Neil Young wrote and performs a tune entitled Just Singing A Song Won’t Change the World. He makes a great point, doesn’t he? However, Neil himself also says, “Even so, I will keep on singing.”
I feel the same way about reading good books on Catholic faith.
Although just reading a book may not change the world in one shot, it may help change it one person at a time. That has been my experience, at least. Some believe that reading the Bible alone is enough. But I wouldn’t be a Catholic if I thought that was true.
I’ve been reading my friend John C.H. Wu’s book, Beyond East and West. John shares a lot in this 364-page autobiographical sketch. What follows is a little fragment from an essay written by Monsignor Frederick Charles Kolbe that John shares with his readers and which I will now share with you. Monsignor Kolbe, you have the floor.
From the essay, The Art of Life
The light that enlighteneth every man coming into this world must have shown with special strength into the souls of those who so earnestly felt after Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, which, whether they knew it or not, is God. And every human response to this Divine shining is of the nature of Faith.
“The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole earth,” and I cannot but think that it is with some degree of the virtue of faith helping their natural insight that such men as Buddha, and Plato reached their moral level. There is something very touching in these early efforts after perfection, and like all early art, they sometimes produce simple effects which are beyond our reach in these more conscious days.
My friend John adds, “what he says about Buddha and Plato applies also to Confucius and Mencius.” Then, I found this interesting fragment from the same essay in an old Catholic magazine known as The Month published in 1903,
People sometimes fancy some disorder of theirs has a spiritual cause, when it may be only medicine or rest that they need. A typical example of this is explained by one of George Eliot’s keen observations —all the more useful to us because she was not thinking of religion at all—namely, that a violent emotion is always likely to be followed by a dreamy disbelief in the reality of its cause. When after a season of special devotion we are unaccountably tormented by temptations against faith, it will spare us a good deal of worry if we recognize that our body is only undergoing a customary reaction.
Or this: when he is contrasting the careful self-examination and perfecting of individual actions which characterizes Catholicism, and the tendency of Protestant spirituality to deprecate these details as excessive.
In this art, Protestants are impressionists (see Monet’s Sunrise, 1872, above). They employ vague sweeps of color, and deprecate close inspection. But true Art demands infinite detail and submits to endless analysis. The highest painter reveals himself in the ravishing delicacy of his lightest touches, and the truest idealism is that which seizes upon infinite detail and suffuses it to an exquisite degree with the glory of God.
Two boats in the water: one fuzzy, one clear. Although I’m no expert in art, and I love French Impressionism, I know with certainty that painting this bottom portrait in such high detail required the level of skill and care that Monsignor Kolbe writes of in his description above.