Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 11, 2019 by Monsignor Patrick Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Monsignor began the sermon by reciting the Hail Mary.
I am continuing my series of sermons on the natural gifts proper to our nature, as opposed to Supernatural Gifts; and today I want to do the gift of reading. I’ve done the gift of sight where we talked a little bit about reading, but the gift of reading is distinct from the gift of sight. Not everybody who can see can read, and not everybody who reads has the gift of eyesight. So it is a distinct gift.
Because so many people in our day and age can read we don’t tend to see it as a gift but it is a gift. I don’t know about all my ancestors, but I know my mother’s father’s mother couldn’t read. They lived on a farm; the farm house was something to hear about. I never saw the house because it was gone by the time I was born but it was a wooden house in the middle of nowhere with no doors on it and chickens used to walk in and out of the house at will, dance on the kitchen table and stuff like that. But she couldn’t read. Maybe because of pride or embarrassment, she wanted people to think she could read so she would get hold of a newspaper and she would sit there looking at it, usually upside down my mother told me. (Monsignor laughing) So we take it for granted but it is a real gift.
In fact, in the time of my great grandmother and maybe even a little bit before (she was born in the later 1800s but towards the middle of the 1800s, so not even two hundred years ago). I have facts and figures here for you. Not even two hundred years ago, only 12% of the world could read. Now things have turned around a lot so that in our day and age only 17% of the world cannot read. Education has changed an awful lot in the world.
But it is a gift and should be regarded as such. Now think about this: when I say a gift, don’t be too abstract about it. Picture God giving you this gift! If you can read, God packaged this up with a beautiful bow on it and gave it to you with all the other gifts that He has given to you. It’s not just; Oh I have this gift, so what. Maybe we are so spoiled because my generation and on has everything given to us so we don’t appreciate gifts anyway. But this is a gift and as such you don’t just take a beautiful priceless gift and chuck it in the corner somewhere. You open the box, you take it, you admire it and you properly appreciate it and you figure out what to do with it. If you’re given something that’s very, very valuable and beautiful you don’t use it as a doorstop unless it’s a valuable beautiful doorstop, I guess. But you wouldn’t take something really priceless and use it as a door stop. You’d use it as it should be used.
As a gift and a gift of God we have to remember we will be called to account for how we used it. This is something we must always keep in mind. Remember the parable of the talents. God gave different gifts to different people, different amounts of money, and two of them made a turnaround and gave Him back equal to what He had given them plus another equal amount. And one of them buried the gift and of course he was the bad guy of the parable. This one spiritual writer in the last century, Father Bertram Wilberforce said, “Remember we shall be asked when we die why we read every page and line we have read”. You ever think about that? Why did we read every page and every line we have read? No wonder our judgment is going to take so long. For those of us who are readers we have a lot to explain.
Once we recognize our responsibility for the right use of this gift, then the choice of what to read comes in and it is varied. What we can read is varied. They say you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps, right? And that is so true. You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. The company we keep physically, means actually in the presence of somebody you can touch that’s there, not in virtual space, is fairly limited but thanks to books we can keep company with the noblest and best men that have lived in every age. Saints, humorists, philanthropists, soldiers, inventors, sailors, travelers, scientists – we can enter into the best company at will. But we have to recognize what the best company is and not be indiscriminate about it. Now of course we all kind of think, well the lives of the saints are at the top of the list, and they are in a way because when we read the lives of the saints we are inspired to sanctity, yes. But it isn’t the only thing you can read. The lives of the saints are edifying, we must read them, and we should read them. But you know sometimes when I read the lives of the saints – this is just me – but I feel like I’m reading the lives of maybe Michael Phelps, someone with all these Olympic golds hanging around his neck and I’m in a wheelchair, okay? Sometimes reading the lives of the saints are like that. You go, Okay, that’s just great, and it’s very inspiring but really? No way am I ever going to get there, levitating and all this kind of stuff, bilocating – much as I would like to and it would be very handy. So it isn’t the only thing we can read. But how could reading the lives of the saints not be edifying?
But the gift of reading hasn’t been given to us merely to read the lives of the saints. Fiction, for example, or true books just about anything in the world that there is or even some things that aren’t, like science fiction and this kind of thing – they can transport us to other places, provide relief to the tired worker, and in general just take us away from our day to day lives as a sort of holiday without going anywhere. They call it a stay-cation you know? Well, stay-cation with a book or several books. Think about that. When you get into reading your mind leaves and can go anywhere and be with anybody. It’s beautiful. And how many beautiful books are there out there?
You have to be careful about what you read of course, but there are many, many good books and they’re not all on religion. Not that I’m discouraging religious books. If you want to only read religious books, lives of the saints, et cetera, Amen Alleluia, okay? Do it. I’m not discouraging that. I’m just saying it’s not a sin to read or even prefer from time to time something else. I grew up reading, literally grew up reading because I started reading when I was two and a half, so you can imagine how much stuff I read. I never was without a book. I’m still never without a book. My dad would recommend these good books that he liked when he was little, King Solomon’s Mines and these things; wonderful, wonderful totally fiction, but it takes your mind on these adventures and also improves you in many ways. The Hardy Boys, at least the old Hardy Boys books before the social justice warriors got hold of them and this kind of thing. (Monsignor laughing) I won’t even go into that.
