When Truth is Disturbing: Another Look at Wuthering Heights and the Purpose of Literature

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Flannery O’Connor

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, drew me in immediately, pulling me through every lurid page. Yet I felt oddly uncomfortable about how much I liked it as it is populated by selfish, angry, dysfunctional characters, only one of whom possesses much of a moral compass.

Like a good Catholic (I say that sarcastically), I tend to want to spend to time reading things that will edify or offer some great insight or meaningful lesson to take away, which I usually look for in Christian themes or uplifting messages. But this is exactly the attitude that Flannery O’Connor excoriated in her 1965 essay, “The Catholic Reader and the Catholic Novel,” in which she skewered the legions of “pious trash” that Catholics have written and that Catholics read. O’Connor argued that good art or literature has to be good in and of itself–that is, it must also be true. Something that disregards basic truths or doesn’t testify to them fully will inevitably be bad–no matter how pious.

She says, quoting Aquinas, “a work of art is good in itself…this is a truth that the modern world has largely forgotten.” When she cites him, she (and he) mean “good” in the metaphysical sense–that is the worth of the art comes from itself, not just from its relation to ideas we approve of. Goodness is one of the transcendentals; the others are truth, unity and beauty. Goodness, in this sense, is its desirability in so far as it exists, its ability to attract and move the will. It is a property co-existent with being, one that is not dependent on our feelings about it. To my judgement, “goodness” in a work of art will correlate with one or both of two things: its beauty and its truth.

In written work, with the exceptions of certain poetry, the value defaults to coming from truth. Then the value of being a Catholic writer or a Catholic work doesn’t come from having “uplifting” themes, but from being true, of offering real insight into reality and human understanding. Many secular works succeed at this; many Christian ones fail.

But, Catholic belief should be an effective instrument that contributes to a work’s goodness. Far from a shackle, O’Connor says, “dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality.” She further explains: “It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.” Thus the Church’s understanding of the span of natural and supernatural realities is a magnificent insight that aids the artist or viewer in seeing and composing a true picture of the world.

Nevertheless, she says, the artist must still use her own eyes. The Church offers an extension of sight, not a replacement. O’Connor cautions that “When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.” Just like grace does not exclude free will, the Catholic vision still demands the vision of the writer him or herself. Her insight is that Catholic literature is really anything that is true, but that something that pursues the whole scope of reality will inevitably be better. I think here of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Having established that good art is true. That leads me back to Wuthering Heights. Someone as wretched as the abusive Mr. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights still offers us a great catholic value; Healthcliff shows us a dark side of humanity, an anti-hero whose love, while real, is distorted and disordered and plays out to the harm of the generations, the cast of characters whom he taints.

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Freelance Repost: Mrs. Clinton’s Religion Problem

I wrote this article before the election but never posted it here:

This is why I am truly glad that Mrs. Clinton did not win. However, it is hard to be happy about a Trump win, and there are so many other causes for concern with his behavior. People keep reassuring me that he won’t actually do any of the things he proposes, but that’s a different topic.

http://truthandcharityforum.org/mrs-clintons-religion-problem/

Leaders of black churches have questioned Mrs. Clinton specifically about concerns for their own religious liberty. In an open letter signed by twenty-six pastors and leaders of African-American churches, including Jacqueline Rivers of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies in Boston, they called attention to the CAGC comments by John Podesta;

“Key players on your staff have sought to subvert Catholic teaching on sexuality by planting externally funded groups in the church to advance a politically correct agenda,” they noted. “What would you do as president to guarantee that religious freedoms are balanced against civil rights rather than being trumped by them?”

They show respect for their fellow faith communities and go on to explain the central role their religious beliefs play in their ministry, particularly in poor communities, where the church is only institution well-placed to access the population, both spiritually and materially. In Christianity, beliefs are not meant as cudgels with which to bludgeon opponents; beliefs are guides to goodness, to recognizing the inherent dignity of our fellows, of striving to live well both today and forever, individually and as a society.

While Christians can and do fall short of our ideals, we seek freedom of conscience for the sake of authenticity, not hatred. Religion, despite its present unpopularity in elite circles, was once an uncontroversially protected category of conscience and identity. The drafters of the Bill of Rights thought as much.

