Books and Book Reviews: April 2008 Archives

The Last Secret of Fatima

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This book is credited to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who did contribute the majority of the content; however the person responsible for the questions, the layout, and the structure of the whole is a journalist by the name of Giuseppe de Carli who seems to have an unfortunate flair for the sensational. The book takes the form of a full-length interview with some supporting documentation at the end and a foreward by Pope Benedict XVI.

As an interview, the book has its ups and downs. There are unfortunate and sometimes meaningless digressions; the final 15% of the interview section has nothing whatsoever to do with the title of the book, and appears to be meaningless padding designed to form a "book-length" study; for those not intimately familiar with everyday events in Italy, there are meangingless, enigmatic and odd references to events that may or may not be related to the main theme--I somehow doubt that the death of Oriana Fallaci has a whole lot to do with the Fatima secrets.

There are times when de Carli, either legitimately, or out of a perverse sense of journalistic sensationalism forces the points of the so-called Fatimists, insisting at points the Sister Lucia's true revelations had been suppressed, or that there was a fourth secret, or that the final secret did not concern Pope John Paul II. Perhaps these are just meant to clear away the will 'o the wisps that seem to flicker around the edges of this phenomenon.

What the book highlighted for me is the source of my distaste for the entire Fatima phenomenon. As is so often the case, it isn't the veracity or likelihood of the events in Fatima in 1917, but the claims and exaggerations and distortions made by those most partisan to the Fatima visions.

What does come across in the book very nicely is a sense of Sister Lucia as a person. One feels that she was a lively, tart, impish character who took guff from no one and who shot straight from the hip. At one point in the interview we see this:

from The Last Secret of Fatima
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

After the Secret had been revealed, some people began to doubt the genuineness of the text. Lucia's Carmelite superior in Coimbra told her about this doubt: "They're saying that there's another secret." With a sigh, Lucia replied, "Well if they know what it is, then let them tell us. For my part, I don't know about any other secrets. Some people are never satisfied. Let's not pay them any mind."

A beautiful example of saintly saying-it-like-it-is.

The book does explore the last secret of Fatima. In addition, for those of us (like me) who knew virtually nothing about the Fatima event and aftermath, it sketches in the history and timeline of events. The revelation of the "secrets" of Fatima is a little odd, occurring as it does in 1941 and 1946; however, God works in His own ways and sometimes it takes time and courage to come forward with His truth.

One of the quiet gems of the book is a short theological commentary on the Fatima secrets and in particular the last secret by then Cardinal Ratzinger. In the course of this short (12 page) essay, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the status of public and private revelations and provides an interpretive outline for the Fatima visions and their meaning for the world today.

from "Theological Commentary"
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The teaching of the Church distinguishes between "public Revelation" and "private revelations." The two realities differ not only in degree but also in essence. The term "pubic Revelation" refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is called "Revelation" because in it God gradually made himself known to men, to the point of becoming man himself, in order to draw to himself the whole world and unite it with himself through his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. It is not a matter therefore of intellectual communication, but of a life-giving process in which God comes to meet man. At the same time this process naturally produces data pertaining to the mind and to the understanding of the mystery of God. It is a process that involves man in his entirety and therefore reason as well, but not reason alone. Because God is one, history, which he shares with humanity is also one. It is valid for all time, and it has reached its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, the man who was to become the Holy Father set out clearly the lines of demarcation. The essay continues with the same remarkable, succinct clarity and provides one of the deeply insightful high points of the book.

Overall The Last Secret of Fatima is a muddled, digressive, journalistic mess that nevertheless does cast a great deal of light on the phenomenon of Fatima and on the practices of the faithful who remain in line with church teaching. The book isn't for everyone, but it is certainly accessible to anyone sincerely interested in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as Fatima is concerned. I'm glad I've read it because it has at once helped me to become both more informed about this small piece of Church History and more receptive and responsive to the Blessed Mother. In addition, it was a poignant reminder of how much I loved Pope John Paul the Great and how I look forward to the Church's revelation of God's will concerning his heavenly status. I won't say the same thing will happen for all who read it, but if you come looking for the truth, I think you may find a good deal of it between the covers of this book.

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I have, of late, had the sometime pleasure of the company of a young American woman of my acquaintance at luncheon. While the venues, cuisines, and surroundings of our après-midi repast were variable and dependent upon the circumstances and opportunities available to us, they have always been of the greatest pleasure and entertainment to me.

