“The Life You Save…”: Catholic Writers

This not being the season for long walks, it took me weeks of treadmill strolls* to finish “The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage” by Paul Ellie — an intertwined biography of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, all 20th-century Catholic writers, informally referred to as the School of the Holy Ghost. They reminded me how cool it used to be to be Catholic. (Hmm… I’ve stopped myself cold with that statement. Now I’m thinking…)

It seems like the Catholicism of my intellectual youth was about grappling with existentialist philosophy, pondering tragic and absurdist Irish playwrights, and fighting for social justice. Thomas Merton was there, with his Seven-Story Mountain conversion from worldliness to Trappist monastery. Dorothy Day was there, with her Catholic Worker fight for poor folks and for the end of the war in Southeast Asia. Flannery O’Connor was there, with her funny and wise Southern characters. My teachers in Catholic high school and college were all about exploring and testing ideas, not about celebrating one’s faith. (Of course, the nuns were all in the process of leaving the convent in the late Sixties, so… the times were unique.)

I did drift far enough away from the Church so that now it only seems like a shrill scold against liberalism. You’re either a papist or a heretic. I know that’s an unfair oversimplification… right?

Anyway, it was nice to be reminded by this quartet of writers that Catholics can be a feisty bunch of rebels, wayfarers, and reformers.

*22 hours and 39 minutes to be precise

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12 Responses to “The Life You Save…”: Catholic Writers

  1. I am absolutely enchanted with Dorothy Day. Her personal story, writings and activism have inspired me in numerous ways—I consider myself very much like her, especially in terms of her intellectual interests and spiritual understanding. She is the Catholic radical leftist compassionate woman that I aspire to be.

    I dig Thomas Merton too. Him and Thich Nhat Hanh make a damn good team when it comes to a collaboration of Buddhist and Catholic thought.

    • madinpursuit says:

      Very interesting, Samantha. One doesn’t hear much about her these days — but maybe I travel in the wrong circles. And I keep meaning to pull out my Merton on Zen again…

  2. Oh they’re still there, in parishes and high schools all over the country, possibly even in Rochester:)

  3. Or, maybe there’s one waiting for you! Yes, that’s it!!

  4. @Ellen, I confess that I looked at websites for signs of intellectual ferment (or at least some thrill of the sacred) in local parishes. I know that our bishop (fairly liberal) got his ass kicked by Rome (~10 yrs ago) for allowing a rogue parish (tho known for its social justice programs, also let women become deacons and married gays) — so they had to schism off. All I saw this time around were youth “marches for Life,” which, sorry but BLEH.

  5. I just love reading your stuff, Susan. It’s like putting my brain on a treadmill and giving my own ideas a workout.
    My Catholic faith has always been precious to me and I’m often intrigued by folks who are former Catholics and their reasons for leaving. I’m not angry with or critical of them because A) I don’t have all the answers and B) this is America. [Wow. I am sooooo cliche!]
    You’ve found a way to articulate your ideas in a sensible, inoffensive way and I love it! As always, another enjoyable read. Thanks for making my heart smile and giving me yet another reason to be SO proud of our fantabulous family! ♥
    [Yeah, yeah. Pride is a deadly sin. I’m gonna go ahead and roll the dice on this one. **wink wink**]

  6. @Linda, I *try* not to be offensive because then no one will dialogue with me. I love religious conversations (being annoyed now with political conversations). We’ll deal with those deadly sins another day. 😀

  7. Yes, Susan. There are still a few of us feisty Catholics around praying and believing. Of course I’m very much a traditionalist and stuck in my ways after all these years.

  8. Sue,
    Can’t believe I am actually checking my Facebook page – the things you find. (Actually looking to see if Kathy Welsh Van… is a Gma yet. Her daughter is almost two weeks overdue.) Anyway – I was struck by your cool statement, too, and reminded of what a truly nice and good person you are. I don’t know if I would be reading the book you mentioned – more likely Greg Bear or Ruth Rendell – but I may now. I can’t say I thought it was cool to be Catholic but possibly proud would work. Definitely the thought of being anything else was anathema – that catechism really worked. Sometimes when I think of civil rights I am amazed to think that the “otherness” I experienced as a child was for “publics” (left over from grade school) rather than African Americans or any other ethnic group. Remember Cheryl Butler at X – was that her name?

  9. @Mary, so good to hear from you & you’re so right — didn’t know any “publics” till after college, but still managed to go far “astray.” (even married a couple). @Anne, I always love hearing your feisty traditionalism — seems pretty progressive.

  10. Thanks, Susan. It works for me.

  11. Thanks, Susan. It works for me.

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