A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Theology Books

by Anne Kerrigan

by Anne Kerrigan

“There is a time for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:
a time for giving birth,
a time for dying,
a time for planting,
a time for uprooting what has been planted.
a time for keeping,
a time for letting go.
There is a season for everything.”
                           Ecclesiastes 3:1-6.

The dearest ones of time, the strongest friends of the soul-BOOKS.”

Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886. American poet. From a letter to a friend.

Some recent health issues for both my husband and me have precipitated a change in our thinking. The fact that we are mortal had been a rather abstract thought for us, but it has suddenly  become a stark reality. It is often difficult to internalize the reality of one’s own mortality. Even when we lost our daughter in 2011, we were able to separate ourselves from the reality of the human limitation of life. Somehow, it will always be somebody else, not me. We could no longer continue to believe that it will always be someone else.

Our health issues gave rise to meeting an elder care lawyer in order to be certain that our legal documents were in order. At a certain point, incapacity, sudden or otherwise, has the potential to become a reality. Then, our children would enter into a morass of decision making and distribution of the “stuff.” We really wanted to make that difficult task a bit easier for them. We did not want them to be overwhelmed when we are gone, inundated by disorganized paperwork which is so often part of a family legacy.

It actually gave us a sense of accomplishment when we were able to address the necessary legal end-of-life issues in a methodical and intelligent fashion. When all the signing was accomplished, and the documents sealed and delivered, we felt a smug satisfaction. “Phase I is in place,” we said.  We rode home, content in the thought that we were starting the process which would leave our earthly estate, meager though it might be, in good order.

Then, we got home, looked around, and started taking inventory of the “stuff.” It quickly became abundantly clear that the paperwork was only one small portion of what had to be addressed.  It is amazing what one can accumulate over the course of fifty-six years of marriage. My husband turned to me and asked, “What about all your theology books?” “What about them?” I wondered.

Over the next few weeks, I perused the collection of theology books. Some of the books had been read and re-read, others not so much but had served as valuable resources.  How can I let them go? No matter what the shape or condition, I loved them all. The books brought me back to the days, weeks, months, and years, in which I studied for my theology degree at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, and then to the memories of a two year diocesan formation program. Each course of study involved additional books, and my collection seemed to multiply exponentially. Each new book was like a new friend.  Oh, how I loved all those years of study, with their challenging reading assignments!  bookcaseThose books helped to draw me into the midst of intelligent and varied discussions about my faith and my relationship with God.  The marvelous teachers and the books they brought into my life helped me to further develop and understand my faith. I quickly realized that being taught a particular credo or article of faith does not necessarily mean it is understood. It was a wonderful experience to learn how to broaden my faith horizons, and I look back upon those years with deep gratitude. My bookshelves stood as a little monument to those joyful days. It gave me comfort to see them around me, like a warm and fuzzy blanket of learning.  Even long after I had completed my years of study, the books served as a resource for me when I had a question about anything to do with my Catholic faith. They helped to support my belief that faith and understanding are inexorably intertwined. I fondly recall some cold and dreary winter days when I was housebound, allowing me the time to curl up on the couch and re-read my favorites. I felt incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful books.

But, like any material item in the world, its time had come. The circumstances of my life precipitated an evaluation of the need to maintain such a library. What to do with them? Friends and family had their own book collections, and were not interested in adding to them. Friends were also downsizing, and had no desire for any more “stuff.”  I didn’t want the books to end up in the proverbial dumpster when I was gone! Then, fate intervened. In the course of my exploration of the many theology books, I came across a book with the name of a priest friend in it. I wasn’t quite sure how I wound up having it because I didn’t recall borrowing it. I contacted him, explained the situation, and asked if I could send it back to him.  “No, thanks,” he said. “I have also purged my many books, and I donated them to Bishop Kellenberg Memorial High School.” He asked me to send his wayward book to the school. During the course of our conversation, I explained that I was also trying to downsize, and my theology books were high on the purge list.  “Why not try Bishop Kellenberg high school?” he said.  Yes! A lead! When I contacted the principal at the high school, he graciously agreed to accept my approximately 350 theology books.  Two grandchildren helped to arrange all the books on the dining room table for easy access and packing. As I write this (7/7/15), I am awaiting the truck from Bishop Kellenberg high school. It will be a painful parting, but  Matthew 10:8b reminds us that it is good to “give as gift that which you had received as a gift.” The ability to respond to Matthew’s challenge eases the pain.book-lovers

As much as I understand that the things we own do not define us, I am mourning the loss of my treasured books. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is a time for keeping and a time for letting go.” At least, my beloved books will have a home. Hopefully, they will help to enlighten and enliven the hearts and minds of students. I know that they did that for me over the course of the years, and I am very grateful.

As Sister Joan Chittister says in her book, The Gift of Years, “One of life’s major tasks is to determine what to do with everything we have managed to gather so far.” That is what I am trying to do. It is time to move on to another phase of my life by sorting and purging the accumulated “stuff.” There are so many things which I must let go of, not just my books. As I reflect back, I recognize that life contains long series of losses, some significant and other less so, but losses nonetheless. These partings are a vital part of life’s journey, and I believe that they are in preparation for the final letting go, and ultimate union with the Lord. For me, it is a time of great gratitude and great joy, and I am deeply and humbly grateful for the gift of these golden years, even with their losses.

A burden of these later years is the temptation to cling to the times and things behind us rather than move to the liberating moments ahead.”

The alternative

The alternative

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