Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/12/2014 (1 year 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 (1 year 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'


Copyright 2015 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for February 2016
Universal:
That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.
Evangelization: That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.



Comments


More Living Faith

MAKE YOURSELF COUNT! Complete this quick Ash Wednesday survey

Image of Take the Ash Wednesday survey so we can better serve your needs.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online is conducting a global survey on Ash Wednesday practices. Each reader is asked to participate once. The survey will take less than a minute to complete. The results of the survey will help Catholic Online determine how best to serve your needs in the ... continue reading


Pope Francis' message for Lent (FULL TEXT: ENGLISH) Watch

Image of

By Pope Franics, Vatican Radio

"I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" (Mt 9:13).The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee 1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelizedIn the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that "the season of Lent in ... continue reading


'There is nowhere else for us to go': Nuns who feed homeless face eviction after rent nearly doubles Watch

Image of Nuns who feed homeless were told to pay or leave (AP).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The cost of living in San Francisco has skyrocketed to the point that and new reports indicate Bay Area housing has reached such heights that the area's average income can no longer support it. Unfortunately, this means everyone is downsizing or moving - including ... continue reading


The 'Martyred Country': Pope Francis' powerful words on Syria Watch

Image of Pope Francis led the crowds in praying the Hail Mary

By Ann Schneible, CNA/EWTN News

The plight of Syrian civilians involved in the nation's ongoing conflict was at the heart of Pope Francis' appeal to the international community on Sunday, in an address where he also called for a renewed commitment to the protection of life at all stages. ... continue reading


POPE FRANCIS ANGELUS: February 7, 2016 (FULL TEXT: ENGLISH) Watch

Image of

By Pope Francis

Dear brothers and sisters, Goodmorning!The Gospel of this Sunday says - in the drafting of St. Luke - the call of the first disciples of Jesus ( Lk 5,1-11). The fact takes place in a context of everyday life: there are some fishermen on the shore of Lake Galilee, who, ... continue reading


Is this where the Annunciation took place? Ancient artwork sheds light an old mystery about the Virgin Mary Watch

Image of The Annunciation, 1859 (oil on canvas), Pinchon, Auguste.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

One of the oldest depictions of the Virgin Mary is casting new light on the Annunciation. A new look at an ancient depiction in the Yale University Art Gallery is making some question what they believe about the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


How do presidents pray? The beginning of a beautiful tradition Watch

Image of John F. Kennedy praying during the 9th annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 9, 1961 (Prayers for America).

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

This morning marks the 64th annual National Prayer Breakfast and President Obama's last time attending the remarkable tradition while in office.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On the first Thursday in February, the members of Congress and evangelical ... continue reading


Pope Francis will travel to Mexico as a messenger for peace Watch

Image of Pope Francis has participated in a collective interview, in which he responded to four questions posed by 33 people from various states across Mexico (Catholic News Agency).

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis will leave for Mexico in just over a week. In a new interview with a Mexican news agency, he told citizens of the crime-ridden country that while there, he hopes to be a messenger of peace, which must be fought for daily. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN ... continue reading


Sparks fly over Pope Francis' interview with Asia Times Watch

Image of Pope Francis did not speak of religion or freedom when praising China as a progressive country (Vatican).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Pope Francis' exclusive interview on Tuesday afternoon has been met with harsh criticism. Though the pontiff spoke highly of the country, he steered clear of religion and freedom talks. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis spoke ... continue reading


Sis boom bah! American Circus cheerleaders perform for Pope Francis at the Vatican Watch

Image of Pope Francis enjoyed a cheer by the American Circus, which performed at the Vatican on Wednesday (Reuters).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Following his general audience at the Vatican, Pope Francis enjoyed cheers, acrobatics and juggling performed by the Italian troupe "American Circus." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - During the Papal Audience, the American Circus performed before the pontiff and ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • 10 important things to consider during Lent
  • Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
  • St. Scholastica: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
  • Palm Sunday HD Video
  • Take this thought provoking Stations of the Cross survey
  • Can you answer these four challenging questions about Lent?
  • Stations of the Cross - Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
22 Then, in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, Solomon stood ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 84:3, 4, 5, 10, 11
3 Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a nest to place its ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 7:1-13
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for February 9th, 2016 Image

St. Apollonia
February 9: St. Apollonia, who died in the year 249, was ... Read More