I am working on the mission of chapter 3, trying to conquer my habit of jealousy and envy towards the good health of others. I won’t be able to go to heaven until I love everyone perfectly as God does. I have made some progress, but there is still a long ways to go.

Book Thoughts: From Poverty to Power

From Poverty to Power is 1901 inspirational book by James Allen. I wouldn’t have read this book on its own, but it came with my copy of As a Man Thinketh. The book was split into two parts: one describing the Path to Prosperity, the other describing the Way to Happiness. By the end of the book it becomes clear to the reader that the Path to Prosperity and Way to Happiness are the same. True prosperity and happiness came from true love. True love comes from absolute sacrifice of self for others. I really liked this message. Of course, being Catholic I know the concept of loving one another well, but From Poverty to Power did inspire me a little bit to look at where in my life I can do more for others. From Poverty to Power was not perfect though.

James Allen advocated certain things that would be against the Catholic faith. I do believe he was right in saying that anyone who sacrifices themselves completely for others will join God in heaven, but the author also said people shouldn’t care about their religion or creed. This is directly contrary to the Catholic Church’s view that the Catholic faith is the full truth. The Church acknowledges that it is possible to get to heaven without the Catholic faith but much, much harder. Being part of a community of believers really helps people continue striving for holiness. People on their own trying to be holy have a much harder time.

In James Allen’s rejection of religion he made the case that any religion could be followed so long as the ultimate end for every person was self-sacrifice. Throughout the book he made reference to Jesus and the saints, but he also made reference to the Buddha. In his eyes, Jesus and the Buddha were equal. In fact, he believed people could become Jesus. To James Allen, Jesus was just the example of a human that had reached perfection. It seemed as if he also believed that in going to heaven, people would literally join God, basically become gods themselves. This is totally against the Catholic faith.

There were these few incorrect “truths” James Allen urged the reader to believe. Other than those, the text was morally good. The world would be a lot better place if everyone was sacrificing according to From Poverty to Power. I’m not saying I’m any better. Just because I know the truth doesn’t mean I am capable of living the truth. It’s good to have this ideal of sacrificing completely for others though. As long as we keep our focus on that ideal, we can become much better people over the course of our lives and be proud of what we’ve done when our time on Earth comes to an end.

As far as entertainment value, James Allen’s writing style wasn’t my favorite. In the interest of drilling the ideas into the reader’s mind, he reiterated the same thoughts over and over using different but similar words. Many long paragraphs were written this way. His real world examples were good, but the reiteration stuff was much more prominent. Maybe James Allen saw this repetition as a way to get even the lowliest of minds to understand what he was saying, but I usually understood things after the first few sentences. Then the rest of the paragraph started getting boring. Sometimes I skimmed over the repetition to get to the author’s next point. From Poverty to Power wasn’t the most interesting book to read, but I think there is some good wisdom contained. I might summarize that wisdom in a post here one day.

Book Thoughts: As a Man Thinketh

As a Man Thinketh was a 1903 literary essay by James Allen, a Christian. One day a passage he read from the Book of Proverbs inspired him to write about it. Part of that Bible passage formed the title of the essay. The passage basically stated that a man’s actions followed from his thoughts. James Allen then concluded that if a man improved his thoughts, his actions would automatically be improved as well. That formed the basis of the essay. The book I read had it at 45 pages, so it was a short read.

I really enjoyed the idea behind the book because I have been trying to think more positively in my life lately. I have been cynical for much of my life. I usually saw the worst in things. Now I am trying to see the best in things. I haven’t really started this in earnest yet, but I do someday want to make a conscious effort to turn around negative thoughts into positive thoughts. I think this will make me happier, and I know that the happier I am the easier I can get myself to do good things. When I am in a bad mood, it’s a real struggle to get myself to do good.

I didn’t think this book was perfect because some of the ideas seemed a little too far-fetched. James Allen posited that humans had complete control over their thoughts. It was as simple as deciding to think differently and good actions would follow. The truth is we won’t ever be completely in control of our thoughts because the devil is able to implant tempting thoughts into our minds. We can control how we respond to tempting thoughts, but we can never just stop having them. As long as we live, we will have these temptations.

