Archive for June, 2005

People Who Can Do Things

Physical things–fixing, building, etc. I’m not one of them.

Maclin Horton

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The other day I saw the cover of the current issue of the bourgeois
magazine GQ. There, smiling in all her blonde glory, was Jessica
Simpson. She was wearing camouflage army pants, if "wearing" is the right word:
they were unzipped and pulled down below her hips. Around her neck was a set of
military dog tags. The only other thing she was wearing was a tiny bikini made
from an American flag. She was holding up two fingers in a "V" shape, which in
this instance I assume stands for "victory" rather than "peace". The caption on
the cover read, blasphemously, "God, this is a Great Country: 75 Reasons to Love
America." I didn’t open the magazine, but I suspect most of the 75 reasons could
be left intact, the word "hate" substituted for "love" and fit right in posted
on a militant jihadist website. Indeed, my reaction was the same one I had
shortly after September 11, when Michail Jackson, Madonna, and Kid Rock all
appeared in concerts, literally wrapped in the flag: No wonder they hate

By chance, on the same day there was a story in the news about the American
House of Representatives, which had just passed a constitutional amendment
against the desecration of the American flag.

Now if this amendment goes on to pass the Senate, it will not result in the
arrest of Ms Simpson nor the editors of GQ; no, they will arrest anyone
who burns a flag in protest against whatever American policy the demonstrator is
objecting to.

The very etymology of the word "desecrate" indicates that only something
that is sacred can be desecrated. There are many flags that could be considered
sacred, as they incorporate sacred symbols: the cross of St. George on England’s
ancient flag, the cross of St. Andrew on Scotland’s. the crosses that are the
symbols of many other nations, from Greece to Sweden to Fiji. The ancient
French flag has the fleur de lis, symbol of the virginity of the Mother
of God. But there is nothing inherently sacred about the five-pointed star,
which is if anything an occult symbol, or about red and white stripes.

Well, then the earnest patriot will reply, it is the sacredness of the
ideas and principles which the flag represents which renders it a sacred

Oh, really? A democratic republic may be a perfectly acceptable form of
government, better than  most, but it is hardly a matter of divinely revealed
truth. It does not come to us from the words of Christ, from Scripture or
Tradition. It is a human construct.

Chesterton famously said that America was a nation with the soul of a
church, and certain American writers have seized on this statement, but what
Chesterton meant was not that America was inherently virtuous, but that it is
uniquely founded on a creed, a set of principles. These principles are not for
the most part bad ones, insofar as they go, but if America is a religion it is a
false religion.

Those familiar with my writing know that I am hardly a flag-waving
Americanist. I have long argued against a sanguine interpretation of America’s
founding principles and history, and have certainly argued against any messianic
illusions about America’s  destiny. Indeed, I have been accused of being
anti-American. The charge is not true; it’s just that the thread of American
thought with which I have the most affinity- let us call it Jeffersonian
distributist populism- is hardly in the ascendancy.

But I was taught respect for the flag as a child. I don’t fly the flag
today, as I don’t want to be mistaken for a supporter of jingoistic centralized
imperialism -the thread of American thought which is in the
ascendancy-  but I have long been repelled by the lack of respect shown the flag
in modern America, which is a sort of subspecies of the decline of American
etiquette in general.

I am old enough to remember the uproar when the 60s radical Abbie Hoffmann,
God rest his soul, wore a shirt made from the flag. All that seems long ago and
far away, in this age of  flag hats, flag jackets, flag underwear, flag
handkerchiefs, and flags the size of football fields flying over automotive
superstores. The flag these days is often left out in the rain and allowed to
become frayed and tattered. For all my qualms about the American Thing, I teach
my children more respect than that.

There is a certain absurdity in outlawing the destruction, in protest, of
something which symbolizes, among other things, freedom of speech and
expression. It is odd that people who think nothing of sitting on the flag [flag
underwear] or blowing their noses on the flag [flag kerchiefs] would be outraged
about someone burning the flag. At least the flag-burner recognizes that the
flag stands for something. In his estimation it may stand for something that is
flawed or has been betrayed and must be burnt in outrage, but this is more an
act of respect than Ms Simpson’s bikini.

