Can non-spiritual reading have a place in your formation and prayer life?
Catholic author Walker Percy said, “Fiction doesn’t tell us something we don’t know. It tells us something we know but don’t know that we know.”
The Catholic faith offers us a rich treasury of theologians, ancient and contemporary, who have shed light on Scripture, the sacraments, prayer, and more, in a language we can comprehend in our humanness. And certainly, there are a wealth of resources on relationships and sacramental marriage, in particular.
I’ve found my world-view changed for the better by the religious works I’ve encountered on love and marriage. Yet the truth is, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable admitting that spiritual reading isn’t my favorite genre.
A lifelong literature lover, it’s taken time for me to articulate what I now deeply believe to be true: stories that convey goodness, truth, and beauty--those that reveal the nature and purpose of the human person and human love--can be just as powerful as theological writing in showing us who we are and directing our hearts to God.
While spiritual writing provides a good and necessary framework and lens for our understanding, literature, for me, brings these truths to life in a tangible, embodied way as we experience characters’ interior lives. Together, they supplement one another and offer an enriching education in self-knowledge, love, and faith.
Here, for fiction lovers like me, a selection of novels beyond perennial Catholic favorites like Austen, Waugh, O’Connor, Percy, and Berry, that illuminate the human heart and offer life-giving insights into love and marriage.
This story of estranged siblings and parents re-entering each other’s lives for a wedding jumps seamlessly through time and memory, sharing such recognizable, true-to-life accounts of longtime marriage, growing up with siblings, experiencing your first love, and the pain of distance and division. I finished this book in tears, filled with the hope that no matter how imperfect our earthly relationships might be, our hope lies in our resurrection at the heavenly wedding banquet.
Sample passage: “I have looked up at this sky since I was a child and I have always been stirred, in the most secret depth of me that I alone cannot access, and if that is not my soul awakening to the majesty of my creator then what is it?”
The centuries-long lifetime of the witch from The Odyssey, who famously turned men into pigs, is reimagined in this beautiful novel. Reading about the Greek gods’ immortal nature—and Circe’s resulting years of solitude and loneliness—I was repeatedly struck by the fact that eternal life means nothing without the divine Beloved; the Bridegroom. It is the love of God that gives meaning to our creation and existence.
What’s more, I found myself deeply moved by the incarnational, embodied dimension of love, as this book explores through the nature of gods and men: Christ took on human flesh and a mortal life out of love. Our mortality is not the end of the story.
Sample passage: “I have aged... Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I am vain and dissatisfied. But I do not wish myself back. Of course my flesh reaches for the earth.”
How does the Lord work within the discernment choices we make? After sacramentally entering into a vocation and experiencing doubts, does it matter? This bittersweet story of two Irish Catholic sisters who immigrate to Boston in the mid-twentieth century delves into the daily rituals and intimacies that make up both married and religious life, with encouragement to seek God’s will in all things.
Sample passage: “Think of a marriage, husband and wife. The piece of paper, the white wedding dress, they don't promise anything. A person has to stay there, fight for it, every day.”
Love as an act of the will, rather than a flight of emotion, is integral to an authentic communion that imitates Christ’s own love. Is it possible, though, that an overcommitment to duty over emotion can become a source of regret?
As I read this story of an English butler and his relationships with his master and a fellow, female servant, I considered how the things we don’t say frequently speak as loudly as the things we do. I found it a poignant reflection on the human need for vulnerability and expressing affection.
Sample passage: “If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.”
I love pondering the ways in which the worldly echoes the sacred; the ways in which popular or secular media expresses a universal truth that aligns with human nature and the Catholic faith. What novels can you recommend for insights into love and marriage? Share in the comments and on Spoken Bride’s social media.