“A Writer Who is Catholic”

My #3 daughter has some of my qualities, and attitudes.

About four years back now, she vented frustration about writers, faith, and assumptions. She wasn’t nearly as loud as I’ve often been during ‘vents.’

When folks learned she’s a writer, they’d often say something like ‘oh, good: we need more Catholic writers.’

She’d say something like “I’m a writer who is Catholic, not a ‘Catholic writer.'”

I know what she means. She isn’t writing another ‘lives of the Saints,’ or book of prayers. She’s a Catholic who writes.

Another time, she said that Catholics doing ‘normal person’ stuff was a good idea. I think she’s right.

Being ‘in the world but not of the world’ includes being in the world. The idea shows up in John 15:1819 and 17:1416, and Romans 12:2.

What got me thinking about writers and being Catholic was something Fr. Robert Carr wrote recently about the ministry of presence.1 He was discussing urban priests, and the importance of simply being in the neighborhood.

I figure the principle applies to laity, too. We won’t do much good if we’re not around. Acting like we’re a few cards short of full deck doesn’t seem reasonable, either.

I’m not sure how ‘normal’ being a writer is. But for me it’s about as natural as breathing. And nearly as unavoidable. I suspect my daughter’s the same way.

Telling Stories

She’s writing a series of fantasy stories. Or maybe they’re science fiction.

These stories are not “Catholic” or “Christian.” Not overtly.

Religion isn’t part of their fictional landscape. Like the fellow said, “the book has not been baptized.”

That doesn’t bother me.

Having characters shouting “hallelujah” at intervals, or saying ‘dost thou’ instead of ‘have you,’ doesn’t make a story ‘religious.’

I can’t say that I miss the Biblese in films like “Samson and Delilah” and “The Prodigal,” and that’s another topic.

My daughter’s stories are set in a sub-creation2 that’s different in physical detail from the real world. But it works the same way on other levels.

I’ve known a few folks who don’t like fiction, particularly fantasy and science fiction. As long as readers don’t have trouble telling the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe,’ I don’t see a problem with imaginary tales.

The ‘good guys’ in her stories often mean well, but sometimes do bad things: even by their standards. Her ‘bad guys’ do emphatically bad things, but at least one of them had been forced to behave badly.

She’s writing about human, and other, beings who are not perfect. Her fictional characters cope, or fail to cope, with that ancient wound we call original sin.3

I think there’s value in telling stories where folks act like people, decisions influence actions, and actions have consequences. A story can show how reality works without getting preachy. Or being “realistic.”

I think there’s also value in discussing sin, God, and cultural quirks, and that’s yet another topic. (April 23, 2017; November 13, 2016; July 10, 2016)

Doing What Seems Reasonable

I don’t think being a ‘Catholic writer’ is wrong. That attitude would be as silly as saying everybody must speak in tongues.

As 1 Corinthians 12 says, we’re not supposed to be cookie cutter Christians.

Being distinct, unique, individuals and cultures is a good thing. Forgetting that we all have equal dignity, not so much. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18971917,19341938, 1957, 2334)

There’s more to ‘Catholic writing’ than prayer and devotional books, or collections of pithy and edifying sayings.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing. But there’s a lot more, like William May’s “An Introduction to Moral Theology,” 2nd edition (2003). Light reading it isn’t.

I’d be a ‘Catholic writer,’ if I saw that as the best use of my abilities.

Instead, I’m a writer who is Catholic. Writing isn’t what I ‘live for.’ That sort of misplaced priority is a bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

But I love language, enjoy digging up facts, and sharing what I find. Writing seems like a reasonable thing to do. It’s pretty obviously part of my vocation.

Having a vocation doesn’t make me a priest or a monk. Everyone’s got a vocation. (August 14, 2016)

My daughter decided that writing a still-growing tale about folks living in an imaginary world was a good idea. I think she’s right.

I’d like to create something along those lines. I also enjoy writing about faith and reason, science and truth.

Science? In a ‘religious’ blog? I’ve talked about religion, reality, and why I think using our brains is okay, pretty often. (March 31, 2017; December 23, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Constants and Variables

I think it’s too easy for folks to assume that being Catholic and being old-fashioned are the same thing.

As I keep saying, faith and nostalgia aren’t synonyms. And the ‘good old days’ weren’t. (July 4, 2017; June 18, 2017)

‘We’ve always done it this way’ doesn’t make something a good idea. On the other hand, some things don’t change:

“Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.”
(“Life Is Worth Living” (1951-1957), Program 19, The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, via Wikiquotes)

Stealing was wrong when Nebuchadnezzar II had the Ishtar Gate built.4 It still is, and it will be when the 46th century begins.