It felt like the author made the assumption that perfection could be attained on Earth. We as Catholics know that is not possible. We will always sin. We can become closer to perfection, but we will never become perfect here. After seeing this, I took the rest of the book with a grain of salt. I liked James Allen’s ideas of focusing on good thoughts and having a clear aim for what we want to do, but it was a little too unrealistic. I guess the text gave me a disingenuous feeling, like the author was setting people up for failure. A common exit point for new converts is when they go through their first real struggle since conversion. Many believe that now that they are Catholic (or Christian), it is possible for them to be perfect on Earth or at least that God will take care of all their problems. When those don’t happen, it is easy for a new convert to get discouraged and abandon the faith.

It is realistic that people can improve their state in life, but it’s not realistic for everything we think to happen. Someone might want to get rich, but there are plenty of examples of people that strived all their life to make lots of money and yet failed. A better essay would acknowledge the complexities of life and note that there really are limitations to what we can do. This essay reminded me of many of the saints stories that were written during this period, which portrayed the saints as absolutely perfect on Earth. A wise Catholic knows now that these saints still committed sins on a regular basis. They were much holier than the average Catholic but still not perfect. Perfection couldn’t happen until they died, were purified in purgatory, and went to heaven. As a Man Thinketh was written during that same time.

Overall, As a Man Thinketh was a good essay despite these minor criticisms. It really got me thinking when I read about aimlessness. James Allen said that aimless people just floated through life, never having any accomplishments. That described most of my life. Only recently have I settled on the aim of getting to heaven and serving others along the way. That aim is pretty broad though. It gives me no help in making the big decisions in life, such as how I should develop my career or what service work to do.

On a daily basis I wonder what specific activities I should be doing. I have looked at my skills and decided on service work that fits, but I don’t feel any calling towards that work. Likewise, when it comes to the career, I have never found any work to be all that compelling. At the same time I have never felt any calling to religious life. And so I go through life doing what I believe God would want, not what I feel is right.

I pray for discernment every day, hoping that someday I will have a clearer idea what I should be doing, but God has not blessed me with an answer to my aimlessness. I do believe my good deeds have positive effects and God enjoys seeing them, but it seems I am meant to go through life in the dark. I am still young — there is time yet to discover my overall purpose — but I hope it happens while I still have the energy to do good work. If I don’t find out until I am on my death bed, I will feel like I never got the chance to do what God wanted.

Book Thoughts: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 psychology book by Victor E. Frankl. The original intent of the book was to be a resource for psychologists on what went through the minds of Nazi concentration camp prisoners. In later editions, Victor added a second part, again for psychologists, that described how his own concentration camp experiences had helped him create his “logotherapy” form of psychotherapy. Despite being written for psychologists, Man’s Search for Meaning has become more of an inspirational book in the present time. In particular, Victor held many views that are in line with Catholic teaching, so it has become very popular in religious studies and among laypeople.

From the Catholic perspective, I found two key points that really supported each other. Victor Frankl himself had to go through life in a Nazi concentration camp as a Jewish prisoner, so he had many firsthand experiences he could draw on. He stumbled across a discovery early on when he saw that most of the prisoners that lasted had some reason to live. Some of them had hopes of seeing a loved one after the war. Others believed in a religion of some sort. There were many other examples given. In every example, the prisoners with meaning in their life survived the longest or even made it out alive.

The second key point Victor discovered is that suffering in itself had no meaning. However, if someone had a reason to live, some loved one to see or goal to see through, then suffering did have meaning. After all, only if they survived, pushed through all their suffering, could they see their loved one or reach their goal. Victor Frankl was very clear that people need meaning in their lives. Without meaning, they slowly dwindle until they die from lethargy or suicide.

If these two key points are believed, then the key question every person needs to answer is “What is the meaning of your life?”. For Catholics, the answer is, in short, to glorify God and sanctify souls. In simpler terms this is to love God and one another. From there it is easy to see why we bear our sufferings. We need to survive to continue loving God and one another. To give up is to discard the precious time God has given us to serve others. Catholics also believe that when we suffer we are sharing in the suffering of Christ. Sharing in this way mysteriously aids the salvation of others. Back to the key points though, without a belief in the Catholic faith, our suffering really would be meaningless. It is only through our faith, that we don’t despair over suffering (or at least try).

Man’s Search for Meaning was a pretty good book for me because I am suffering quite a bit these days. I have some hope of feeling better, but I still have to acknowledge that I may never get much better. I serve God through my prayer and by attending mass once a week. Since I can’t serve others much in person, I do my best to serve others through the Internet. These things give my life meaning, giving me the strength to bear my sufferings. I don’t always bear them happily, but I never give up living. I am not done with Man’s Search for Meaning. I would like to analyze it in more detail, maybe summarize the wisdom contained in the book on this website.