Full article here:

 

Local Book Places #5 Busboys and Poets/ Politics and Prose

  I did something so hopelessly cliche it makes me laugh, but it was fun and that’s what matters: a book-signing at Busboys and Poets. I had begun reading Lit by Mary Karr with the Contemporary Catholic Writers reading group … Continue reading

Catholic Poet, Dana Gioia, Reads at CUA and Calls on Catholics to Revive Their Place in the Arts

Poetry is far from dead, according to faithful poet Dana Gioia

On Friday, April 22, 2016 at Catholic University of America, Keane Auditorium was brimming with eighty students and locals and their quiet conversations as they awaited not a party but a poetry reading by renowned contemporary poet Dana Gioia, wearing a gray suit and pink tie, looking completely at his ease as honored guest, poet and speaker.

(Image from Catholic World Report)

As a few more stragglers joined the room and took their seats, a hush fell, and Gioia began the reading, or recitation more accurately, as he narrated most of the poems without checking the text, and when he did steal a glance at the pages, it was only occasional. Gioia shared twelve poems with personal introductions from his new book: “99 Poems, New and Selected.” One of them, “The Angel with the Broken Wing,” used first person perspective to the tell the story of a mexican carved angel that was vandalized during the persecutions and then removed from its ritual context and placed in a museum. “The staff finds me too fierce, and so they shut Faith’s ardor in this air-conditioned tomb,” read the end of its first stanza.

The introductory context he provided to each poem gave key interpretational clues. Afterwards, he took questions for almost thirty minutes, some regarding the role of the Catholic faith in the arts, a topic Gioia is well-known for addressing. In his 2013 landmark essay in First Things, “The Catholic Writer Today,” Gioia noted the decline of the presence of Catholics in the literary arts, a trend which seems to be met with mutual disinterest by both the Church and the secular arts establishment.

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Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
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Local Report: Lay Women Take Up the Cause of Mom Ministry

It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.

I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.

As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.

As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.

I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way. Continue reading

Why A Catholic College is Good for Intellectual Freedom, My essay from the Cardinal Newman Society: Origins of Dissent in Catholic Universities

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Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society

http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/4901/Finding-the-Origins-of-Today%E2%80%99s-Dissent-in-Catholic-Colleges.aspx

“On April 18, students at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., and at the graduate campus in Alexandria, Va., welcomed a calm and unassuming young priest with closely shaven blond hair to talk about the origins of dissent at U.S. Catholic colleges. The history and the events described during the presentation help to understand the many Catholic identity problems seen on college campuses today…

“The story began in April 1967, a few short years after the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965. Father Charles Curran, a young theology professor at CUA, taught openly that Catholics ought to follow their conscience, even if it differed from the teachings of the Magisterium. Fr. Curran caught special attention because his field was moral theology, and he focused on sexual ethics and contraception.

“The bishops on the board of trustees of CUA tried to quietly oust the nontenured professor by not renewing his contract. Fr. Curran responded by heading straight to the press and followed up by igniting a protest that included both students and faculty. Fr. Mitchell pointed out that Fr. Curran’s protest tapped into widespread resentment among faculty about an overly authoritarian style of leadership from the pre-Vatican II hierarchy, thus adding cultural fuel to the fire.

“Within a legitimately pluralistic society, the faithfulness of a Catholic college strengthens rather than diminishes its ability to make a unique contribution to the intellectual community and the nation at large. Fr. Mitchell argued that a “Catholic” university is no less for being Catholic; rather it is a university in the fullest sense, “dedicated to teaching the truth, seeking to understand rightly the meaning of academic freedom and tolerance for diverse opinions.”

The specific, magisterial methodology for the theological and philosophical disciplines indeed sets Catholic universities apart; it is also what gives them their distinctive character. Authentic theology models a way of investigating truth in a clear manner, albeit different from narrow interpretations of a rationalist scientific method that tend to predominate at secular universities.

The Catholic faith teaches that truth has but one source, that all truth comes from and points back to God. So there is nothing to be lost from different approaches, provided they are honest and reasonable.

