Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/12/2014 (7 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Reading myself into the Church doesn't mean that I possessed crystalline clarity at every step - bomb fragments scatter unpredictably.

It's said that people don\'t read much anymore, that we live in a multimedia age, and that the act of reading is on the wane. These prognostications have already been proven false. Nothing can replace reading a book as the most intimate medium of enjoyment and self-examination - certainly not the Kindle or the Inter-net. When we want to change a person\'s life, we still give him a book, and wait, hoping.Years ago a friend, now a Trappist priest, sent me a box of about twenty-five books with \"Catholic bomb\" written across the side. As I read them one by one, explosions went off in my mind, leaving me both disoriented and filled with an unfamiliar joy. I was experiencing the confusion of my life drastically changing and the joy of discovering an unknown and welcoming country called the Catholic faith. (I didn\'t know enough then to call it a strange country, which when you enter the Church as an adult, is an apt description.)

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/12/2014 (7 months ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Catholic conversion, culture, reading, spiritual reading, truth, beauty, schloasticism, literature, apostolate of writing, Deal W. Hudson,


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Reading, said Saint Josemaría Escrivá, has made many a saint. In my own case, it has merely made a convert but has led me more deeply into the mystery that is the Church. Thomas Merton, we recall from his autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain,  was started on his road to the Church by the accidental discovery of Etienne Gil-son's The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy in the Columbia University Library. We are foolish to forget the power of the written word.

It's said that people don't read much anymore, that we live in a multimedia age, and that the act of reading is on the wane. These prognostications have already been proven false. Nothing can replace reading a book as the most intimate medium of enjoyment and self-examination - certainly not the Kindle or the Inter-net. When we want to change a person's life, we still give him a book, and wait, hoping.

Years ago a friend, now a Trappist priest, sent me a box of about twenty-five books with "Catholic bomb" written across the side. As I read them one by one, explosions went off in my mind, leaving me both disoriented and filled with an unfamiliar joy. I was experiencing the confusion of my life drastically changing and the joy of discovering an unknown and welcoming country called the Catholic faith. (I didn't know enough then to call it a strange country, which when you enter the Church as an adult, is an apt description.)

I had been raised in a Protestant home and had become an ardent Southern Baptist in college before attending Princeton Theological Seminary. There I read the greats of the Reformed tradition - Luther, Calvin, Barth, Kierkegaard, Tillich, and the Niebuhrs. I began to realize that the first principle of Protestantism - ridding the faith of idolatry - had been pushed so far it had subverted the exercise of Christian intelligence. My Catholic bomb was packed with spiritual dynamite, such as books by the great Dominican theologian, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, along with works by Louis Bouyer, Matthias Scheeben, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speer, G. K. Chesterton, and the simple verse of St. Francis of Assisi.

I recalled being overwhelmed by my reading St. Augustine's On the Trinity at seminary years earlier. Catholic Christianity, I began to see, embodied the fullness of God's revelation, without the narrowing refractions of other Christian communions. The first principle of Catholicism was indeed the Incarnation, and that centrality shone through all my reading.

Reading myself into the Church doesn't mean that I possessed crystalline clarity at every step - bomb fragments scatter unpredictably. At this stage in my conversion, I was blessed by the good advice of my mentors; they saved me from the fate of a convert friend of mine who was led to read Wilhelm's Christ Among Us, A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith for Adults - underscore modern - and lived to tell the tale.

As I moved toward the Church, my reading prodded me onward with a series of vaguely related insights. Although I understood only a little of the content of the Catholic faith, I knew that it explained my growing dissatisfaction with the other Christian traditions, both liberal Protestant and Southern Baptist, in which I was raised. It would take me years to pass through my own period of protest and grasp the inner coherence of the Church herself.

Then, as a young college professor, still reeling from the effect of the bomb, I began reading the Catholic novels recommended by my now Trappist friend. By the time I finished this assignment, I would not have dreamed of turning back.

There are, in fact, novels that can be called "Catholic," though certain learned people dispute the fact. I have no comprehensive definition of the Catholic novel, neither would I ever attempt one. However, I happily name a novel as Catholic when it presents to the reader a narrative that embodies some substantial aspect of the Catholic faith. A Catholic novel is one that ably suggests to its reader our faith's great mysteries. It is those moments of insight, where we catch a glimpse of God's ineluctable providence - as in, for example, Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos - that readers can become pilgrims.

Thus, if there is a litmus test for the Catholic novel, it must be whether the novel is capable of conspiring in spiritual conversion. Even if one bears in mind that conversion is ongoing, not at all confined to an experience on the Damascus Road, this test is the most reliable. It goes without saying that authors who consciously intend to convert their readers will probably end up writing a bad book. That's the danger of a reader like myself; readers, hungry for fiction to tackle ideas. We risk encouraging writers to preach, lecture, and moralize, a very bad habit.

The six novels listed below helped to convert me and continue to do so, since I go back to them regularly. I have never received any protest from a friend and acquaintance who have sought one of them out on my advice.

