Being a born and raised Catholic myself, I can say this is quite a huge deal. For Listecki to suddenly let people off the hook on Obligation Numero Uno of Catholic Life is major move that indicates the seriousness of this ongoing viral spread, especially amongst the elderly churchgoing population. Even if you’re young and healthy, you risk spreading the disease to those who aren’t, so refraining from the communal worship for a while is a good call, and you should definitely consider staying home.
But if you’re like me, a dyed-in-the-wool, straight-up, ride-or-die, Roman-blooded, ecclesiastical gangster whose been going to Mass since he left the womb, then you might be pretty uncertain about what a Mass-free weekend looks like.
I personally can’t think of a better way to fill up that free hour than with the best of Catholic literature, and so here are some suggestions, my curious Catholic companions:
Now when people say “Catholic literature” you probably think about some godawful crap from Sunday School, like a book about nuns eating soup or a little priest feeding his hedgehog, but Catholic literature can be straight-up gruesome. Some of the best writers of all time are inside that sweet, sweet Vatican fold, and here are some of their best books to enjoy during that free hour this weekend.
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor is the best short story writer ever. This book of stories has some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever meet and some of the most horrifying and violent tableaus of grotesque grace ever committed to paper. If you don’t know who The Misfit is now, trust me, you won’t forget him.
Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
The subtitle of this novel is “The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World.” If that doesn’t get you going, I don’t know what will. A Louisiana psychiatrist named Thomas More (a descendant of the saint) embarks on a strange adventure involving snipers, gin and tonics, and brain-reading helmets. This novel follows bravely in the existentialist tradition of Kierkegaard and is one of Percy’s most masterful feats.
The Seven-Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
This engaging and convincing memoir by a young debauched cosmopolite turned Trappist monk sent hundreds of young men to the monastery when it was published in 1948 (and may send one more depending on how this whole journalism thing goes).
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
A “whiskey priest” who is far from a saint, travels through 1930s Mexico, where Catholicism is outlawed and priests are violently persecuted. The priest is a so-deeply flawed protagonist that every small glimpse of redemption is intensely impactful throughout this novel, which was actually condemned by the Archbishop of Westminster.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
You know I had to drop Big Man J.R.R on you. Tolkien was just about as Catholic as you can get, and that’s pretty obvious throughout this fantasy epic. If you haven’t read it, now’s your chance. Also, watch the movies, because man oh man, are they good. “An hour of wolves and shattered shields” still gives me goosebumps.
The Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton? More like Good Kontent Chesterton, because this guy wrote some damn memorable stuff. If you’re into theology and arguments and whatnot, you should definitely hop onto his non-fiction books Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, but if you just want some good stories, then Father Brown is the way to go. These short stories are genuine mysteries, not dumb nonsense where it turns out that Johnny the Jam-Maker was actually a Russian robot or some nonsense. They’re each little puzzle boxes, and half the delight is trying to figure out the answer before you reach the end.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
I actually didn’t like this book that much. Sorry. But all the other Catholic book people really seem to be into it, so I guess it should be included on this list. It’s very English. Lot of fancy people and dinners and stuff. Also the big house is a metaphor for the Church. So there’s that.
The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd
St. Thomas More is a fascinating case study in taking a principled stand, regardless of your opinion on Henry VIII (which I honestly hope isn’t very high). When More refused to acknowledge Henry’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, he was imprisoned and later beheaded after refusing to compromise his morality. A life worth reading about.
The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie
This book is like the Avengers of mid-20th century Catholic novelists. Elie brings together the lives of Walker Percy, Flanner O’Connor, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton all into one cohesive biographical and literary narrative that traces their journey through writing and faith.