My Remarks at Spring Hill College

Posted: September 13, 2013 in World On The Edge

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My Publisher at Tuscany Press asked that I blog my remarks from the Tuscany/ Spring Hill College panel discussion on The Catholic Imagination and Fiction, September 10, at Spring Hill. The panel included Peter Mongeau, publisher, Tuscany Press; Joseph O’Brien, Editor, Tuscany Press; Fr. Chris Viscardi, Chair of the Theology Dept at Spring Hill; Dr. Matthew Bagot, Theology Dept.; Fr. Michael Williams, English Dept.; Dr. Ron O’Gorman, cardiac surgeon in Mobile and author at Tuscany Press, and myself.

Of course, I’ll do as my publisher asks because I love my publisher, I love my alma mater, I love the Jesuits—and hey, I want to get another book out! So here goes:

“I’ve been asked to talk about The Catholic Imagination—the spark that ignites Catholic Fiction.

But first I want to talk a little about my Spring Hill experience–my JESUIT experience. And then–maybe because I was an Art Major here–I’d like to talk about the color GRAY.

As one of the first group of Art Majors at Spring Hill, I set up my canvases, paints and brushes, right here, in this very room. It wasn’t called the Gautrelet Room then. It was just “The Art Departement.” The first chair of the Fine Arts Department, and my faculty adviser, was Father Daniel Creagan—-Art students and others nicknamed him Zoro, because of the long, flowing black cape he often wore. In turn, he called me “Irma La Douce” because he thought I looked like Shirley Maclaine who played in that movie. Of course, I loved him for that, for his many other kindnesses, and mostly because we shared a passion for Art.

At the time, in the 1960’s, four of my cousins were also at Spring Hill. One of them was Father Arnold Benedetto, Professor of Theology at the college and at The Jesuit house of Studies which used to be here. Father Arnold taught both my husband and myself—-from the textbook he himself had written, “Fundamentals in the Philosophy of God. And he often invited my cousins and I to the Jesuit House of Studies for a meal and family get-together.

It was here at Spring Hill that Father J. Franklin Murray shared his love of English Literature, and Father Robert McCown encouraged my creative writing. I learned so much from the Jesuits who taught me. I even learned about the shadowing color Gray; not only as it appears in Art, but in life.

So this is the way I see it: In most Catholic Fiction, at least in my writing, in my characters–—and really, in life itself, there are always two extreme actions: Good and Evil. To ignore them in Fiction is to ignore Life. Think of two ends of a horizontal line. At one end is the bright white of absolute Good. At the other end is the darkness of absolute Evil. In between those ends are lighter and darker hues of the color of GRAY. The farther we travel from either end, it becomes more difficult to see, or find our way back to the other.

The fact is most human beings travel daily along a line like this. They travel toward one end or the other, to the light or to the darkness. But in between the two ends is a lot of area in which to turn in an opposite direction—–either a fall, or an epiphany. This is core in Catholic Fiction—the possibility of spiritual epiphany must be present in the work, though it may not always be accomplished by a character.

And now, the question: What is the Catholic Imagination?
First off, we have wonderfully scholarly and intellectual panelists here this afternoon. But I’m not an intellectual. As a writer I think of myself as a Heart-ellectual. Just as Ron does every day—for real, when I write I attempt to perform a surgery on my characters hearts looking for the goodness inside them, just as Ron does, no matter how evil or diseased their actions might be.

There are some fiction writers who perceive all people as good because God made them to be like Him. I am one of those writers. But I also recognize free will. We can choose not to be like Him, and even choose not follow Him. Still, the job of a writer who sees people as coming from God, is to translate His goodness in some concrete form for her readers; and that is a difficult job in our world today because many don’t believe in a Creator, and others don’t see our world as good. So what is such a writer to do?

I’ll be happy to give my opinion:

Flannery O’Connor once said that “often the nature of grace can be made plain only by describing its absence.”

So First, I believe this sort of writer will have strong emotion about current events where goodness is not: The murder of children. Debilitating disease. Sadistic, sexual perversion. Dishonesty. Meanness, and on and on—–just check ‘I choose not to follow” on each of The Ten Commandments. The question then becomes, “Can God, our Creator, be found where goodness is not?”

Yes. And He is powerful enough to draw out goodness from atrocities that emanate because of the misuse of human free will.

In this writer’s imagination, there is a link between the divinity of God (the supernatural world) with the natural world. The task of writing becomes that of interlocking the two.Representations are created, and specific truths about God’s presence in our world appear in the writer’s mind. She translates those truths in her settings, characters, and dilemmas.

And what she translates is the tenet called grace, both Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace. Sanctifying Grace, inherited from the God who made us, lives in the soul and stays in the soul. By contrast, Actual grace doesn’t live in the soul; rather, throughout a lifetime, it acts in the soul as divine pushes from God toward His goodness. But those pushes require cooperation. A Catholic imagination will translate that in fiction.

The translating writer understands that a person must accept grace on his own free will; and that grace, like love, is sometimes prickly.
A writer who translates grace in a world on edge– like our world is–sees a double beginning and ending in everything, and I mean everything, including the awful, current events mentioned above. Along with this, she realizes that knowing ‘reasons why’ is a human characteristic. She perceives a cause, and an effect that creates another cause, and effect, and on and on until an epiphany, or a fall, is created.

Stories are discovered in her imagination and brought to light by a very intimate flashlight, one that shines a light on the many causes and effects of free will, and on the causes and effects of grace; both working, and often conflicting, in the same human soul.

Always though, in the Catholic Imagination that we use when writing fiction, we are led to show, and ask: Where does love come from? And our answer is–God.

How do we have the ability to Love?   The grace of God.

And who are the recipients of God’s Grace?   We are. All of us. The sinners of the world. The people Jesus came into the world to save.

I’d like to thank the Jesuits at Spring Hill College, not only for hosting us this afternoon, but for being men for others; men who find God in all things, and then go forth and set the world on fire.

My world was truly set on fire by you. And I thank you for that.”

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