The Other One by Julien Green

The French-American writer, Julien Green, born of a Protestant mother from Savannah, Georgia, and a French Catholic father, has riveted my attention for years. Although his novels like Moira and Each in His Own Darkness are better known, it was the obscure The Other One that left its deepest mark on me. This novel, more than any other I know, depicts the hunger for God as the source of all human appetites. I would later recognize this unquenchable desire, with its rich moral implications, in Aquinas's anthropology - I first met it in Green.

Set in Copenhagen, the story follows a recently converted man who returns to a woman he had mistreated some years earlier only to find the results of his immorality much worse than expected. His penitential witness brings about a disturbing but absolutely convincing redemption. Few books have captured the painful death of spiritual rebirth, in both characters, as powerfully as The Other One.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

I'm not sure if there is a greater Catholic novel than Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. If there is, it's probably her other medieval epic, The Master of Hestviken, but I still prefer the more accessible and personally involving Kristin.

I was blessed with a very bad case of the flu the first time I read Undset's trilogy, which kept me in bed for the entire read. My bouts with fever only intensified my connection with the unforgettable characters of this story. Just as movie buffs will argue the comparative merits of Scarlet, Rhett, Melanie, and Ashley in Gone With the Wind, so Undset fans delight in assigning degrees of responsibility to the impetuous Kristin, her loyal father Lavrans, her warrior husband Erlend, and her jilted fiancé, the foursquare Simon. No other novel that I know explores the biblical themes of "the wages of sin" and "the sins of the father" as accurately and charitably as Kristin Lavransdatter. Its impact on the reader, as witnessed in the novel's pivotal role in the life of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, can demonstrate a moral reorientation reminiscent of Dante's Purgatorio.

Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy

Don't let it be thought that my reading into the Church was without laughter. This novel by Walker Percy provided the perfect bridge from the existentialism of my graduate school days to the treasure of Catholic humanism. I thought it uncanny that Percy had placed his main character, Dr. Thomas More, in a Dantean landscape faced with a Kierkegaardian choice that could only be mediated by the comic, sacramental resolution of a Catholic vision. It was as if Percy - and his other novels confirm this - had already experienced my philosophical and spir-itual trials. He understood that demons inhabit the suburbs of my childhood, and not just the cities and the country.

Wise Blood  by Flannery O'Connor

If you are familiar with the South, there is also plenty to laugh about in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. John Huston's underrated film of the novel catches many of those moments perfectly, such as when Hazel Motes tells his landlady he is a preacher of the "Church without Christ." She asks suspiciously if that was "Protestant. or something foreign?" Indeed, O'Connor's novel is nothing less than a meditation on the loss of belief in Christ's active presence in the world through the Church and its sacraments. Wise Blood made it clear to me why I was no longer content with the typical Protestant quarterly communion of grape juice done "in memory of me." It's been providential, I think, that I have been invited to collaborate on an effort to translate O'Connor's work for film and television.

Under the Star of Satan by George Bernanos

If O'Connor is one of those authors who puts you in the uncomfortable presence of the supernatural, George Bernanos is another. It's too bad that Diary of a Country Priest is his only novel remaining in print, because the others are just as powerful. His Under the Star of Satan is primarily about the special vocation of the priesthood and its sacramental blessing on all of us. We follow the protagonist Abbé Donissan, modeled on Jean-Marie Vianney the Curé of Ars, as he struggles for the souls of his parishioners, spending hour after hour in the confessional. We see his gift of unlocking the heaviest heart and the price he must pay for it. In the midst of Donissan's battle, we are also reminded not to take the metaphysical notion of evil as privation so literally as to discount its active presence in the world. A film has also been made of this novel but not as successfully as Wise Blood.

Brideshead Revisited  by Evelyn Waugh

If there is another novel that wears its moral seriousness as lightly as Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, I don't know it. Perhaps that is why it works so well. Like Charles Ryder himself, the reader is slowly and slyly seduced into the Catholic undercurrents of the aristocratic Marchmain family. The long, final coda of Lord Marchmain's death, his sign of the cross, and the repentant confession of Julia on the staircase distill the choice we all must finally make for or against God. As Julia puts it, in refusing to leave her husband for Charles, "But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable. the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I'm not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God's."

Here are six of the novels that made me Catholic. There are many others from our rich cultural past I could recommend. And, in fact, good Catholic fiction is still being written - Ron Hansen, Torgny Lindgren, Piers Paul Read, Michael O'Brien, and the late Alice Thomas Ellis - are among the best.

In case the reader is interested in some of the non-fiction books that led me into the Church, here is a list of the other books that made me Catholic.