The flag amendment is yet another example of the politics of stupidity, the
substitution of sentiment for substance, a distracting sideshow of fireworks and
whistles, while freedom is further eroded in the name of patriotism.

and while I’m at it:


On the same day that I saw the magazine cover with Ms Simpson, there was
another story in the paper. The Supreme Court had expanded the rules of eminent
domain to allow governments to confiscate private property to allow private

This is a stunning attack on the rights of the individual and expansion of
the power of corporations.

Critics on the Right were quick to label it "Marxist," in light of the
government’s new power, but this is not quite accurate. There is a term which
more precisely fits: fascist.

The word "fascist," of course is vastly overused, or more exactly, misused.
It has come to mean "bad guy". However, it does still have meaning. Mussolini once said that fascism should properly be called "corporatism" as it
represented the convergence of the interests of the state and the corporation.
It is this same convergence we see in the Court’s ruling. Let us call it what it
is, and hope that an outcry that transcends the Right/Left paradigm will quickly
undo the harm it has done.

Daniel Nichols

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The Swift Collapse

Among many interesting threads in progress over at Amy Wellborn’s blog is this one , which concerns the speed with which catechetics (among other things) fell apart after Vatican II. Rather than go off-topic on that thread, I thought I’d say here that I’ve long been astonished at how quickly many institutions fell apart or experienced a near-total loss of confidence around the same time.

I entered my teens in the early ’60s, in a world that was still basically that of the ’50s, and by the time I turned 22 in 1970 it had turned upside down. I think in particular of social and sexual life in colleges. When I was a freshman in 1966 the girls were locked up (literally) at night and it was extremely difficult, and a major violation of the rules, for either sex to get past the first-floor lobby of the dorms of the opposite sex. By 1971 or so all that had just been swept away and the dorms were for drugs and sex.

It was as if the young revolutionaries only had to blow at the structures of traditional mores and they just collapsed. I conclude that the people running the show did not really believe in what they were doing, since they abandoned their posts at the first sign of attack.

I think the problems of the Church were part of a greater psychological crisis in Western culture, and that in turn was an effect of the spiritual crisis. Part of it, I guess, was a needed sense of cultural self-examination, the confrontation of collective wrongdoing such as racial oppression. But clearly that self-examination lost all sense of proportion.

Another thread at Amy’s has this great quote from the Pope (Benedict): "The West reveals . . . a hatred of itself, which is strange and can
only be considered pathological; the West . . . no longer loves itself;
in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and
destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and

I believe one reason for this is that so many people–we, the masses–perceived on some inarticulate level that those great and pure things had ceased to animate the culture as a whole. Freedom, higher material standards of living, and all those things are wonderful in their place, but they will never suffice to make a culture cohere. Indeed, they militate against it, if they usurp the place of religion–especially in a culture that once had a faith. "And the last state of that man will be worse than the first…"

Maclin Horton

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A Ride Through Covington

Covington, Louisiana: where Walker Percy lived for many years.

Maclin Horton

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Note: Judy Bratten was a sometime contributor to Caelum et Terra, and hosted the
first of our summer Gatherings at her farm in eastern Ohio. She is a wife and
mother to three grown children and is the director of historic Ft Steuben in
Steubenville Ohio.

Okay, this is better than the chain letters and "send this back or you will have bad luck" and attachments that take 15 clicks to open. (As a rule, I delete them without opening.) This is making me think about something other than Iraq, my children’s crazy decisions, lack of rain in the garden, and the politics at work: so here goes:

The number of books we own: Including my cookbooks (I’m a sucker for new recipes) and garden/handcraft books, I’d guess we have anywhere from 1500-2000. My daughters made us get rid of some of our Protestant charismatic books and I threw out the "end of the world’ books, and
we then had room for all the classics that the kids had collected as part of the Great Books/Honors program at FUS.

Last book I bought: Measuring America
by Andro Linklater (a fascinating account of how the invention of the Gunter Chain- a surveying device- determined the development of the US; related to my job as Director of Fort Steuben- an 18th century fort built to protect the surveyors of the Northwest Territoy; y’all come by and visit!)

