The Humbling of a Catholic Author

A bazaar in a Catholic Church basement is both a “fund” raiser and a “fun” raiser.  This year’s bazaar at St. Francis of Assisi Church was no exception.  Parishioners had great fun hunting for those needy odds and ends that were missing from their households.  There was, as the saying goes, something for everyone: baked goods and oven mitts, videos and vanities, bad prints and used clothing, doodads and thingamajigs.  It did not matter that some of the jigsaw puzzles might be missing a piece or two or that the electric shavers on display simply did not work.  The price was right, and everyone was having a grand old time.  It was a community event to be envied.  Then, there were the books.  What hours of reading enjoyment might they provide?  “The world is a book,” wrote St. Augustine, “and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Being both a bargain hunter and an avid reader, I traveled over to the book table.  As I began rummaging through the pile, I discovered, to my surprise, two of my own books.  They were perfectly intact and gave the impression that they had never been read.  Hilaire Belloc’s bon mot flashed through my mind:  “When I am dead, I hope it may be said:  His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”  My hope is that my books would be read during my lifetime.

Francis Bacon famously stated that, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  And then there are books to be given their last hope of being read sitting on a table at a church bazaar.  Were my books sitting on death’s row?

Between the best-selling works of Danielle Steele and Stephen King lay Hope for a World without Hope and How to Survive as a Catholic in a Parochial World.  At least those aforementioned popular works were well read.  My duo had the misfortune of making the best-cellar list.  It was a humbling revelation.  Unread and discarded, a lamentable fate for a collection of epistles that were meant to shed light.  They were, in my mind, akin to fallen angels.

Standing next to me and burrowing through the assortment of reading material was a lady who was entirely unknown to me.  I did not want my abandoned literary efforts to remain ignored and finally dispatched to the dump which the local citizens affectionately referred to as “Mt. Trashmore.”  Perhaps she could read and possibly enjoy these two books that had not exactly leaped off the table.  I thought they might be of interest her by acknowledging that I was their author. 

My second humbling experience was that she did not believe me.  I could not blame her.  I did not sport a pince-nez, nor was I smoking a pipe.  I simply did not look like an author.  Besides, what would an author be doing in a church basement on a Saturday morning?  He should be on TV promoting his verbal creations.  My book table companion had cast me in the unattractive mold of a charlatan posing as an author.  I was something like Salieri claiming to be the composer of Mozart’s Requiem.

Offering to buy and autograph them for her failed to interest her.  I took solace in Mark 6:4 where Jesus states that “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown and with his own people and in his own home.”  Jesus could have added: “even in the basement of his parish church.”  Then, on second thought, maybe the role of the writer is overrated.

Jesus never wrote anything.  Books were not His forte.  St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the reason He never wrote anything was because of the excellence of His teaching method.  He did not use a medium but “imprinted His wisdom on the hearts of His hearers” (Summa Theologica, III, Q. 42).  Did I have any wisdom to imprint on the heart of my friend?  Perhaps not, since she persisted in denying that I was the one who authored the two titles that had been exiled to the discount table. 

Not wanting remain cast as a total fraud, I mentioned that my wife was present at the bazaar and would surely vouch for my identity.  I was counting on her memory and good will.  The bazaar was getting a little, should I say, bizarre?  But mentioning my wife was the tipping point.  My patient book companion finally believed me, but insisted on paying the basement price for the two books which I happily autographed.  I hope she never regrets her modest expenditure of $0.30, and that her reading brings her some small satisfaction.  A Catholic author must not allow any opportunity to elude him.

What, we may ask, is the duty of the Catholic author?  Heed the words of Edward Short, a successful Catholic writer who penned three books on Cardinal Newman: “The good Catholic essayist is a sign of contradiction, a just, sympathetic, generous guide to the good work of others; but always a defender of the good, the beautiful and the true, even when being so exposes him to opprobrium or marginalization.”

For my part, I will continue to exercise my duty as a Catholic author and aspire to be read.  Enough said.

Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College. He is is the author of 42 books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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