John Heard: From gothic to heavenly

13 Nov 2008

By therecord

Anne Rice, known to the world for a weirdly popular blend of Southern Gothic and vampire crush, has returned to the Catholic faith of her youth.                                                                

Best selling author and revert to Catholicism, Anne Rice.

The former pulp fiction writer (Rice wrote, among other novels, Interview with a Vampire), was featured on this week, alongside the religion she was baptised into as a child.
Catholicism, for her, meant “intoxication” whereas the existentialism she encountered at college, and the atheism she professed afterwards, were unable to compete with religious “delirium”. Rice, the report stated, has written that hers was an “upbringing imbued with opulence and mystery”, “stained glass…statuary, darkness and St Rose of Lima, “who… turned roses into floating crosses”.
When she abandoned all that for the faddish philosophies of the secular world, she claims to have continued to feel the tug of faith. 
Who does the tugging in these situations? What was it that recalled Rice to her faith?
Certainly, aesthetics played an important role. This is nothing new.
Many Catholics (like Rice, who returned after a period of apostasy) speak of the lure of the Catholic liturgy. New converts, too, cherish the Mass, and many people comment on the appeal of popular pieties.
The minor rituals, the graceful movements associated with the faith – Rosaries, medals, the statues of saints, scapulars, incense, glass, and chant – these help Catholics to draw nearer to the mysterious heart of our mystery faith.
Where we cannot comprehend what is going on, great clouds of incense, recitative prayer, holy water, and fires; these seem to give us some purchase on the ineffable.
What would make God, for instance, send His only Son to die for us? Love, we are told. Sure, we might say, but what kind of love is that?!
A good Catholic will ask next, am I expected to love like that? And she will know that the answer, the only answer, is yes. Oh my goodness, we might reply! I don’t know if I can manage…I am so weak, etc.
It helps in such situations to grab hold of the solid beads of the Rosary and run through the Mysteries. This doesn’t make the faith any less mysterious, but it does prime one for a more perfect interaction with God.
We are not supposed to understand everything, of course; otherwise we would be gods ourselves. Rather, by coming face to face (as it were), with the mysteries of the faith, we learn our proper place before God.
We learn humility and, in humility, joy and gratitude for God’s great mercy.
When individuals are properly formed, then, and pieties are lovingly deployed, men and women unite with God, and are schooled in virtue. By virtue, and prayer, we know, human beings flourish.
For whatever reason, and however it might work out, God comes to us as it suits Him.
He comes, as Christ said, like a thief in the night – and He comes with beauty.
This does not mean, of course, that there is nothing worthy in Christian philosophy, and other relatively dry academic pursuits. Faith and reason are, as John Paul the Great wrote, “like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”.
Rather in a world where God could, by virtue of His superlative excellence and power, overwhelm our minds, and crush our hearts, He chooses to come at us in unexpected ways: like a wind, like a dove, in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as Christ broken on a tree.
He comes, again, as beauty. He is love.
This is why, when people (usually homoactivists and others – especially those who think the Catholic faith must be nothing but a burden, and an oppressor of same sex attracted men) ask me why I am still a Catholic, I tell them first that I am wounded by the beauty of the crucified Christ.
Apologetics (clever ideas, arguments from tradition) are secondary to an experience of being captivated by God. Believers and mystics speak of being held in His love. This is neither cant, nor hyperbole.
Catholics know that truth, beauty, and goodness are inextricably linked, and we are taught that this unity reveals something impressive about the way the world works: it works by, and for, Love.
The Creator made life, and living intelligible then, and He wrote something of the natural law (the law of order, justice, authority, reason – of love) on every human heart.
Is it any wonder that this law, and that life – all the secrets of the universe, Rice’s “opulence and mystery”, and the astonishing marriage of heaven and earth that obtains during every valid Mass – is it any wonder that a glimpse of these should so wound a child, and disturb a whole life, so that a childhood memory could cut through, trump in fact, all the riches and fame, all of the cynicism and cunning of the world?
Absolutely not.
God is God, after all, and He knows us better than we know ourselves.