ONE DOES NOT CONVERT WITH BOOKS

Marius Suzanne was writing a book on apologetics, entitled, “The Profession of Faith of a Priest of Provence.” Due to his illness it was never published. While not discouraging him, Eugene, a preacher at heart, was skeptical as to how many people who had given up the practice of their faith would be brought back through the written word of an unknown young author.

The work you have undertaken, even were it to become as perfect as you hope, will be read by few persons, should a printer happen to take it upon himself to print it; and how many will it bring back to the truth? Very few, infinitely few, almost none. All has been said, and short of being one of these rare men raised up by God, like a de Maistre or a Lamennais, one does not convert with books.
Those who have resisted the proofs of religion developed with so much talent by those who have gone before us and whereof, after all, the arguments are only being repeated, will resist with still more arrogance authors whom they regard at best as their equals, if they do not put them, in their minds, far beneath themselves. By this I do not want to say that you should not be writing: I only claim that you should be less hasty about it. A little sooner, a little later, one achieves soon enough the good that is to be done by such writings.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 25 August 1827, EO VII n 276

Thank goodness that since Eugene’s time, not everyone has heeded this advice, and many have been brought closer to God, or even come to the gift of faith, through the writings of many Oblates.

Alarmed by the energy that Father Suzanne was putting into his writing, Eugene’s aim was to calm him down, not to stifle him. Today as we reflect on these lines, I see an invitation to reflect on my own reading: is whatever I am reading leading me to a healthier quality of life?

 

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

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2 Responses to ONE DOES NOT CONVERT WITH BOOKS

  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    Discernment it seems must always be a part of life. Neither writing or reading is all bad or all good and so I found myself a little surprised reading Eugene’s words – from a man who wrote so prolifically. But I needed to go deeper than just the face of his words and Frank’s question invited me to do just that. I think of the many books that simply wasted my time, distracted me and even deadened me to certain ways of living and being. But not just books, television and the internet – they can too can be escapes from reality, or worse they can present and portray life in a way that is distorted; portray it to be true and the norm because so many people are doing or saying or writing it. If I watch certain TV new programs or read various magazines that are available I might come to the conclusion that life really is all about money and fame and perfect looks, and it’s okay to go after it all and abandon those around us in search of pleasure of all sorts – for me, myself and I.

    Over the years I have gradually found myself having to be more selective in what I took in and listened to. To choose carefully what I read, what I watch on TV, how and who I interact with on social media because all of these things can be windows and doorways to rich living as much as they can be gateways and paths to distraction, hiding and believing that “everybody” does it and so it is okay, believing that its “all about me and myself”. I am not a person of half-measures (am the ‘all or nothing’ type of person) and so I need to make sure that what consumes my time leads to a ‘healthier’ and balanced quality of life. Discernment.

  2. Ken Hart says:

    Still, often the act of writing something down functions to clarify and solidify one’s own beliefs. If writing is simply an act of hubris then better to refrain. However, in times of disability, writing may be a preparation for resuming the journey.

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