Miss Archer is at once a very determined young lady, but one also tinged with the streak of independence set firmly in the ground of a graceful and enhancing naiveté, which conduces to my enjoyment of our conversational aperitifs.

I've grown somewhat concerned because whereas her talk was mostly of the many men who saw her and implored her favors while she remained on the Touchett family estate, more and more I am hearing of a person of interest who seems to have netted our pretty little bird without her own knowledge. And the more I hear of Osmond, the more concerned I become, because it occurs to me that there is some information circulating about him that does not redound to his credit. While one can never take seriously what circulates on the street or even in the salon, it has been my distinct displeasure to make the acquaintance of another member of the pretty scene that Miss Archer has laid before me.

Miss Archer never fails of speak of Madame Merle in anything but the most glowing terms, expressing only admiration for this widow, who, as Mr. Touchett has observed on occasion lacks any blot whatsoever on her record. One must wonder about such a record--how recent it must be and what must have been, with some great aplomb, expunged from that on-going document. My own sense of Madame Merle is not nearly so flattering to that personage. There is something about her that is, perhaps subtle is the word, but I think wily is closer to the sense. She seems to fashion les tableaux to fit the needs of the moment, and one cannot help but wonder what those needs might be. Mr. Touchett himself has confided to me that she is a woman of great and unrealized ambitions—and perhaps that view has colored my own of her character. For all I know she may be as spotless as she appears to the casual observer.

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I Have a Theory


Like Miss Archer herself, I am filled with useless theories and baseless speculations. But it occurred to me, while reading The Portrait of a Lady that Henry James himself resides within the novel in the skin of Henrietta Stackpole.

Ms. Stackpole tells Isabel that she has no affinity for inanimate objects and she doesn't care to write home about places and mere scenery. Her interest is in people and how they interact and what they are. She sees, of course, with her own blinders in place. However, she does see.

Henry James, for all of his skill with character, lacks any sense of place or time. You read through the book not knowing what people are dressed in, where they are standing, what the scenery is like. Isabel Archer's entire trip trough London is summed up in a short paragraph of about three sentences. We have no opportunity to visit with her the British Museum, much less to sit a moment under those grand trees of Kensington Gardens.

Yes indeed, James makes short shrift of scenery and, indeed, almost any form of set decoration. And we have characters who wander about in a largely and mysteriously featureless world. It amazes me how bereft of this sort of detail the book is.

On the other hand, it simply isn't required for what Mr. James wishes to divulge to us. And so, in that sense, it is handled perfectly.

However, I have theory. . .

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The Wacky World of Henry James


As typified by two passages from the current read:

from The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

Isabel was sure moreover that her mild forehead and silver cross referred to some weird Anglican mystery, some delightful reinstitution perhaps of the quaint office of the canoness.

[Harriet Stackpole speaking with Lord Warburton]

". . . . I don't approve of you, you know; I feel as if I ought to tell you that."

"Don't approve of me?"

"Yes; I don't suppose any one ever said such a thing to you before, did they? I don't approve of lords as an institution. I think the world has got beyond them--far beyond."

"Oh, so do I. I don't approve of myself in the least. Sometimes it comes over me--how I should object to myself if I were not myself, don't you know? But that's rather good, by the wayl--not to be vainglorious."

"Why don't you give it up then?" Miss Stackpole enquired.

"Give up--a--?" asked Lord Warburton, meeting her harsh inflexion with a very mellow one.

"Give up being a lord."

"Oh, I'm so little of one! One would really forget all about it if you wretched Americans were not constantly remind one. However, I do think of giving it up, the litter there is left of it, one of these days."

"I should like to see you do it!" Henrietta exclaimed rather grimly.

"I'll invite you to the ceremony; we'll have supper and a dance."

Critics note that much of James's work is about this conflict between the Old World and the New World, with the New representing innocence and rugged individualism and self-determination (as noted in the character of Miss Archer herself.) Having not read sufficiently in his oeuvre to make such sweeping judgments, I'll accept the advise of the critics. If so, in these interchanges we see some of the downside of innocence and self-determination--a kind of naive arrogance that can pronounce with impunity on things it does not understand and look down upon all things foreign as "quaint" and "charming" or unlikeable institutions.

There is a price to pay for this sort of arrogance and previous reading has led me to believe that Miss Archer, much to her woe is to be brought up sharp against it.

Whatever the case, I'll keep you informed. And hopefully you can be as amused as I am.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from April 2008.

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