Last book I read: Uh-oh; the secret is out. I relax with detective stories, usually the old ones (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Chesterton) and this one was loaned to me by a friend: Murder in the East Room by Elliott Roosevelt. Actually, it is hard for me to read a book these days; magazines are more in keeping with my lifestyle but I’ve had to cut back on those, too. My favorite: Greenprints.

Books I am reading now: All my life I have had a book in each room to pick up and read; I now have a stack by my armchair. Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters, God in the Dock (Essays by CS Lewis) edited by Walter Hooper, That Dark and Bloody
by Allan Eckert

Books that were important to me: Now this is really hard. I will probably think of more later, but what comes to mind now are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (helped me learn to see the world from a new perspective); Deliver
Us from Evil
(I don’t remember the author- but it opened my mind to existence of evil as personified in the devil and thus prepared me to understand salvation and the need for a Savior); several books by CS Lewis which I read over periodically: The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, The Last Battle, That Hideous Strength; the Bible, various translations; If by Amy Charmichael; and the lives of the Saints – they were most instrumental in my conversion.

Five people I have tagged: Regina Schmiedicke, Ben Wiker, Bill Powell, Jim Gaston, Helen Valois.

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Part 3 of 3  [click here to read Part 1 ]

I didn’t trust this Pope. He was too charismatic, too attractive. The media was enthralled, never a good sign. Wasn’t the Antichrist supposed to be the darling of the World? Even Debbie’s reasons for wanting to see the Pope had more to do with his superstar status than anything else.

When we got off the Metro a few blocks from the Mall it was quickly apparent that I had left the Evangelical subculture I had immersed myself in and had entered a different, very Catholic, world, one familiar from my childhood but rendered strange by my long absence. All around me people were praying the rosary (I learned later that it was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) and statues of Mary and crucifixes abounded. Buzzwords like "vain repetition" and "Mariolatry" and "graven images" ran through my head. There were also vendors everywhere selling cheap papal souvenirs, adding to my growing distaste.

One of them caught my eye. Something didn’t seem quite right about him, something about the hair sticking out from under his hat. Looking closely, I saw the telltale wooden beads, like a choker, around his neck: he was a Hare Krishna devotee, in disguise, bewigged and in plainclothes, fleecing the

Now, I had never gotten on well with "Krishnas", the sole exception being Paramahansa,  whom we called Ben, who shoed our horses when I lived in a commune
near the Krishna settlement of New Vrindavan in West Virginia some years before. He was a nice, easygoing guy, but I had always found the rest of them to be a nasty lot prone to being offensive in argument. I won’t go into the details of my confrontation with the guy, but I will tell you it ended with me becoming so angry over a crude remark he made about Debbie that I had my fist drawn back to
punch him, before coming to my senses.

This was totally humiliating. I had been  a pacifist for years, since early adolescence with one short lapse into a more revolutionary attitude, and I had just come within an inch of committing a violent act.

I felt horrible about myself, horrible about all the Catholic stuff going on around us, and horrible about being there. I really wasn’t ready for this.

Then the Mass began.

We were on the outer edge of a crowd of perhaps a couple of hundred thousand people. Pope John Paul II, who was either the Vicar of Christ or the Antichrist, was a distant figure in a green chasuble.

I was familiar with the Mass, of course, and had recently become reacquainted with it by listening to John Michael Talbot’s album The Lord’s Supper, which is Talbot’s rendition of the texts of the Liturgy.

I was listening, in a critical mode, in my misery, to the words of the prayers, and to the readings of the day. Nothing wrong with any of this, I thought glumly.

Then the Pope began his homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, he began.

Delivered in his robust and thickly accented voice, this sounded more like a proclamation or a challenge than a greeting. This invocation of the name of Jesus Christ alerted me with its evangelical directness; he had my attention now.

