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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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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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