Monday, July 14, 2008

A Catholic View

After I sent in my request for A Passion Most Pure, the author emailed me. She said that she noted on my blog that I was Catholic and said that as her book was one of the few works of Christian fiction about a Catholic family, she was looking forward to hearing my opinion. Well, here it is.

First of all, the book is a story of a Boston Irish Catholic family in the year just prior to and all through WWI. It especially focuses the two oldest daughters, who are dating age and the parents, whose 20 year marriage is still full of passion, not only for each other but for God. To say that there is sibling rivalry between the girls is to put in mildly. However, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after--and much as I like happily ever after, given other things that happened in the book, this one was almost too happy--one of those "trust God and everything will be great in the end" type of things. I really liked the overall message of the book--that it is by following the rules set down by God for romantic relationships that we will achieve the relationships that give us the love we seek, including the passion. Disobey those rules and we open ourselves up to using and being used by others. I enjoyed the story and had it been about a Protestant family, I'd say it was about what I expected--an enjoyable light read. The characters were a little one-dimensional (the good sister had few if any bad characteristics and the bad sister had little good in her). The problem is that the book is about a Catholic family, yet for the most part, they acted like the main market for this book--Evangelical Protestants.

I hope that some of the problems with the book are due to the author's lack of familiarity with Catholicism especially as it was practiced at that time, rather than a deliberate choice to mis-represent it. She has a main character, one of the teeanged daughters of this devout Catholic family, going over to the house of the Protestant next door and reading the Protestant's Bible to her. That would not have happened. Catholics didn't read the King James Bible; the teenaged girl would have known that and if she forgot, her parents would certainly have reminded her. On both Christmas and Easter the family went to mass at noon--after breakfast. At that time you had to fast from midnite to receive communion at mass, and its likely the family would have wanted to go to communion on Easter especially. It's not inpossible that they went to noon mass, just unlikely. At one point the oldest daughter, the religious one, has a date on Friday nite. They were in Ireland at the time. The author mentions they were eating chicken. My guess is that in Ireland at that time, no restaurant would have served chicken on Friday because no one would order it--Catholics didn't eat meat on Fridays. Good Friday and fasting is metioned, but attending Stations of the Cross or Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday was not. AT one point a daughter was reading from her prayer book--but the scripture quoted was from the KJV, not the Catholic Douay-Rhiems.

There are other things that I wonder if were left out because they didn't agree with the author's religion, or the faith of the majority of the people for whom she is writing. At one point a character who is practicing his faith only to impress the family is told by the "good" daughter that he should go to confession. He refuses, saying that just because he is acting this way to impress the family doesn't mean he is going to tell his sin to any priest. I don't have any problem with that, after all, why should someone who has no faith confess his sins, and repent of them? However, there are a couple of occassions where members of the family sin seriously and repent, but no mention is made of them going to confession. Any decent Catholic of that era was in the confessional regularly and would have certainly sought it out in the case of serious sin. We hear the family praying on many occassions, but they never make the sign of the cross. The family is told that a member of it died, and no one prays for him.

As you'll note, I read Christian ficton on a pretty regular basis. I know I'm not their target audience but I have basically the same moral values, and those values are reflected in these books. I like happy ending stories, and these usually are. I like to see faith reflected in the lives of people, and Christian fiction usually does that. In some ways, in reading these books I feel like I'm visiting their churches with a friend. As such, I expect to hear things with which I disagree--if I agreed with them, I'd be Protestant, but I don't like to see my faith and Church knocked either. I wouldn't say that A Passion Most Pure is critical of Catholicism but all the characters who are just going through the motions of religion are Catholic. The Protestants who are mentioned are people of faith who spread the faith. The good Catholics really seem to act more like Evangelical Protestants who happend to go to mass than like Catholics.

I sent the author a copy of a draft of this review. She agreed with my comments about the Communion fast and the chicken on Friday. She also noted that she had been a practicing Catholic until her 30's. When she first told me that the book was about a Catholic family I wondered whether 1)they'd end up converting 2) they'd be rule-bound unhappy folks who constantly invoked the saints (except for the one smart person who had become Protestant in heart if not by formal conversion) or 3) they'd be portrayed as they were--as Evangelical Protestants who happened to go to mass, utter an occassional prayer to a saint and say the rosary. I wasn't expecting a true picture of Catholic spirituality, doctrine or practice so I can't say I was disappointed in what I read, and frankly of the three options, I guess the third option was the least objectionable. There didn't appear to be any deliberate attempt to make Catholicism look bad or misrepresent it, it is just that some things that could have been there weren't. I've said before I wish someone out there was writing Catholic fiction like this. This story, written by a Catholic,or taking into account the comments I made above could have been a four start pick for me; as it is, I'll give it three (out of five).

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I might pick up a copy here while I am traveling.


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