In His dialogue with his listeners, Jesus was faced one day with an attempt by some Pharisees to get Him to endorse their current views regarding the nature of marriage. Jesus answered by reaffirming the teaching of Scripture: "At the beginning of creation God made them male and female; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one. They are no longer two but one in flesh. Therefore let no man separate what God has

My ears perked up. He is addressing a crowd of modern Americans and he’s going to preach against divorce?!

There was more:

I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life- from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages- is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God…If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment of in which he is first
conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order.

He went on.

The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort, and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.

Whoa. He was talking like this to modern Americans?  Didn’t St Paul say something about false prophets in the last days tickling the ears of their listeners? But this man, with his strong voice, was tickling no one’s ears. "Pleasure, comfort and independence" pretty much summed up American idolatry.

I listened incredulously as he affirmed again the indissolubility of marriage and affirmed Catholic teaching against contraception, especially denouncing the limiting of family size out of love of comfort and material affluence. He said that children are more enriched by brothers and sisters than
by material goods.

He built up to a sort of crescendo, a prophetic litany of sorts:

And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened.

When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no on ever has the authority to destroy unborn life.

When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift, with a right to a loving and united family.

When the institution of marriage is abandoned to human selfishness or reduced to a temporary, conditional  arrangement that can be easily terminated, we will stand up and affirm the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

When the value of the family is threatened because of social and economic pressures, we will stand up and reaffirm that the family is necessary not only for the private good of every person, but also for the common good of every society, nation and state.

When freedom is used to dominate the weak, to squander natural resources and energy, and to deny basic necessities to people, we will stand up and reaffirm the demands of justice and social love.

I stood there like a man rudely awakened, a man transfixed. Surely the Antichrist would not speak like this. This man spoke with authority, and in my heart of hearts there was a sense of recognition. I knew by Whose authority he spoke.

Debbie eyed me nervously.

My mind raced to the logical conclusion: If John Paul is the Vicar of Christ, then the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ, and I had to be united with it. The way to do that, I knew, was sacramental Confession.

I argued back that I wasn’t ready for this, but the conclusion was inevitable. I recognized the feeling of being compelled by the Holy Spirit, a sort of tightening fire around the heart.

I responded with a challenge.

I hadn’t seen a priest all day; they were up around the altar, by the hundreds, to distribute communion to this vast crowd (American-style lay eucharistic ministers were not allowed at papal Masses). Okay, If You want me to do this you have to find me a priest. I cautiously looked over my shoulder. There, a few yards deep in the crowd, was a guy with a Roman

"I’ll be right back," I said to Debbie, who now looked thoroughly alarmed.

I walked up to him.

"Are you a Catholic priest?" I asked.

"No, I am a seminarian. Do you want to talk to a priest?"

There was my way out; God had failed to find me a priest. The seminarian was staring at me, and I had the distinct feeling that he was praying for me.

"All right," I heard myself saying.

He disappeared into the crowd and re-emerged a moment later with my priest in tow. I saw immediately why I hadn’t spotted him: he was tiny, a Vietnamese guy, about five feet tall.

"Yes?" he said.

"Father, I need to go to confession".


"Well," I began, "it has been about twelve years since my last confession"
and I went on to broadly list my sins, "a lot" of this, "frequent" that.

When I was done he gave some brief words of advice and encouragement, then said "for your penance say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys."

Wow, I thought, all that sinning and all I got was three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys? Man, is God merciful!

I walked back to Debbie and told her what I had just done. Now she looked bewildered instead of alarmed.

For the rest of the Mass I was caught up in the Liturgy, and received my first valid Eucharist in a long time, consecrated by the Pope.

So. Now I was a Catholic once again. I still had a lot of work to do, doctrines to wrestle with, friends, now hostile, to answer to, but it all was done in light of the conviction I experienced that afternoon on the Mall, the conviction that the man John Paul, whom I would soon come to call John Paul the
Great, was the Vicar of Christ, the successor to St Peter.

Debbie and I would break up the next spring, over issues that had nothing to do with my return to the Church. Indeed, she soon entered the Church on her own and we remained friends for years.

I shortly discovered that once within the Church my journey had just begun, for the Catholic Church is rich in possibilities and a variety of spiritual paths within the One Way that is Christ.