The Catholic Vision
Augustine, On the Trinity William F. Lynch, S.J., Christ and Apollo Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 1-13 Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons Jacques Maritain, St. Thomas Aquinas: Angel of the Schools

Beauty & Culture
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord Eric Gill, Beauty Speaks for Herself Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism Julien Green, Journals Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Sin & Redemption
Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil Correspondence of Andre Gide and Paul Claudel Jorgen Jorgensen, Autobiography Graham Greene, The End of the Affair Dante, Purgatorio Morley Callahan, Our Lady of the Snows Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Treatise on Sin, 1a2ae, q. 71-9

Agape & Eros
Martin D'Arcy, The Mind and Heart of Love Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Joseph Pieper, About Love C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves Etienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Treatise on Love, 2a2ae, q. 23-46

Reason & Revelation
Aristotle, Ethics Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Treatise on Law, 1a2ae, q. 90-7 G. K. Chesterton, The Dumb Ox Mortimer Adler, The Angels and Us Joseph Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity Cornelio Fabro, God in Exile

Church & Sacrament
Documents of Vatican II Henri de Lubac, Catholicism Jacques Maritain, The Peasant of the Garonne Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine Matthias Scheeben, Mysteries of Christianity

Saints & Sanctity
Léon Bloy, Pilgrim of the Absolute Julian Green, God's Fool Raissa Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together Jacques Maritain, Notebooks Jean Leclerq, Love of Learning and the Desire for God Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.



Comments


More Living Faith

Take the Catholic Online Thanksgiving Challenge! Watch

Image of Reaching out to others is precisely the way to show that we are thankful for what we have.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a holiday filled with family and food, often spent on televised parades and football, and naps after lunch. Kids play in the yard or the streets as everybody generally has a good time. However, this is not the case for millions of ... continue reading


Pope says he's willing to speak to Islamic State - says nations are likewise guilty of 'terrorism' Watch

Image of After addressing the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Pope Francis also told journalists that the threat of terrorism was not the only horror weighing on the world.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Asked about the possibilities of discussion with Islamic State, Pope Francis said, "I never count anything as lost. Never. Never close the door. It's difficult, you could say almost impossible, but the door is always open." The Pontiff went forward to say that ... continue reading


Unborn, terminally ill and elderly are treated as objects in Europe, Pope Francis says Watch

Image of If we uphold the dignity of the person we are acknowledging the

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"Despite talk of human rights, too many people are treated as objects in Europe: unborn, terminally ill, and the elderly," Pope Francis said. Speaking at the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg, the pontiff said that "We're too tempted to throwaway lives we ... continue reading


Church recognizes six new saints as Pope Francis canonizes in Sunday ceremony, speaking about how we too shall be judged Watch

Image of Indian well-wishers gather at the Vatican for the Canonization ceremony.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has canonized six new saints, two Indians and four Italians, praising their lives as "extraordinary" and reminding us all that we will be judged by how we treat others. VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis recognized six new saints on Sunday, ... continue reading


Pope says church must extend help to immigrants, 'so that all may be treated as children of God' Watch

Image of The world must now recognize the advantages of migration. Host countries get new workers to meet production needs,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Speaking to the 300 participants in the Vatican-sponsored World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the Pope says that the Catholic Church "is a mother without limits and without borders." He says that the church must welcome and assist all of God's children, ... continue reading


Feast of Christ the King and Advent: What Does it Mean? Watch

Image of The Church really IS the Mystical Body of the Risen Christ. That Body is inseparably joined to the Head. Jesus Christ is alive, he has been raised, and he continues His redemptive mission now through the Church, of which we are members. As we choose to actually live our lives liturgically, not just go through the motions, we can move through life in the flow of the liturgical calendar. We can experience the deeper mystery and meaning of life, now made New in Jesus Christ, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6,7) Jesus Christ is King! Jesus Christ is meant to become the Lord of our whole lives, and inform the very pattern of how we live them.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

On November 23rd we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is one of many opportunities the Catholic Liturgical Church year offers to each of us consider the creature which is called time, receive it as a gift and begin to really live differently. Yet, for ... continue reading


Two bishops dine and dialogue with peace activists

Image of War doesn't decide who is right, just who is left.

By Tony Magliano

During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops fall assembly in Baltimore, two bishops decided to forego the military chaplains dinner sponsored by the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains Office, and attended instead a simple supper and discussion on peacemaking. On the evening of ... continue reading


'God always forgives, but the earth does not,' Pope warns Watch

Image of The Pope urged the world's leaders to rein in their greed and help the hungry.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A doomsday scenario in which Mother Nature would exact her revenge is possible, even likely, Pope Francis warns. The pontiff was speaking out against the exploitation of natural resources for profit. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pope urged the world's ... continue reading


Pope Francis' special message: Why Poverty? 'And while we speak of new rights, the hungry remain'

Image of When we give our loaves and fishes to Christ, there is no end to the Good that can come from it.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has asked the world to do more to help those who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Despite gains made in infrastructure and outpourings of food, too many people with plenty have done too little to help. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - With ... continue reading


How do you raise a good, upstanding child? With daily prayers, weekly church attendance and the knowledge of God Watch

Image of Billy Graham, now 96, has reached out to millions with his joyous words of the truth of God and Jesus Christ.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Reverend Billy Graham, the world famous television evangelist and founder and chairman of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has said that the reason the world seems to be in such dire straits is that children are not being raised right. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
1 After this, I saw another angel come down from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
2 serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 27th, 2014 Image

St. James Intercisus
November 27: James was a favorite of King Yezdigerd I of Persia and a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter