The Role of
in the Catholic School
Literature —Embroidery? Or Woof to the Warp of the Catholic
There exists an attitude that
considers a Catholic book at best an expendable appendage on the
curriculum, having nothing at all to do with the formation of
Christians, but only with the formation of book clubs that drink
tea and nibble crumpets periodically in questionable honor of
Newman or Gerard Manly Hopkins.
As we see it, Catholic literature
is not an extra-curricular, an anti-curricular, a fad, a frill
- It is not a barnacle on the hull of the curriculum but a
dynamo in the engine room.
- It is not an occasional in the English syllabus but an
- It is not supplemental, but fundamental.
- It is not an occasion for tiddly-wink projects and games
during Book Week, but an occasion of grace.
It is essential, indispensable,
inalienable, irreplaceable —correlating subject, woof to the
warp of the curriculum. If religion is the vivifying soul of the
school, Catholic literature can well be the integrating factor
The Vision of
the Whole: We See Nothing if Not Everything
If Catholic literature is
misunderstood, ignored, and honored only on holydays of literary
obligation during Catholic Press Month and Book Week, it is
because the Catholic book is regarded as a thing apart from the
growth and nourishment of Christians, that is, apart from
To understand and appreciate the
integral significance of Catholic literature, we must possess a
solid grasp of its relation to the whole plan of Catholic
education that aims to form a student to the vision and image of
Before we ask what is the nature
and purpose of Catholic literature, let us recall the total
purpose of Catholic education. For nothing means anything except
in the perspective of everything. To study anything (Catholic
literature in this case) apart from the whole of everything is
to learn nothing. It may be said, in fact, that we know nothing
if everything. Unless we know what Catholic education is
supposed to do, we cannot know what Catholic literature is
supposed to and we cannot make a book do it.
School is the School of Perfection
The world is split between Jesus
and Jupiter this day, and Christ is weeping softly and alone
over a perpetual Jerusalem because His Kingdom is not come.
There is but one urgency: to restore all things in Him.
The tragedies of the world are
reducible to one: the failure of individual Christians to be
Christian. The solution to the tragedies is ours: in the
measureless immensities of the classrooms to form luminous,
radiant total Christians.
The platform of the Catholic school is eternity; its
perspective, the summit of Calvary; its philosophy, "Be ye
perfect!" not lukewarm. It is the school of perfection. It
may not aspire to anything less.
To be a saint is to be another
Christ. The Catholic school aims to propel the student
Christ-ward, to form him Christ-wise, to give him the heart of
Christ, the will of Christ, the mind of Christ; Christ’s pity,
Christ’s love, Christ’s mentality. That is, to lead him to see
all things Christ-wise. When Christ looked upon the world, upon
anything, upon everything, He saw his Heavenly Father in Whom
all things exist, Who is the unity of all reality.
The Christian must constantly
struggle to prove this proposition: that the invisible is more
important than the visible, the spirit is more than the flesh,
the unseen reality is more than the visible symbol, that the
material exists only that the spiritual may express itself in
The whole purpose of education is to lift, to exalt,
to spiritualize. If it does not spiritualize. If it does not
spiritualize, it vulgarizes, it materializes. And the current
synonym for "materialistic" is "secularistic."
Growth in Spiritual Wisdom
Education, then, is growth in spiritual vision. Should
we ask the student when he comes to us, "What wilt thou?"
as Christ asked the blind man, his proper answer should be,
"That I may SEE." And our response to him:
teach you to SEE —God. That SEEing Him, you may know Him, that
knowing Him, you may love Him; loving Him you will serve Him and
be happy abundantly."
The cultivation of this mentality
that sees all things with the eyes of Christ is the proper
function of Catholic education. It is putting on the mind of Our
Lord. The development of the spiritual vision (and holiness is
postulated on this constant perception of God —essential to
living in union with Him) is the aim of the Catholic school and
at least one key to writing the explicit directives for each
subject in the curriculum.
This is education for wholeness,
for happiness. When the student grows in spiritual perception,
he advances to the end of man —the Beatific Vision. He
approaches happiness only when he approaches its source which is
God. Happiness is seeing God in heaven. It is seeing God on
earth. It is the life that Christ came to give us more and more
The Beatific Vision is supreme happiness, total
fulfillment. The Vision of God on earth more and more vividly is
the steady conditioning of a Christian for heaven, his
destination. And death should be a "change in range and
nothing strange," the occasion for the soul’s skimming from
one plane of vision to another.
If our education is not this
conditioning the student to see, know and love God each instant,
then we and our students are missing, of course, the whole
grandeur, the challenge, and happiness of Christian living.
The Role of
Catholic Literature in this School of Perfection
The role of Catholic literature
in this school of spiritual vision is distinctive, at times
decisive with the grace of God.
Other subjects by their nature,
approach the will of man essentially through the intellect; by
its nature, the approach of literature to the will is through
the heart of man. What other subjects teach abstractly,
literature brings to life on the dramatic plane. What is dogma
in them is drama in literature, literature being to abstraction
what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is to "charity."
Literature speaks in terms of persons, people. Principles may
leave one cold, but persons move. Even the erudite must see
principle actualized to understand it fully.
Literature, then, is concrete,
warm, palpitating. It is the "hypostatic union of intellect and
emotion." It touches the heart directly, impels the will, exalts
to action. On the dramatic plane it focuses, insists, compels.
Again, it is a matter of
"vision." Let us put it this way:
- truth is compelling when real-ized
- it is best real-ized when seen
- it is seen when it is em-bodied, in-carnated,
- Catholic literature at its best in-carnates truth
on the dramatic plane—
- that men may see it!
By projecting the truths to live
by into characters, action, and life-situations, Catholic
literature can make truth dynamic and galvanize to live and
Men repeatedly turned their
indifferent backs upon the abstract Word in the Old Testament,
but the Word Incarnate of the New Testament they followed.
Is not this the ultimate function
of literature —the incarnation of truth for the inspiration of
man? For countless saints, a book was the admitted occasion for
the impulsion of their will across the tragic gap between
knowing and doing. We cannot exaggerate this potential in
literature. If parables and story are unimportant, would Christ
have told so many?
When the world was Christendom,
the hand that gave the saint his wreath gave the poet his
Literature Educates: to Spiritual Perception, to Impulsion form
Knowing to Doing, to Integrity
It is said that
"outside the sacraments and the
liturgy the greatest help for the full blossoming of Christian
life, lies in the Catholic classics."
Let us put it this way:
- Christ is compelling. He is God.
He is the ultimate Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Incarnate
- saints are compelling.
- They are "other Christs."
- They are truth exemplified on the physical plane.
- Catholic literature is compelling.
It is truth embodied on the dramatic plane.
- Catholic literature at its best depicts:
Man made to the Image of God:
Indwelt by the Trinity, dedicated to the triune activity of:
- working with the Father,
- sacrificing with the Son,
- praying with the Holy Ghost;
- Continuing Christ knowing, Christ loving, Christ
- Restoring all things in Christ.
Man whose greatest dignity is his potentiality for grace,
- whose greatest activity is corresponding
Man in relation to God in the Sacraments and the temple of
- in the Mystical Body of Christ,
- in the universe.
- Catholic literature at its best educates:
- to spiritual perception,
- to impulsion from knowing to doing,
- to integrity,
- to BE.
Let us Have Done with Conformity
It is staggering to count our
graduates who read fluff, mush and mediocrity, living from one
comic book to the next, from soap opera to horse-racing, from
carbuncle fiction to barroom-bedroom literature. For them the
end of reading is escape, day-dreaming, drugging the spirit and
chloroforming the Temple of the Holy Ghost. And the influence is
supposed to be sacerdotal!
But have they ever been taught that the end of reading is
living —the life of grace? Was not the literature they studied a
literature of conquest of others, not conquest of self; a
philanthropy, not charity; self-indulgence, not asceticism —a
literature of Apollo, not a blood-stained Christ? Who can say
that the classics they studied were insistent with, or even
cognizant of, the fundamental realities that are the marrow of
the saints’ bones and the throb of their hearts?
It has been a pity for a long
Let us stop reducing our literary
birthright to pottage. It is time that we have done with
conformity, with postponements, with appeasement, with
asseveration. We have been confirming too long. Let us reform.
Let us not fit in, but make over; not follow, but lead. Where
the old program belongs to mediocrity, let mediocrity have it.
The urgent need today is for Christian initiative in the making
the new world. Let us begin.
This is the Day of Our Visitation
This is the day of our
visitation. We fight the war of Christ universally when we fight
it locally. It is given to us to fight the war of the world in
the classroom. Let us entertain no thought of futility. We are
not fiddling while the Vatican burns. We are not apart from the
battle, but in the thick of it.
Yes, if John was a voice crying
in the wilderness, we may be crickets in chaos, but a cricket
must crick the glory of God. When 300,000 of us and our millions
of students all crick together, we shall have fierce thunder
upon the earth.
Let nuns be Teresas and Catherines of Siena. Let them be
Hildas in the Abbeys of Whitby teaching thousands of Caedmons to
sing the glory of God.
Let monks be Dominic. Let them be
Francis, teaching the larks of Umbria to sing the praises of Our
Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us restore the reign of God’s
grace on earth and then, in Augustine’s words, "There will be but one Christ, loving
This is the day of our
visitation. There is one urgency —holiness; there is one anxiety
—to restore all things in Christ. And it must be done without
Catholic Books and the War of the
By the clock of history it is the
eleventh hour. More precisely, it is five minutes to striking.
The minute-hand and the hour-hand are twitching to snip the
thread held by a patient God. Black clouds are rolling in from
the seven seas of God’s anger and man’s sinfulness.
Rulers of the world are reaching
frantic fingers for safety pins to pin together a brave new
geography. They assemble at a round table, switch off the light
shining from the Crib, and work in the dark. And they wonder why
their round table fails to find the Holy Grail.
Today is a war of minds. Christ
hangs above us all, blue and bleeding. The earth quakes and
splits in two, a long crack runs out deep and wide from the foot
of the Cross.
"Lord, remember me," says the thief on the one side. On
His left, a thief blasphemes. The world hears love from the one
speaker, blasphemy from the other.
Which way will the world go? The
mob stirs, a man mounts a stump under the blaspheming thief and
speaks hate. The mob listens, moves toward the speaker,
applauds, simmers undecidedly but in expectation of blood and
Today is a war of minds. The
masses will follow the casuist to crucify Christ or the
articulate Christian to glorify Him. Men will accept the
perspective of the Crib and Calvary if there are Catholic minds
to explain it. The moment and all men in it are trembling with
Let us bring the dynamic
potential of Catholic literature to bear for the formation of
undeviating Christians —not cabbages, but kings who will mount
the stump under the Good Thief and tell the love-hungry world
what happened on Easter morning.
Catholic literature is a lever of grace. Upon the fulcrum of
the Holy Sepulchre it can help magnificently to move the world.