Eventually I was brought to Byzantine worship and the painting of icons, which perfectly integrates my artistic and spiritual yearnings.

Through it all a love for John Paul has sustained me.

His death, rather than an experience of loss, has for me been one more of enrichment. This man, John Paul, whom I have long known and loved, now knows and loves me. He seems more my shepherd than ever.

Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us.

Daniel Nichols

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Distracted from Distraction by Distraction

Sorry, no time to explain.

Maclin Horton

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Part 2 of 3 [click here to read Part 1]

But things eventually soured. For one thing, three or four of us went out every day to work, renovating houses, repairing tobacco barns, painting and building. The rest–another three or four–were supposed to remain behind, repairing our rundown house in lieu of rent, keeping our large garden weeded, and preparing dinner.

In fact we who worked often returned to an overgrown garden, an unrenovated house, and an uncooked supper. We were unimpressed by our friends’ testimonies of fruitful Bible studies and prayer times. And we were mightily unimpressed by their long drawn out blessings–more like little prayer meetings, actually–when the food finally found its way to the table. The hardworking tend to favor short

And the community, so united just a few months before, was starting to slowly unravel in other ways.

Mark, the leader of our little work crew, the one who wrote the checks, had recently been confirmed in the local Episcopal church. The pastor was an Evangelical and the parish–like most in that neck of the woods–was theologically Low Church, albeit with a dignified liturgical worship. It was sort of on the high end of the Low Church spectrum.

And I had started reading The Little Flowers of St Francis.

Among other things, the Shepherd’s House had sponsored Christian music concerts. Besides the incredible guitarist Phil Keaggy and the hard rock Resurrection Band, we had featured John Michael Talbot. He had been a minor rock star with the country rock band Mason Profitt, then the ultimate Jesus hippie folk rocker, and then had entered the Catholic Church and joined the Franciscan
Third Order.

At the time I had met him he was wearing a homemade Franciscan habit, professing celibacy, and preaching a simple Gospel message.

I had been pretty impressed with him, and he had awakened certain Catholic memories and impulses in me. So I had picked up a used copy of The Little Flowers at a book sale and was reading it with a growing sense of wonder, and a growing attraction for the kind of mystical prayer the book described.

However, most of the young Christians in our house were heading in very different directions than Mark or me. They had started attending informal prayer meetings at the home of Betty Bassett, a Pentecostal woman whom I was assured was "really anointed." From what I could glean, she was into the same "name it and claim it" prosperity theology as the televangelists  I had gotten in so much trouble for criticizing back in Michigan.

Still, wanting to keep an open mind, I went to one of her prayer meetings. There was a lot of "binding Satan" and claiming this or that blessing in the name of Jesus and the participants seemed to be under the impression that the efficacy of their prayer was directly related to the volume of their voices. After about fifteen minutes I could handle it no longer, and quietly got up and
went outside. There, in the silent darkness, I prayed.

On the way home, my friends talked excitedly about their experience at Mrs. Bassett’s. One of them said "Man, the Holy Spirit really moved once the unbelief left the room."

It wasn’t quite an attempted exorcism, but it was insult enough.

And it got me thinking. If my friends and I, reading the same Bible, were reaching such radically different conclusions about the ramifications of the Gospel perhaps there was something wrong in our fundamental assumptions.

I had gone to Catholic schools, in the years before and during Vatican II. The disorienting post-conciliar times happened during my public high school days. I remember my CCD teachers seemed to be looking to us, to Youth, for answers. It seemed that the Church and I were going through adolescence together, and the effect was a loss of confidence on my part.

However, back at St Agnes Elementary School, the Sisters of St. Joseph had taught us from the Baltimore Catechism. The Catechism has its often glaring faults: bad religious imagery, a certain dryness, and the tendency to identify a particular, very Roman devotional and theological style with the True Faith. However, it did communicate certain doctrinal truths in a way that stuck with you.

