It is no secret that Jesus spoke in parables, stories that were meant to teach a lesson. Parables such as that of the prodigal son, the man who sought the pearl of great price, and the parable of the sower continue to speak to us through the ages. In Matthew 13:10-17, the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you talk to them in parables?” He answers them, “Because to you is granted to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not granted. . . The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding.” Yes, like any good teacher, Jesus knew that he had to take a different approach to reach this particular audience. Stories where the listeners could see themselves in the protagonist were the way to go.
Stories can sometimes speak to people in a way that a more direct approach cannot. For example, pointing out the folly or sinfulness of someone’s current path is likely to be met with a cold response and a defensive attitude. Sharing a story of one’s own similar mistake and the eventual bad outcome might be much more successful. By the same token, fictional stories can often serve as modern day parables, instructing as they entertain. Think of the perennial Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Who can read or see a movie version of that story and not get the message that changing one’s life and being generous is important?
Catholic and Christian fiction writers today continue to attempt to share the Christian message at the same time that they weave a compelling tale. No less a person than Pope John Paul II turned to expressing great truths in fiction in his youth. He used his play The Jeweler’s Shop to speak about love, a topic he would preach about frequently during his pontificate. In his Letter to Artists in 1999, Pope John Paul II wrote, “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable.” Yes, artists of all types, including writers, have been entrusted with both a great gift and a great responsibility to use it wisely.
Many bemoan the lack of “Catholic” literature today. Readers complain that there is nothing good to read while writers complain that there are very few people willing to buy their books. Loyola Classics (www.loyolaclassics.com) is reprinting several standards of Catholic literature. Sophia Institute Press (www.sophiainstitute.com) is also working to bring out contemporary Catholic fiction. On the writers’ side, The Catholic Writer’s Guild will be holding a live writers’ conference August 5th through the 9th (www.catholicwritersconference.com). There are good things happening in Catholic literature today. We simply need to get the word out about them. Jesus knew that stories are important. We need to continue to value them today.