To Be Frank, Part 4, “From Pascal To The Mother of All Projects”

I left off last time with my friend Blaise Pascal throwing me something like a complete game shut-out and a no-hitter as well. Frankly, this guy was starting to get irritating. His immense knowledge of Scripture was the capper. The fact that he wasn’t even breaking a sweat was especially galling.

That’s because I thought I was really knowledgeable about the Bible. I had never read it cover-to-cover, but so what? Since I was old enough to remember, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, week-long Summer Bible Camp, and of course, actually reading it occasionally made me the “duty expert” on Scripture, compared to my wife anyway. The “cradle Catholic,” she was almost completely ignorant of the Bible.

When we got married, she had no idea what books were in the Bible (“I thought the Bible was the book”—sheesh!). The concepts of Old Testament and New Testament were not completely foreign to her, but hand her a Bible and it might as well have been a road map of Middle Earth written in runes. A map like that wouldn’t help her find her way from the Inland Empire to the San Fernando Valley. Everyone knows that Catholics are clueless about the Bible. Everyone I knew, that is.

And yet, Blaise Pascal knew the Bible, seemingly backwards and forwards. He was getting to be intolerable. Evidently he didn’t get the memo that I, the non-Catholic, was the “duty expert” on Scripture in my household. So I did the only thing I could do. I put his lousy unfinished book down and went to work on the staircase.

Have you ever pulled a stunt like that? I had, many times. “How dare you insult my superiority?!” That was my routine response, before I was Catholic anyway (and even today, I must still be vigilant). But I wasn’t a Catholic yet, so I just went to work out my frustrations on the stairs.

Ah, the stairs. My wife is laughing now! Took me a year to finish them. That fact alone should tell you everything you need to know about my marriage. It took one hour to remove the old carpet and about 300 days to figure out the next steps and generally hope I hadn’t made an irrevocable, not to mention expensive, error. Pray!

Here is the story in a nutshell: We bought an older home with wall-to-wall carpet. Having three young children who are outdoorsy types and one dog, this situation was not pretty—for the carpet, that is, which was light gray. Knowing that it rains a lot here in my new hometown, my wife and I knew that the carpet was not going to cut the mustard. Solution? Remove and replace with wood.

I learned a lot. One of the first things I learned was that rookies don’t build stairs. Too late! I embarked on a crash course in carpentry. I had to order a few books on stairs, and as I worked, I gained a healthy, new found admiration for the skills of a good carpenter.

Our Lord and Savior is a carpenter too, in addition to being the Word made Flesh and Maker of All Things Seen And Unseen. He was born into a family business run by St. Joseph. And Joseph didn’t dally in carpentry either. It was his vocation, it put food on the Holy Family’s table. As I worked, I thought if this was my career, I’d probably starve.

During lunch breaks and such, I returned to the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books for inspiration and came upon the next jewel in this collection: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. I thought to myself, Now that is a bold title! What an understatement.

Running away from Blaise Pascal, I was leaving the frying pan and heading straight for the fire. Reading the introductory note to The Imitation, I learned the following:

With the exception of the Bible, no Christian writing has had so wide a vogue or so sustained a popularity as this. And yet, in one sense, it is hardly an original work at all. Its structure it owes largely to the writings of the medieval mystics, and its ideas and phrases are a mosaic from the Bible and the Fathers of the Early Church. But these elements are interwoven with such delicate skill and a religious feeling at once so ardent and so sound, that it promises to remain what it has been for five hundred years, the supreme call and guide to spiritual aspiration.

Let me get this straight. This is the second most popular book in the world and I had never even heard of it? What planet had I been on! All of this time, I had thought that only the stairs needed renovating, when in fact I was the one in need of time in the dry-dock.

Next time: The Imitation of Christ (and my almost finished staircase).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    This is priceless, Frank.At one time, it never occurred to me that a Catholic had ever written anything (worth reading). And this, after years of browsing Christian book stores…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    pennyak: This is Chesterton from Chapter 1 of Orthodoxy but it could easily be a description of me LOL."For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me. I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last.It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    Yes, I enjoyed that bit of Orthodoxy also. It took the Internet to show me that people have been discovering this treasure for a long, long time.I so seriously thought I was some kind of pioneer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14664864341946607447 Terry Fenwick

    This was brief but I can tell you a short story – For Christmas I had asked for my own copy of the brand new 1952 RSV – fresh off the press – both Old and New Testament – what a JOY. It was suppose to be easier to read than the KJV – and it was and still is. And then a few years later, 1959, in fact, the night before my first husband died, our doctor – John McHugh, a nice Catholic boy – had asked me to come by his home after I left the hospital. He had something for me – The Imitation of Christ. Although I was churched – a nice Lutheran girl – I knew nothing much – but that night, I crawled into a bed in a neighbor's home – with The Imitation of Christ. I read little of it but I did read the wonderful selection I needed that night. It was life saving for me. The next day I was with my husband in a room that filled with amber light – he said he saw them coming for him and he was not afraid. It was a thrilling time for me, too. You hit me with the 2 most important books in my life – until the Catholic Catechism! Thanks again for this very short selection that brought back huge memories of how God is always at work with His people.

  • Terry Fenwick

    Read again today and laughed hysterically at this line in your story . . . “Guess how that turned out? From the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books I picked up cheap at a library fundraiser, I met the apologetic works of Blaise Pascal, and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. Then I read The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton. Coupled with a minor miracle, or two, I felt called to join the Church and hustled into the RCIA program in the Fall of 2007.” I love you, Frank! Wonderful. So great to be your friend . . .


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