A lesson in mercy

I’d never read The Merchant of Venice until tonight. And I do not have significant exposure to Shakespeare generally. In this Year of Mercy, I found the discussion of mercy and justice very profound. In Act IV, Scene 1, Portia, acting as the judge, is discussing with Shylock his insistence that Antonio pay a pound of flesh to repay his debt. She says (emphasis mine),

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Continue reading “A lesson in mercy”

Wing Tip (Sherry Boas)

What does a priest do when faced with several startling revelations, all at the time of his mother’s death? That is what awaits in this novel by local Phoenix author, Sherry Boas. The novel takes the reader through a short period in the life of Fr. Dante. After receiving a letter from his mother after her death, Fr. Dante realizes his true identity and seeks to foster a relationship with his real father. His mother, a virtuous woman from old money, comes alive as Fr. Dante narrates stories of her falling in love with a man named Mateo, a man Fr. Dante believed to be his father.

The backdrop of Fr. Dante’s upbringing was painted by Mateo’s example as a faithful father, and his mother Elina’s renouncing a life of luxury for a simple, loving home. Yet despite that seemingly solid foundation, Fr. Dante is rocked by the realization that his father is actually someone different. Once he finds out the identity of that person, he does everything he can to arrange a meeting and explain his story.

“And everything else will then turn out to be unimportant and inessential except this: Father, child, and love.”

Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), Radiation of Fatherhood

Fr. Dante’s story is, in a sense, the search for what Blessed John Paul the Great wrote so many years ago. Fr. Dante sought that love between father and child on a human level, but all the while seeking to reunite the Father and His lost child as the ultimate goal. Most of the book focuses on Fr. Dante’s attempt to reconcile his earthly father with his heavenly Father, with flashbacks to fill in the history in the interstices of the story.

In the end, the book is a welcome addition to the body of new Catholic fiction, even if it is a bit ostentatious in its Catholicism at points. While I prefer the more subtle Catholicism of a Waugh or Powers, the novel is not without its own virtues. I would recommend it to others, particularly those who may benefit from a story of reconciliation and redemption.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Wing Tip. The Catholic Company is the best resource for gifts for every Sacrament celebration, such as First Communion gifts and Baptism gifts, as well as a great selection of limited-time Year of Faith gifts and resources.

If Aristotle’s Kid Had an iPod (Conor Gallagher)

This is a book I wish I had written (Mr. Gallagher, like me, is a lawyer and has an MA in philosophy from Catholic University). The book was enjoyable to read, but it was also a wonderful introduction to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for common folks.

Despite the silly title, this book is a serious but approachable 30,000 foot explanation of virtue ethics to parents. Even those who have not read Aristotle before will be able to follow the clear archetypes Gallagher presents for the virtuous, strong-willed, weak-willed, and vicious man. While Gallagher does not offer the in-the-moment advice of typical parenting books–and he doesn’t pretend to. Rather, Gallagher offers parents a vision for what their child’s life could be like if he is trained in virtue.

Gallagher’s discussion of the virtue development process is quite good. For Aristotle, people are able to progress along the continuum from vice to virtue through repetition of virtuous actions. By performing a series of virtuous actions, one develops a particular habit, which after more such acts ripens into a virtuous character. As that process unfolds, one moves from the vicious end of the spectrum to the virtuous. And Gallagher’s book helps parents understand Aristotle’s conception of the person and how the application of his principles help one develop in virtue.

After explaining the underlying principles and the process of developing virtue, Gallagher walks the reader through the four cardinal virtues: prudence, fortitude, temperance, and courage. He quickly dispels the modern interpretation or understanding of these virtues in favor of the classical or Aristotelian understanding. As part of this explanation, and as a constant theme throughout the book, he explains that a key component to a child’s–or adult’s–development in any of these virtues is true friendship. True friends help us practice the virtues, and true friends lead us to virtue (just as we should lead them to virtue).

Gallagher explains how Aristotle’s model allows us to achieve happiness through growth in the virtues. And, perhaps more importantly, how your children can realize their full nature not only as rational animals, or social animals, but as virtuous human actors in the world. Obviously, Aristotle did not have the benefit of divine revelation, but his view of human nature is spot on. Later generations would take Aristotle to the next level, which may be a future project for Mr. Gallagher.

This book sets out to do what it says–to give parents a roadmap regarding how to raise virtuous children and to understand what they need to realize their potential. And Gallagher’s book does it through an enjoyable style and with helpful “Playlists” at the end of each chapter: a few salient take-home points from each chapter. Gallagher also provides an extensive glossary at the end, a parenting assessment test (a review of the points covered), some practical advice for implementing the virtues in your home, and notes on the chapters. All in all, this is a thorough explanation of a philosophy just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.

I recommend this book to any parent who is trying to figure out the “Why?” behind the “What?” of parenting. This book will not give you specific tools to use in parenting, but it will give you the vision for parenting, which may be more important in the end.