Death Comes for the Book Club: With So Many "Catholic" Writers to Choose from, Your Parish Book List Might Require Some Heavy Lifting

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The St. Francis de Sales Parish Book Club meets in the basement room in the rectory where Father Matthias used to run the parish weight-lifting club, until he was recruited by the local Lutheran university football team to be their strength and conditioning coach, which he says cheerfully is a ministry among the heathen not unlike St. Thomas sweating amid the Hindus on the teeming shores of India, although the Lutherans, God bless their tall and well-groomed souls, are a sect founded by a Catholic monk, so we must remember they are our cousins in the Merciful Lord Jesus, and besides, old Martin Luther did say sin boldly, for which you have to admire the old reprobate.

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Anyway, says Mrs. Cooney, notwithstanding Father Matt's convoluted apologetics here, we are not here to talk about Father Matt, who remains a priest in good standing even if he is bulking up the Lutherans, despite what certain unnamed members of the Altar Society twitter in scurrilous fashion, but we are here to decide what books to read this fall, before we return to the collected works of the greatest Catholic novelist of all time, who is of course Maeve Binchy. The floor is open.

The plays of His Holiness the late John Paul II!

Great pope, awful playwright, says Mrs. Cooney. No. Next.

The essays of Andre Dubus?

Yes. Best Catholic writer since Flannery O'Connor.

Should we read his stories also?

No. Adultery every third page. He's the American Graham Greene.

James Joyce?

Well--he wasn't Catholic after puberty. Maybe Dubliners.

Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain!

No. Overwritten boyish burble. A good editor would have halved it.

Objection! It totally caught the Catholic zeitgeist of the 1950s!

Anyone using the word zeitgeist loses her vote, says Mrs. Cooney coldly. Next.

Ron Hansen's novel Mariette in Ecstasy?

Is that ... lurid? If so I vote yes.

No, no--life in a convent, awe, jealousy, stigmata. Genius stuff.

Approved, says Mrs. Cooney. Which reminds me that we should also have Ruiner Godden's This House of Brede on the list. Masterpiece. Set in an abbey.

Dorothy Day's diaries?

Yes. What a witness to the miracle of every moment.

Peter Maurin?

Yes. Pithiest writer ever.

Flannery O'Connor's letters?

Yes. Maybe the only writer other than Robert Louis Stevenson whose letters are not about money. Writers--what a bunch of whiners.

Chesterton?

No. Poor man never had an unpublished thought. Let's not reward him for that.

Waugh?

No, he's English. No imperial slave-masters this year.

Annie Dillard?

Yes. Maybe Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, right after Dorothy Day, as a sort of witness to wonder theme. Then maybe For the Time Being, which is weird and glorious.

Teilhard de Chardin?

No. Incomprehensible muck. Not even Teilhard knew what he was talking about, the poor man. Plus he was a Jesuit, and we are focusing on Catholic writers this year.

George Bernanos?

No. No one admits how dull Diary of Country Priest is.

Carlo Levi?

No. Humorless.

Primo Levi?

Yes. Another one for our witness to grace theme. Can you witness evil and report on it in such a way that no one can ever forget what happened ever again, which is a blow against the darkness? Yes.

Joseph Bernardin?

Yes. That man was a saint.

J.F. Powers?

Yes. Let's read all of Powers. Half-forgotten, and undeservedly so. As fine a Catholic fiction writer as this country ever hatched from its salty soil, period.

Fulton Sheen?

No. You know the rules: No writers who wore heavy makeup.

Paul Wilkes' In Mysterious Ways: The Death and Life of a Parish Priest? …