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Faith in Fiction View Comments
By Mitch Finley

FOR RON HANSEN, being Catholic and writing fiction go hand in hand. “Catholicism continually asks the big theological questions about good and evil and forces believers to accept a confessional rather than therapeutic role—that is, I have to focus on the things I’ve done or failed to do, not brood over or nurse the things that have been done to me,” he says.

“Catholicism encourages frankness about our sin-ridden natures rather than the sentimentality that flinches from descriptions of wrongs and ugliness. Flannery O’Connor said the Catholic writer should be ‘hotly in pursuit of the real.’ And that’s exactly what the finest fiction endeavors to do.”

Many of Hansen’s novels carry a Catholic theme: Mariette in Ecstasy(HarperCollins, 1991) is the story of a young woman who enters a monastery and becomes a mystic in ways that many readers—Catholics and others—find mind-blowing.

In a book review for The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani described the book as “a slim, luminous novel that burns a laser-bright picture into the reader’s imagination, forcing one to reassess the relationship between madness and divine possession, gullibility and faith, sexual rapture and religious ecstasy. ... Though considerable space is devoted in this novel to Roman Catholic beliefs and liturgy, one need hardly be familiar with that church’s teachings to be moved and amazed by this fable. With Mariette in Ecstasy, Mr. Hansen has written an astonishingly deft and provocative novel.”

Hansen brings a deeply rooted Catholic imagination to his work, finding holy in the ordinary, sacred in the secular. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford(Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), which parallels the theme of sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel, was such a well-told story that it became a widely praised movie, starring Brad Pitt, in 2007. Having written both the novel and the screenplay, Hansen was invited to visit the film set in Canada a few times, where he met director Andrew Dominik and some of the actors, including Pitt, whom he advised on the character of Jesse James.

“I have a photo of the two of us together,” Hansen remarks wryly, “but I had to promise not to let it be published anywhere.”

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Mitch Finley lives and writes in Spokane, Wash., with his spouse of 37 years, Kathy, a university teacher, licensed counselor and author. Together, they are the parents of three grown sons. He is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes.

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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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