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Great Summer Reading

Are you looking for some good summertime reading beyond the usual beach chair novels or celebrity biographies? I have two slim-in-size but weighty-in-matter books to recommend, written by two brothers, both good friends of mine.

Msgr. McLean Cummings, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who is stationed at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, has written an excellent apologetic book entitled Three Questions from your Uncle [1]. His corporate consultant brother Alexander Cummings recently published Virtues Work: Soar at Work. Soar at Life. Here’s How [2], a practical guide to living a virtuous life in the workplace.

Both books are guides on how to think well – so as to act well. Msgr. Cummings’ many nieces and nephews are the first intended, but thankfully not the exclusive, beneficiaries of his three-chapter work that answers three vital questions he poses:

He draws on the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas to answer these questions with great logical precision and insight. He refutes skeptics in demonstrating that human life has a purpose and nature that are made for a greater life than our limited terrestrial existence. We are made for greatness: here and hereafter in eternity.

So many of the miseries that human beings visit upon themselves are caused by the denial that life has a purpose, and that we are meant to live in accordance with our created nature so as to develop our abilities for our own benefit and that of others.

Life is about discovering reality, and then willingly conforming ourselves to reality, so as to cooperate fruitfully in the divine plan for our personal and social fulfillment.

Yet we are often self-beguiled by deceptive theories of personal autonomy such as Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remarkably destructive assertion in the Supreme Court’s 1992 Pennsylvania abortion decision (cited by Msgr. Cummings): “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Liberty is impossible for those enslaved to false definitions of all the things cited by Kennedy. We do not create the meaning of reality, and any encouragement to think that we can is a recipe for personal and social disaster. If everyone gets to decide for himself what is real and good, then the only way to success in life is to attempt to impose one’s vision on society by arbitrarily suppressing all competing visions that get in the way of one’s own.

The current manipulative movement to eradicate Western civilization in the name of “inclusion” and “safety” is a perfect example of this phenomenon of self-definition of reality: someone asserts that in his own version of “reality” he is made to feel “unsafe” by the presence of a symbol of something he rejects, so his “reality” requires that the person is “canceled,” the symbol must go – the statue is destroyed, the building is burned down, the police officer is attacked with a Molotov cocktail.

Msgr. Cummings reminds us that if our shared understanding of the objective nature of human existence and the moral norms that inhere therein is reduced to the realm of opinion, then there is no right but merely might. This is, literally, the dictatorship of relativism, an historically attested formula for personal despair and societal strife.

The remedy lies in transcending the confines of the self-generated delusion that I am, despite the complete absence of any evidence, my own creator, and thus the only one who has the right to tell me what I should think or do.

You either discard this monstrous lie and find joy in the reality of God’s creation, or you doom yourself (and anyone you control or influence) to frustration and sorrow.

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Alexander Cummings has written an easy to read handbook for virtue-based living in the world of business and beyond. He discusses the nature and practice of the attractive yet demanding virtues of compassion, justice, prudence, courage, self-control, humility, and hope. He gives examples from the world of business to show how virtuous decision-making yields benefits for both the employees and the bottom line.

His writing style is direct and jargon-free. When he discusses self-control he begins the chapter with these sharp observations:

“Impulsive, undependable, irresponsible.” You don’t see organizations advertising for these kinds of behavior when they’re hiring. But these are the traits you wind up with if you don’t use the virtue of self-control; they’re the traits of immature people. . . .Self-control is about keeping your mind in charge of your actions… lack of self-control diminishes you in the eyes of others. You don’t earn much respect with tantrums, outbursts, or stinging insults, even if they feel good at the moment. They’re childish and often unjust, and people know it.

Habits of virtue can be learned and developed through attention and application. Cummings book is an informative, entertaining and helpful guide to being a successful human being, the only route to true success in business and every other human endeavor.

The Cummings brothers have provided us with valuable instruction on how to strive effectively to be what God has created us to be. Given the extra time many of us now have at our disposal, now is a good time to learn their lessons and practice them.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.