Catholic books and radio

The folks at Inside Catholic have been ruminating over the question of what defines “Catholic Fiction” for a little while, and naming favorite books. Their interest in the issue has flowered into a feature idea – The Inside Catholic Book Circle that begins today, with a discussion of Ron Hansen’s new novel, Exiles, which my Li’l Bro Thom – who has a bit more time to read than I do, lately – has pronounced “wonderful”.

Here’s the scoop on the Book Circle:

What is “Catholic” fiction? Is it fiction written by a Catholic? Must it include Catholic characters and treat distinctly Catholic themes? Does it reflect a “Catholic sensibility”? Should the reader even bother with such questions?

To try to sort through some of these issues, Amy Welborn, Matthew Lickona, Bishop Daniel Flores, and Joseph O’Brien spent a week discussing them in relation to Ron Hansen’s latest novel, Exiles.

The story, in brief: Gerard Manley Hopkins is a young seminarian in Wales when he reads of the wreck of the Deutschland, a ship bound for America whose passengers — and ultimate victims — include five religious sisters exiled from Bismarck’s Germany. Unusually touched by the story, Hopkins sets about writing perhaps one of his most famous poems, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Hansen weaves the story of Hopkins’s struggle between his poetic gift and his priestly duty with that of the five sisters and their comrades in their final hours aboard the ship. Though separated by circumstance, Hansen explores the threads that bind them — exiles all in “this valley of tears.”

Each day this week, three entries from our group’s discussion will be posted. Though the members completed their conversation in advance (to keep the commentary running smoothly), they will regularly appear in the comments box to continue the discussion with you, the reader. We encourage everyone to respond, critique, ask questions, and post thoughts of your own in the comments section to add to our conversation, and help us move toward an answer to that initial question: Just what is Catholic fiction?

One final note: Reading the book is not a prerequisite for participating in the discussion. The conversation here goes far beyond the contents of Hansen’s book. However, as this is a discussion and not a review, there will be spoilers in the commentary. Proceed with caution.

The discussion is up and running, and it’s pretty interesting. I must grab the book from Thom when he is through with it.

In radio, Deacon Greg is highlighting a piece in the NY TImes on the Catholic Channel at Sirius Radio:

Mike from El Paso was on the phone line to “The Catholic Guy,” the afternoon drive-time talk program produced via the unlikely partnership of Sirius Satellite Radio (familiar to most people as “Howard Stern’s network”) and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

“I called the other day?” said Mike. “About how much I miss confession?” This would be the Mike who was barred from the sacrament of confession under church law because he married a divorced woman whose first marriage was never annulled.

“Yes, I remember!” bellowed the host, Lino Rulli, the Catholic guy of the show’s title. “Mike the Adulterer! O.K., Mike. Are you ready to play ‘Let’s Make a Catholic Deal’?”

It seems an odd marriage of sensibilities: the rough banter of talk radio as practiced by pioneer shock jocks like Mr. Stern and Don Imus, joined at the neck to an official Catholic broadcast whose underlying mission is herding people back into the fold of a religious orthodoxy.

But the stated mission of this new enterprise known as the Catholic Channel is to offer something more than “the audio equivalent of stained glass and incense,” as Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, refers to conventional religious radio.

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

About Elizabeth Scalia