The freedom to be truly Catholic is just as American as freedom of religion itself, the first clause of the First Amendment. Being a Catholic university, then, means holding to the fullness of the faith, including loyalty to the Magisterium (which in no way prevents lay people from recognizing real faults in the actions of priests and bishops themselves). There is nothing threatening, unfree or un-American about letting a Catholic university be Catholic. It exists as an expression of the freedom to seek truth in differing ways, essentially an embodiment of pluralism at its best.

 

– See more at: http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/4901/Finding-the-Origins-of-Today%e2%80%99s-Dissent-in-Catholic-Colleges.aspx#sthash.0q1NDXJp.dpuf

Questions: This definitely goes against conventional wisdom. Do you buy it? Can a Catholic College be a good thing for pluralism?

 

2 Posts on Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia

Pope FrancisThese reflections of mine originally appeared on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

It is indeed nuanced, full of Pope Francis’s back and forth style as he shows sympathy for difficult situations in between tackling erroneous viewpoints. Like Christ with the woman caught in adultery, Francis counsels concern and care for sinners rather than simple condemnation, while still holding onto the reality of sin. Anything so thoughtfully balanced is bound to confuse or unsettle some people in a culture accustomed to accusations and polarization….

“In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others.’ (AL 49)”

While it is manifest that conception occurred illicitly, children conceived out of wedlock are not uncommon, and we do not know the situation of willingness of either of the two participants. What Pope Francis is saying is that little good is achieved by shunning such a woman. Her situation is trialsome enough. It is precisely such a person who needs a place of welcome, not a bunch of judgemental scowls.

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

The much hyped question is that of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. And the answer isn’t the clear “yes,” that many media releases want it to be. This question is honestly a footnote to the wider discussion of family life, and a careful reading in continuity with Church teaching, reveals that there isn’t any change in canon law, or the Church’s codes for proper liturgical and sacramental observance. …

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters had this to say on his blog about those who “think that AL fn. 351 and its accompanying text authorize holy Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages.” He states that Francis never does this. The Pope does say that:

Catholics in irregular unions need the help of the sacraments (which of course they do), but he does not say ALL of the sacraments, and especially, not sacraments for which they are ineligible. He says that the confessional is not a ‘torture chamber’ (a trite remark but not an erroneous one). And he observes that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect (thank God), but a powerful spiritual medicine, which it is—unless it is taken unworthily or in violation of law, a caveat one may assume all Catholics, and certainly popes, know without having to say it.

Peters reads Amoris Laetitia in continuity with Catholic teaching, that all that is accepted about reception of the Eucharist still stands, which of course is the only reasonable way to read a papal document.

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

Did you hear about Amoris Laetitia? Did it seem controversial to you? I have read some good thoughts on both sides.

From T&C: The Communists are right! (About the family’s problems, but wrong about the solutions).

This article appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI.

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/the-communists-are-right-the-family-is-the-basic-cell-of-society-but-here-is-why-their-solution-is-wrong/

The Communists were right about a good many things, but often misguided in their solutions. In Friedrich Engels’ account of the family from “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” accuses monogamous marriage as the beginning of class oppression in society, and he describes the family as “the cellular form of civilized society.” In the latter sentiment, he is correct: the family is the basic cell of society. But in the wider sense, the Communists have the answer painfully reversed.

Engels argued in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is the cellular form of civilized society, in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied.

Viewing the family as a vehicle for power relations and nothing more, Marx and Engels argued for its dissolution.

familyIn the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.”

Ironically, he rightly points out hypocrisy so present in upper-middle class families, i.e. the bourgeois, where adultery and use of prostitutes is present; and he is also right that family relations among the poor are looser with more children born out of wedlock, something we still see today. Marx’s solution is to abolish the family, or more accurately, he argued that it would disappear as private property was abolished.

Though their analysis is largely correct about problems in the family, it does not mean that the family is intrinsically bad or the source of disorder.

Precisely because the family is the basic unit of society, the answer to society’s problems is not to dismantle the family, but to heal it. Continue reading

My first for the Cardinal Newman Society: Good things coming from Harvard; jives with good work at Catholic Schools

Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society This essay regards a topic close to my heart, the criteria for college admissions and the effect those have on students. It was very interesting to … Continue reading