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Father Lasance: “What Is It In Eternity?”


Father_Lasance_prayer_bookI once overheard a man telling his companion that she was overreacting to whatever situation they were discussing.
 
“Ask yourself this,” he said. “A hundred years from now, who will know the difference?”
 
That advice immediately made me think of the same sentiment put in another way and in another language: “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ — “What is this in eternity?’’
 
That is said to have been a favorite expression of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Aloysius Gonzaga; I have known of it since I was about 14 years old.
 
And I know exactly where I first heard it: in “My Prayer-Book” by Father Francis Xavier Lasance.
 
A beat-up copy of that book was left in our parish church when I was an altar boy, and when no one had claimed it after a very long time, the curate, Fr. Bernard McKenna, gave it to me.
 
That was in 1956, and the book is on my desk now.
 
“My Prayer-Book” was first copyright in 1908 and again in 1936. When the one I have was published, it sold for anywhere from $1.75 to $10.00, depending on the binding. A replica of the 1908 edition is on sale now for about $26.00.
 
The book is 5.5 by 3.5 inches and it contains more than 700 pages of “reflections, counsels, prayers, and devotions” as the title page reports. It also contains the order of the Mass in Latin and English.
 
Some of the wisdom in this book comes from Father Lasance himself, and a great deal comes from a large number of other sources.
 
The subtitle of this book is “Happiness in Goodness” which reflects the author’s central theme, that ours is basically an optimistic faith designed not to depress us but to bring us good cheer.
 
It was in that context, in a section called “Faith and Humor,” that the expression “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ appeared.
 
“Think of the countless occurrences that fret and annoy,’’ says the prayer book, “that drive a man into himself and shut up his outlook over the world which the good God has given him, that make him petty and irritable and sour—how they would go down before such a question, as rank weeds before a scythe; how they would be lost sight of, as a swarm of gnats becomes invisible under the full light of an unclouded noon!”
 
I took that argument seriously and have pretty much lived under its influence ever since, trying to weigh the trivial problems of daily life against the promise of life forever in the presence of God.
 
All right, the language and the imagery are kind of dated, and there are some instances in which the tone of “My Prayer-Book” may seem out of place in our time—an uncharitable view of Protestants, for example—but it is a compendium, and a tangible relic, of our unchanging faith, and I keep it close at hand so that I can thumb through its pages.
 
Father Lasance (1860-1946) was a prodigious figure. He was a diocesan priest in Ohio, serving as a curate and a chaplain until, at the age of 30, he was forced by illness to live as a semi-invalid.
 
But quid hoc ad aeternitatem? Father Lasance, instead of feeling sorry for himself, used the time he gained by being precluded from parish work to write 39 books which were translated into numerous languages and which sold in the millions of copies.
 
He accepted no compensation for his work, but asked that the revenue be given to charities and used to provide his books free of charge to those who couldn’t afford to buy them.
 

—For his devotional works, Fr. Lasance
was given a special blessing by Pope Pius XI on May 10, 1927.


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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