Thus I had the advantage, in this emerging religiuos dilemma, of at least knowing that the Catholic Church taught that She was the one who determined true doctrine and that ultimately this doctrinal authority rested in the Pope, who was the successor to St. Peter, who was the Rock on whom Christ had built His Church.

Reading of St. Francis, and witnessing my friends veering off into lunacy and heresy, this was starting to look like a feasible theory. On the other hand, I had been immersed in Protestant biblical interpretation for a few years, back before there was much in the way of Catholic response.

Not that I was ever anything but a very eclectic Protestant (indeed I would not have used the word to describe myself). I believed, for example, in purgatory because it seemed evident to me that if I died my immediate response would be burning shame at my sins. And I believed in the Real Presence in the
Eucharist simply because it was so clearly stated in Scripture.

On the other hand, I had been exposed to Protestant denunciations, based on Scripture texts, of everything from calling priests "Father" to praying the rosary to the use of images in worship. And I had been exposed to interpretations of the Book of Revelation in which the Pope was either the
Antichrist or his False Prophet and the Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon. I didn’t necessarily buy this, but it created an abiding suspicion in me.

I realized that I was approaching the sort of crisis I had faced a few years before, when my attempts to fit Christ into a syncretistic universal religion ran up against the Christ I encountered reading the Gospels: He just didn’t fit. Eventually it became clear, reading C. S. Lewis, that based on what
Christ had said that either He was insane [or worse] or an imposter or that He was what He said He was, the Only Way to the Father.

Similarily, it was rapidly becoming evident that the Catholic Church was not just another denomination, that in making the claims that it made, it was either the True Church or a demonic Imposter. And the Pope, with his claims, had either to be the Vicar of Christ or the Antichrist.

I had put off facing the decision about Christ as long as I could, until He was breathing down my neck, and I probably would have done the same with the decision about the Church, anxiously but leisurely tackling one doctrine at a time, until I had figured it out, with God’s help.

But then my path was detoured by Debbie’s stubborn insistence that we go downtown and see the Pope.

[click here to read Part 3]

Daniel Nichols

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Total number of books I own:  Around 1500.  (This does not include my wife’s books).

Last book I bought (for myself):  Really can’t say.  We hardly ever buy new books anymore, but go to used book sales often.  But I’ve been trying to buy fewer books and read more of them and also am running out of space for books.

Last book read:
  Rupert Ederer’s translation of Heinrich Pesch’s Lehrbuch de Nationalokonomie, vol. 4, part 2.  I’m working my way through all ten volumes and have two more to go.

Books I’m reading right now: 

  • Christopher Dawson, Dynamics of World History
  • Thomas Aquinas,  On Being and Essence
  • Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Work and Human Fulfillment (I’m reading this for a book review.)
  • Otto Ogiermann, Biz Zum Letzten Atemzug.  Biography of Msgr. Bernhard Lichtenberg, a Berlin priest killed by the Nazis.  Msrg. Lichtenberg had prayed publicly for Jews and concentration camp prisoners.
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
  • George Bernanos, Joan, Heretic and Saint.
  • Catechismus Romanus (i.e. Catechism of the Council of Trent).  In Latin
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae.  In Latin.

Books important to me:  Richard Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.  I read this in high school and it opened a new world to me, the anti-capitalist critique of Catholicism.

  • Several works by C.S. Lewis, read while in high school, but I really can’t say one was more important than another.  They include The Abolition of Man, Screwtape Letters, That Hideous Strength.
  • Ronald Knox, The Belief of Catholics.  I also read this in high school, and it had a lot to do with forming my basic way of thinking about faith and the evidences for the Catholic faith.
  • Liturgy and Worship – a book whose author or editor I forget, but it gives a high church Anglican outlook on Christianity.  I read it in high school and it helped save me from the "bible only" type of Christianity.
  • Aristotle, Ethics and the New Testament.  I remember realizing when a senior in college, that both Aristotle and the New Testament were saying the same thing (in this regard), We must not simply be good, we must become good.

People I’ve tagged:
  Inez Storck.  Gabriel Storck

Thomas Storck

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Call Me Shiftlet 

“Oh Lord, break forth and wash the slime from
this earth!”

Maclin Horton

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