But there were many, many good books – true books like Captain Joshua Slocum’s book about sailing alone around the world; the first man ever to just get into a sailboat and go by himself around the world, all the adventures he had. You learn about these amazing people. Joshua Slocum by the way who wrote the book – it’s a good read, still in print – but a very, very good read. He was just amazing. He lifts you up for example to show you how amazing you can be as a human being that we don’t think about. Somebody gave him an old oyster fishing vessel that was sitting in a field. They used to haul them out to fields, put them out on a block and then they’d maybe be forgotten forever. He personally went out there and replaced the whole keel. He cut down oak trees that were in the field; he cured the wood, he steam bent it. He made a steam bender to bend the wood. He put the whole thing back together, made a new mast for the thing, absolutely incredible. So these kinds of very good books can transport you to other places and they are truly a good use of the gift of reading, but you have to be careful.
Some books that present themselves one way are actually something else. For example, the romance novels. I’d rather die than read a romance novel but I know girls like those. Okay, if it’s one of those differences in the sexes thing but think about it. Some of these so called romance novels are really kind of thinly veiled catalogs of sins against the sixth commandment that you are merely committing vicariously by reading the stupid things. So you do have to be careful what you read. I know this is the gift of sight but it’s like movies. Don’t think just because it’s old that it’s pure. A lot of people go, well, I just watch these older movies. Yeah but they had different rules in Hollywood. You couldn’t show certain things in movies; you couldn’t say them directly. But when you look at them with the mind of an adult now there’s thinly veiled junk in these movies. There are sexual innuendos and comments and situations that they couldn’t say outright but you know what they’re talking about and what’s going on. So something old isn’t necessarily something good either. Just be careful what you read but there are so many good books out there.
The ultimate example of something bad disguised as something good is when I was younger I used to run group homes for delinquents basically; guys who had gotten out of juvenile hall and couldn’t go back to their parents because they were so bad. So we had a program for them and they would be given at their school these comic books called Chick Comics. Now Chick Comics were funded and made by the owner of Tony Lama’s Boots so never buy any of his filthy boots – may he rot with his boots. But these were all specifically anti-Catholic comic books that would show, oh, it’s a nice comic book but they were all violently anti-Catholic. They talked about the nuns with the underground tunnels, sucking the blood of children and this is what nuns did – the priests turned into bats or something at night and flew around. All this kind of horrible, horrible anti-Catholic stuff but it looked like a comic book and they would say, oh, we got these free comic books, right? Filthy, filthy stuff. Anyway, the ultimate example of that.
Sometimes our pride says, oh, I could read that, I can handle it. I’m three times six or seven – whatever the minimum is these days. But it doesn’t make any sense. Oh, I don’t believe it – I want to read books about what the opposition has to say but it won’t affect me. Well, think about it. Let’s take potassium cyanide, a very nice chemical, very nice for many things, used in the gas chamber for years. Successfully. It has its uses. Now you can take a little potassium cyanide, you can – it won’t kill you but is that any reason to push it? Oh, I’m trying to determine how much potassium cyanide I could have before I croak. Well your knowledge will increase, yes. However, everything else decreases including the connection between your body and soul which will at some point become nonexistent. So it’s hardly worth doing.
We have to be especially vigilant these days because – I have this thing with a lot of people who are new to the Traditional Catholic movement. Not everything that says Traditional Catholic is good. There is this filthy no good so and so Brother Michael Dimond who has Holy Family Monastery, absolute garbage, dangerous garbaggio, okay? But it says Oh, Traditional Catholic! Well, no, no, no, no, no –Sedevacantist tripe is not Traditional Catholic; it’s heresy, so you have to watch them.
Anyway, one other thing to watch for is reading either good or neutral stuff to excess at the expense of doing other things, the stuff you should be doing. For example – well, I think texting – texting incessantly is a gross misuse of the gift of reading. I’m not exaggerating, I’ll be driving around and a high school will be letting out and they’re all like this (Monsignor mimicking texting on cell phone). I mean they could be texting the person walking right next to them but they won’t talk to them. And I’m going, Oh, Lord, if I could just turn off all those things with the push of a button I would. So texting all day, all night, Instagram, Facebook, all the time, all the time, is a gross misuse of the gift of reading.
The love of reading is cultivated and it is cultivated by raising the standard of what you read but also the company who you keep, the real physical company you keep. Thank God, I was looking at my own past, and early on thankfully I fell in with a bunch of energetic practicing Catholics and we encouraged each other: have you read this or this? Look at this great book on the Faith. Look at that? Without which who knows if I would even be here today. You have to keep good company who likes to raise your level. My grandfather used to say, if you walk with a cripple long enough you begin to limp. And that is very, very true. If you keep bad company you will lower yourself to your bad friend rather than him raising himself up to you usually. So you have to be very vigilant.
My dear faithful, let us show our Creator our gratitude for the gift of reading by using it well and frequently. Show the young the wonderful paths of good reading and especially if it has been a while, rediscover that practice yourself by sitting down with a good book. One thing I just want to add: High schools, not our high school here thanks be to God – Padre Pio doesn’t do this kind of nonsense thanks be to God. But if you are about my age or thereabouts and you went to Catholic high school, the stuff that we had to read! I’d like to know, who said Hemingway was a good author? Absolute trash. When I found out that he killed himself, not only just killed himself but (he didn’t take potassium cyanide) he stuck a 12-guage shot gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe. Spectacular! But I was forced to read this kind of junk in high school. It’s no wonder he headed that way looking at what he wrote.
Steinbeck and all this other junk, The Grapes of Wrath, The Red Badge of Courage – who decided we should read this garbage? So just because you have it in high school in your English class doesn’t mean it’s any good either. Show the young the paths of good reading. Check out what they’re reading. Pick their books for them. Don’t let them text and Instagram and Facebook night and day. You’d be doing a disservice to them; but the gift of reading is a precious one which we need to appreciate.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.