It’s not true because it’s an old idea. It’s true because taking something unjustly violates natural law. (March 30, 2017; February 5, 2017; November 21, 2016)

Natural law doesn’t change. Theft is always wrong. (Exodus 20:15; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:19; Catechism, 19541960, 2408)

What’s stolen and how we deal with the issue? That changes.

Hammurabi’s law code, 125, talks about theft of property left in another person’s care, but doesn’t mention how copyright applies to DRM. The WIPO Copyright Treaty does. The WIPO treaty almost certainly doesn’t deal with all property disputes of the 5740s.

That sort of thing is positive law, rules we make up. They change as our cultures change. They should change, at any rate. Positive law works best when it’s based on natural law. (June 18, 2017; February 5, 2017)

Style, Substance, and Steampunk

Diehard fans of the King James Bible notwithstanding, there’s nothing ‘Biblical’ about antique English. Take this career advice from Lady MacBeth, for example:

“…Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What thou art promis’d: yet doe I feare thy Nature….”
(Lady Macbeth, “The Tragedie of Macbeth,” William Shakespeare (1st performed ca. 1606, published 1623))

Better yet, don’t take her advice.

Imitating a bygone era’s language can be fun. It’s helped writers draw readers into historical settings.

Writers and artists dealing with imaginary worlds can get material by mining another era’s design aesthetic. Studio Foglio’s Girl Genius serial epic introduced me steampunk before I learned it was a new(ish) sub-genre, one the Foglios call “gaslamp fantasy,” and that’s yet again another topic.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Writers, the “Alice” books, Girl Genius. Got it!

Stories, the ones folks read when they’re not assigned reading for some class, reflect reality: even if the setting is far from ‘realistic.’

One of these days I may buckle down and write about Castle Dampthorn, or do more excerpts from Otha Sisk’s “Notes of a Traveler.” Meanwhile, I’ll most likely keep writing the sort of things you see here.

Surrounded by Beauty and Wonders

We live in a vast and ancient universe, surrounded by beauty and wonders.

It’s pretty much the same as it was a few centuries back. What’s changing is how much we’ve learned about how it works.

We’re also learning how very much more we have left to learn. I don’t see a problem with that. (June 30, 2017; June 16, 2017)

Each time we learn something new about Earth’s long story, spot a planet circling another star, or get closer to understanding how reality works on subatomic scales, it’s an opportunity for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Truth and beauty is everywhere. Noticing it, or not, depends on whether we decide that paying attention is worth the effort.

It’s expressed many ways: in words, “the rational expression of the knowledge;” “the order and harmony of the cosmos;” and “the greatness and beauty of created things.” (Catechism, 32, 41, 74, 2500)

God’s infinite beauty reflected in “the world’s order and beauty” tells us a little about God. Being curious is a good idea. A thirst for truth and happiness is written into each of us. If we’re doing our job right, it’ll lead us to God. (Catechism, 27, 3132, 341)

And that’s still another topic.

Posts, some more obviously related than others:

1 A priest’s view of being present:

2 Thinking about make-believe worlds:

3 Each of us is basically good, but we deal with fallout from a really bad decision. We’re out of harmony with creation and God. (Catechism, 374, 396412)

Oddly enough, one of the most coherent non-Catholic discussions I’ve run across on the topic was in a Monty Python movie. More of my take on reality and original sin:

4 Quite a few scholars figure the core of Deuteronomy was written in Jerusalem during the 7th century BC. That would make what we call Deuteronomy 5:19, “You shall not steal,” fairly new around Nebuchadnezzar II’s day:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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4 Responses to “A Writer Who is Catholic”

  1. irishbrigid says:

    Missing word: “Girl Genius serial epic introduced me steampunk before I learned”

    ‘Thing’ or ‘things?’ “I’ll most likely keep writing the sort of thing you see here.”

    Another missing word: “What’s changing is how much we’ve learned about how works.”

    Number agreement: “Each of us is basically good, but deal with fallout from”

    What? “fairly new around the time Nebuchadnezzar II’s day”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

    P.S. Also, the Foglios are quite insistent that it’s ‘gaslamp fantasy’ *not* ‘steampunk.’ The difference can be little vague, seeing as the Foglios also coined the term.

  2. Pingback: A Catholic Citizen in America: A Motley Gallimaufry | JOY Alive in our heartsJOY Alive in our hearts

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