To a greater or lesser degree, a Catholic view of the world inspires the work of each writer in this text. It is well, therefore, to begin by considering some of the more distinctive elements of that view that have bearing on Catholic literature. Catholicism traces its roots in an unbroken line to the transforming moment in history, the salvation offered humankind by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God chose to redeem us by becoming human and experiencing all aspects of human life, Catholic thought is highly incarnational. It emphasizes the dignity of all people made in the image of God and regards the physical world, the ordinary “stuff” of life, as essentially good and worthy of respect because Christ has sanctified it by going through it. Catholic thought is also highly sacramental. Unlike the dominant direction of Protestant thinking, Catholics stress God’s immanence in, not absence from, the world. Rightly regarded and used, all aspects of life that are not explicitly sinful become proofs of God’s presence and conduits of his grace. Art and literature, too, reveal the “real presence” of God. 1 In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Catholics even enjoy the ultimate physical contact with God as they consume the bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.
Due to its incarnational and sacramental emphases, Catholicism is thus a strongly sensate faith that finds joy in all creation. However, Catholics also remember that the world is passing away, and that the use and enjoyment of the things of earth must be ordered to the greater good, the soul’s attainment of heaven. One must, therefore, constantly train the eye to look through created things to discover the divine. In such vision, the spiritual and material are not separate aspects of reality, but rather the “sacred [i]s continuous with the secular.” 2 This Catholic sense of continuity also extends to the living and the dead with the doctrine of efficacious intercessory prayers directed to the saints in heaven and for the souls in purgatory. An integrative, analogical habit of mind—the “both/and” rather than the “either/or”—thus characterizes Catholic thought and tends to be reflected in literature as a decided penchant