Tag: James Schall

Stop Being So Serious: Ten Hints

Shortly before he was martyred with others in 203, St. Saturus related a vision he had of heaven. He said he and the other martyrs were carried eastward to a garden, where a handful of angels started exclaiming, “Here they are! Here they are!” The martyrs were taken to a group of elders and an aged man with a youthful face. The martyrs kissed the aged man, and he touched their faces with his hand. Then the elders told them, “Go and play.”

Fr. James Schall understood why the martyrs were told to go and play.

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs explores the unseriousness of serious human affairs and the seriousness of unserious human affairs. Yes, it is a paradoxical book, but that’s only to be expected from Schall — a devoted reader of G.K. Chesterton.


Schall’s book is a series of loosely-connected essays that revolve around a very basic question: How ought we to live our lives? He never tries to offer an answer to such a question, but he provides guidance in an array of areas, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing.” To these, I would add Writing and Receiving Letters, Watching Sporting Events, and Spending Time With Friends.… Read the rest

Twenty 20th-Century Books to Make You a Smarter Catholic

(Actually, there are 33, if you count the honorable mentions)
blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Joseph Epstein is the best essayist alive. He’s urbane, funny, self-deprecating. He’s a fine stylist, and he’s remarkably well-read.

I remember William F. Buckley marveling at Epstein’s erudition and wondering how Epstein could have so many anecdotes and references at his disposal. Coming from a guy of Buckley’s learning, that’s high praise.

So it was with great interest that I turned to his essay, “Joseph Epstein’s Lifetime Reading Plan” (found in this book) and his attempt to respond to a recent college graduate’s question: “What books should I read?” This question, Epstein said, was nothing less than asking, “How do I become an educated person?”

Epstein used the question to launch his essay, but he didn’t provide a list of books. He suggested that a person always have a classic going: Cervantes, Tocqueville, Montaigne, Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Plato. That’s thumpingly good advice, especially for someone like Epstein (and me), who always has two or more books going at once. It keeps one’s reading life varied.

But what about a list? Epstein said there is no dispositive list, and he’s right. The canon of Western civilization alone is neither settled nor static, there isn’t enough time to read everything in one lifetime, and everyone’s situation is different.

One list won’t fit all.

Still, I think a list is possible.

Mine is below.

The list doesn’t include any classics (Epstein’s advice to keep a classic going at all times stands) and it ignores the Bible (which should be a mainstay if you’re Catholic). Every book was published after 1900.

Although the list is geared toward young men and women, maturer adults would also benefit from them as well.

I won’t argue … Read the rest

Ten Totally Impractical Observations about Life that You Need to Hear

Shortly before he was martyred with others in 203 AD, St. Saturus related a vision he had of heaven. He said he and the other martyrs were carried eastward to a garden, where a handful of angels started exclaiming, “Here they are! Here they are!

The martyrs were taken to a group of elders and an aged man with a youthful face. The martyrs kissed the aged man, and he touched their faces with his hand. Then the elders told them, “Go and play.”

Fr. James Schall understood why the martyrs were told to go and play.

In his book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, Schall explored the unseriousness of serious human affairs and the seriousness of unserious human affairs.

Yes, it is a paradoxical book, but that’s only to be expected from Schall—he was a devoted fan of G.K. Chesterton, the master of paradox.

The book is basically a series of loosely-connected essays that revolve around a very basic question: How ought we to live our lives?

The book never offers an answer to the question, but it provides guidance in an array of areas, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing.”

To these I would add Writing and Receiving Letters, Watching Sporting Events, and Spending Time With Friends.

It’s a book lightly-written, laced with references to Charlie Brown and other cartoons, but deceptively heavy. I found myself inclined—almost forced—to pause after every section and think about Schall’s words. He never belabored a point and often made statements without going forward and offering additional conclusions, but rather pointed to the truth and invited the reader to think about implications.

Consider Schall’s observation about wasting time.

Amusement, Schall said, might be the great and ultimate end of mankind. Amusement, after all, … Read the rest