Peter Kreeft passes pearls of wisdom to next generation

October 16, 2008

Bobz Book Reviews

“before i go,”
by Peter Kreeft

Oft-quoted in Catholic circles, Boston College prof Peter Kreeft has compiled 162 — what, statements? pearls of wisdom? life’s lessons? — in a tiny-yet-thick Sheed & Ward book subtitled, “Letters to Our Children about What Really Matters.”

I can say there area 162 of them — whatever you want to call them — because each is numbered.

Few are longer than one page. Most are just a paragraph or three or four.

And the book’s concept is excellent. How many of us have had that thought that we’d like to get down on paper things we’d like our children to know?

Not 162 great thoughts

I usually love this kind of work, because I can pick it up and read for just the bit of time I might have at that moment and grab a great thought to wrestle with. There are a number of those great thoughts in “before i go,” but there aren’t 162.
And, after hitting a few too many trite ideas among those numbers, I came close to crossing out a few and doing a recount.

I mean, “Stop and smell the roses?” Bet that didn’t take too long to come up with.

“Each day is a gift from God?” I think Sister Jude covered that pretty well in the first grade in 1957.

Tossing out the banal bunch and eliminating some of the really dumb statements would make Kreeft’s work very valuable for personal reflection. The man has a knack for putting ideas in concise, memorable sentences. It’s a real gift. Here are just a few examples:

“It’s better to be happy than to be right.”

“Be good, but be you.”

“All life is liturgy. All words are creeds. All times are Sabbaths. All places are churches.”

Advice worth sharing

And there is great advice, too.

Instead of complaining about how busy you are, simplify reasons for doing anything to three things: because it’s morally good, because its a practical necessity, or because it makes you happy.

Take seven minutes each day to thank God for seven specific things.

“Forgive everyone. Forgive everything. Forgive always. Forgive everywhere.”

Kreeft gives readers a really good explanation of grace, has a great message on how to respond when we fail — and we all do and will — and this wonderful take on the Beatitudes:

“If the poor are blessed, then let’s stop envying the rich.”

However…

The world isn’t black and white

At times I found Kreeft to be polarizing and divisive. My world just isn’t as black and white as Kreeft’s, and I sure don’t have all the answers, as Kreeft’s writing implies he does.

Although he writes the self-righteous prose of an expert, he takes a cheap shot by demonizing “experts,” for example. And in some of his thoughts he comes off as a prig, making unproven generalizations such as, “they don’t teach the lives of the saints in religion classes anymore.”

That’s pure B.S., and just the kind of false statements that get repeated and repeated until zealots believe them to be true. That’s one statement Kreeft should be ashamed of making.

I like the technique of making lists, to a point, but the list thing gets old after a while. Sometimes, too, others did it better years ago. Take his 10 points of “What is ‘A Good Person?'” The Boy Scouts nailed that concept in their 12-point creed — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent– a list that sounds suspiciously like Kreeft’s 10 thoughts.

It boils down, though, to you gotta take the bad with the good.

You go from No. 105 where the bad Kreeft is saying something as dumb as God is a comedian because he invented dog farts, to the very next page where he suggests we practice everyday what you do and don’t want so say and do on the last day of your life.

Dog farts? I expect better than that. But I forgive him. — bz

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski