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The Role of Catholic Literature
in the Catholic School

Br. George Schuster

Catholic Literature —Embroidery? Or Woof to the Warp of the Catholic Curriculum

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 —embroidery.

  • 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 integral.
  • 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 of it.

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 Catholic education.

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 God.

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.

The Catholic 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 its terms.

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."

Education is 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: "We shall 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 abundantly.

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, act-ualized
  • 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 immolation.

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 laurel.

Catholic 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 redeeming;    
    • Restoring all things in Christ.

Man whose greatest dignity is his potentiality for grace,

  • whose greatest activity is corresponding with grace.

Man in relation to God in the Sacraments and the temple of his being,

  • 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 time.

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 Himself."

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 delay.

Catholic Books and the War of the World

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 riches.

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 destiny.

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.