The Catholic Literary Writer

Posted: September 12, 2022 in World On The Edge
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HOW DOES A CATHOLIC WRITER’S IMAGINATION WORK?

I

Along with the present moment, each human person carries a past and a vision for their future, These can be brought to the forefront by our human imagination and allow us to better understand our lives. But the Christian imagination and its belief in God presents an even wider view. We have a purpose in being here. Yes, we are here on this earth for a reason.

Without belief in God, comes the perception that what is real is only available through the senses, and that we were created through a chaotic combination of unlikely accidents. If a person thinks this way, God is negated because admitting God creates that purpose beyond the senses. It creates an invisible world, a spiritual world, that is truer and more lasting than the sensual world we can see.

The Catholic vision, the Catholic imagination, understands that –just beside our physical world — there is a spiritual world — and an ongoing battle between good and evil in both. In this battle, we often let go of God, even with the magnificent destiny promised us — eternal life in the presence of God. And yet, in spite of ourselves, we have been given hope.

I

One Common Denominator

The Incarnation

The common denominator, the sole reason, behind Catholic fiction produced by a Catholic imagination, is belief in the Incarnation. God became man, suffered for our sins, and died for love of us. In Catholic novels, God and sin (good and evil) are the forward-moving thrusts. God pursing the sinner is key, and therefore, the revelation that God’s love reaches out to all, not just the righteous.

At first glance, stories that come from the Catholic Imagination may not always be beautiful in our usual sense of the word, because the actions of people are not always beautiful. In fact, they are often plainly ugly. But when the Catholic fiction writer shows the presence of God in our world, the Truth comes out. Ugliness can be redeemed. If this is not sincerely believed by the writer, it shows, and the work falls apart.

II

Subjective Thinking

The fiction writer with a Catholic imagination writes about what is personal to himself. He/she is a subjective thinker, writing as a particular human being created by and directly related to God. For the Catholic writer, human beings exist only because God exists. The writer views himself as a child with a Father who loves him, a child who is often disobedient, and yet, at times completely in line. And he understands that the Father’s love does not disappear in either situation. When a Catholic writer believes himself to be both ugly and beautiful, but nevertheless loved, his imagination will transfer that human mystery to Story.

III

Mystery

The Catholic imagination shines out the existence of a good God even when the human deficiencies of a character keeps that character from recognizing it. The Catholic imagination also shines out evil. Evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured. (Flannery O’Connor) A Catholic fiction writer presents a truth that is higher than anything material, an intangible truth, and a mystery that some will not accept.

IV

Becoming

A writer’s characters and their dilemmas are always becoming something either higher, or lower, than before. The becoming is a mystery, too. Key to that mystery is weaving authenticity into the story. Everything in the universe is connected and forever on the move; this is concrete science. The Catholic writer uses the concrete, but aims beyond it through immaterial Truths.

This is a quote from Catholic novelist Walker Percy’s 1983 address to the trainee priests graduating from St Josephs College Seminary in Louisiana. I would add that it speaks also to all who write with a Catholic imagination. The address ended with these words:

Never has there been such loneliness in the midst of crowds, never such hunger in the face of satiation. Never has there been a more fertile ground for the seed and the harvest the Lord spoke of. All that is needed is a bearer of the Good News who speaks it with such authenticity that it can penetrate the most exhausted hearing, revive the most jaded language.

Authenticity is the key word here. The realization that sinners, like each of us, can be redeemed. Think of the beauty in that! Think of how the world is changed when even one sinner is touched by the grace of God!

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