Thursday, January 23, 2014


Here's something I've been wondering vis-a-vis our recent discussion about the current dearth of Catholic writers. We might start by asking why some of our best "Catholic" writers aren't Catholic.

Japanese novelist Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Personal Matter says more about being for life—all of life—than all the anti-abortion screeds ever written. Along with his wife, Ōe raised a brain-damaged child (and two others) into adulthood, and the theme of the wounded child, the imperfection that shatters our lives, runs through much of his work.

In spite of frail health and chronic illness, American journalist Katherine Boo journeyed to India, for four years immersed herself in the lives of urban slum dwellers, and wrote the sublime non-fiction work Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, journalist Chris Hedges (along with graphic artist Joe Sacco) writes of America’s “sacrifice zones”: the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota; the indentured-slave tomato pickers in Florida.

These are works about humans, written by humans, that treat of the human condition. To be Catholic is to be curious about and affectionate toward other human beings, no matter how disturbing, wayward, and annoying we find them. Because that is how Christ finds us.

Any recovering drunk off the street will tell stories of his day-to-day life that are gripping, stimulating, thought-provoking, poignant, and grounded in the deepest morality of all; namely, that the problem is not other people; the problem is us. In his way, he tells Gospel stories: about demons being driven out, the blind being made to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. Still bearing the wounds, but nonetheless, walking. Holding out a shaky hand to the next person.

And he is funny.

That is Catholic.

Film-maker Robert Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped) wrote that he wanted to help men and women “discover the matter they are made of.” "Where have all the great ones gone?" asked Andrei Tarkovsky. another Catholic-in-spirit film-maker. "Where are Rossellini, Cocteau, Renoir, Vigo? The great—who are poor in spirit?"

The great who are poor in spirit—that is really Catholic. Or as Thérèse of Lisieux prayed on her deathbed, “May I become little, more and more.”

descanso gardens, la cañada, ca


  1. As a non-Catholic, I love this. I have learned more true theology from people on the street than any church could ever teach.

  2. The Church IS or is meant to be the people on the street. That's what it is to me, so then it doesn't have to be either/or, but rather a continuum or everything part of the same holy thing, namely, the individual human being. Somehow when I came in, only because I had been brought to my knees by being such a terrible, hopeless drunk, I got Oh, that's what Christ died for--the story that makes you both laugh, cry, and want to go on; the broken, sick, brave, conflicted, wild-card beauty of humanity. Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the poor in spirit, if they haven't totally given in to despair, are INTERESTING. So maybe the discussion is what Catholic means in the first place, before we get to what it means to be a Catholic writer...
    Anyway, thank you Caroline!

  3. They are probably not Catholic because they are merely humanists. They do not believe in the incarnation and therefore nothing after that would be possible: the founding of a Church by Christ, who is God, His death and Resurrection, His sending of the Holy Spirit, His Real Presence in the Eucharist, an actual real hell, purgatory and heaven, or any of the other aspects of supernatural reality which require recognition for someone to be "Catholic". The virtues to which they ascribe are the "natural virtues" discussed at length by pagan philosophers, but which we understand differently based on the supernatural character of Christ and his vision for "Chistian perfection" which must come by using the sanctifying grace of his sacraments, etc. This distinction between natural virtues and the supernatural virtue contemplated and described in the Gospel is covered well by Fr. Garigou LaGrange in "Three Ages of the Interior Life." Pax Christi.


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