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Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

In one of the most valuable books dedicated to the art of meditation, Religious Meditations,[i] Father Pierre Chaignon S.J. (1791–1883) emphasizes one of the essential aspects of how a Christian can effectively change his life by drawing closer to the demands of holiness. How? Certainly not through general, vague, and non-committal resolutions. The effectiveness of a good meditation depends on specific decisions applied with wisdom to our personal lives. Thus, Father Chaignon proposes an eloquent example:

“Let’s assume you have decided: ‘I will be patient in adversities.’ It is too vague a resolution and therefore sterile. (…) Try, therefore, to change and narrow down this general resolution. Two means are available to you for this. You could say: ‘I will be patient in such and such a situation;’ or: ‘If I am given some suffering to endure, I will think that it is too small compared to the hell I deserved.’ (…) In one way or another, your decision will be limited and therefore very good.”

The fake communist world

In Romania under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the concepts of “surrogate” or “substitute” had become commonplace. The lack of basic goods – especially food and clothing – was something ordinary. The long lines in front of the stores were the only constant thing you would see everywhere. Against widespread poverty, the only defense ordinary people had at their disposal was humor. That’s all that remained for them. One of the most well-known jokes from that period goes like this:

The Lesson of the Saints: From Abba Agathon to Andrew Wouters

A holy old man who lived in the 4th century of the Christian era, Agathon, left us one of the most important teachings regarding the essence of Christian life. We learn this from the famous anthology of sayings and stories preserved from the ascetic saints and hermits of the Egyptian desert, where the following is narrated:

Disputed by some professional critics but appreciated by a broad audience, Charles Dickens and his works remain one of the most interesting subjects for literature enthusiasts. Not only his personal eccentric style, but especially the peculiar habits and behaviors of the colorful characters he has created, allowed and encouraged the emergence of a substantial secondary literature. While Thomas Mann regarded him with circumspection, praising the criticisms leveled by Henry James in his essay “The Limitations of Dickens,” on the other hand, Gilbert Keith Chesterton defended him in his famous monograph bearing his name. However, in the end, regardless of what yesterday’s and today’s critics say, it remains the incredible passion of audiences from all eras and continents, audiences that continue to read and re-read A Christmas Carol.

Before moving on to the presentation of the best books I’ve read during the year 2023, I warmly recommend two titles that every good Christian should have in his “essential library.” Very short but extremely profound and, I would say, practical, both have been written by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696–1787). Despite writing dozens of substantial volumes, including the monumental Theologia Moralis (1748–1785), the wisdom of Saint Alphonsus is nevertheless best known through these two small booklets that help us lay the foundation of the Christian life.

Whether it is dedicated to the study and knowledge, or it is devoted to meditation and prayer, Christian life places great importance on the written word. Complementing and supporting the spoken word, which we hear in the context of the Holy Liturgy and the sacred rituals of the Church, or simply in the prayers we daily raise to our God, Jesus Christ, the importance of the written word is vital. By reading, we shape our minds and hearts, learning true devotion. Through reading, we know and deepen our Orthodox faith, the divine supernatural Truth that was first revealed to us through Moses and the prophets, and then through our Lord Jesus Christ himself. At the same time, we learn to guard against the heresies that, today more than ever, have multiplied excessively. And, as our knowledge and understanding grow, along with our devotion, we can even study some good apologetics manuals, thus becoming capable of defending the faith and combating the widespread errors of that abominable sum of all the heresies named by the Saint Pope Pius X (neo)modernism.

In the midst of the darkest moment in the history of the church, when the “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15) reigns in the place that is holy, it is vital to remember the essential. The learned Origen of Alexandria (c.185–c.253) is the one who tells us what to do in such a situation: “let those who see this flee from the Judæa of the letter to the high mountains of truth.” So, faced with an unprecedented spread of both doctrinal and practical heresies, it is absolutely necessary to ascend to “the high mountains of Truth.” Not just any truth, but that divine, revealed Truth that teaches us how to return to the Paradise lost by Adam and Eve through original sin. Thus, preparing our minds through prayer and humble reflection to receive the light that emanates from the Holy Scriptures, we strive to delve into the meanings of an event that decisively influenced the history of the world. The verse that initiates such meditation is found in the Gospel of the Holy Apostle John (chapter 3, verse 13):

“And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.”

Just as our bodies need sleep to recover our strength and fulfill our daily duties, our souls also need rest. One of the most pleasant forms of obtaining such rest is through play. When cultivated in a manner appropriate to Christian life, games can not only be refreshing but also educational. Aware of the importance of such forms of relaxation, Saint Thomas Aquinas dedicated an entire article to them in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Q. 168, art. 2). Here, he outlines the three basic rules for the proper formation of Christian discernment regarding games:

“The first and chief is that the pleasure in question should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words. (...) Another thing to be observed is that one lose not the balance of one’s mind altogether. (...) Thirdly, we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun ‘befit the hour and the man,’ as Tully says.”[i]

Respecting these principles, we can then enjoy the hours of merriment offered by those well-chosen games. Even more so now, during the sacred Christmas holiday season, the winter vacation encourages us to engage in various activities aimed at enhancing our joy. In the following, I suggest a few games – some simpler, others more sophisticated – that truly can provide rest for our souls.

After my article about movies, I have already been warned: it is impossible to encompass in such a piece all those remarkable creations that deserve to be highlighted. That doesn’t stop me from asking you to do so in your comments (hoping that in the future I will also write about all the omitted creations). Inevitably, subjectivity plays an important role in determining the titles worth noting. However, to limit it, I will write about animated cartoons using a concrete criterion, resulting from the answer to the following question: which are those cartoons that both we – the parents – and our seven children have constantly revisited over the years?

The General (1926)

This silent movie is an absolute hidden gem. Probably Buster Keaton’s best film, The General is an action film with cleverly mixed doses of romance and comedy. Set during the American Civil War, the film centers on a train engineer named John Gray (interpreted by Buster Keaton) who tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but is turned down because the military thinks he would be more valuable to the war effort if he keeps his current job as a mechanic. Both his family and his fiancée misunderstand and consider him a coward, refusing to talk to him until he is in uniform. However, the hero will have the chance to prove his bravery and courage when his engine is stolen by some Northern spies, with his fiancée accidentally kidnapped along with the stolen locomotive (which is called “The General”). John Gray will start chasing, first on foot, then with a trolley, and finally with another engine, to free his fiancée – and “The General” (his locomotive).

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