Welcome to the Reading Room

Here are some news stories and articles which might be of interest to you. I've posted the opening section, and if you want to read more, you can click on "Read the whole article" to go to the original item. You'll find a variety of things here -- current news, political analysis, opinion pieces, articles about religion -- things I've happened to read and want to share with you. It's your Reading Room, so take your time. Browse. You're certain to find something you'll want to read.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Voice of Twentieth-Century Catholicism

by Christopher J. Scalia

Since the death of J. F. Powers in 1999, admiring reviewers (all of his reviewers have been admiring) have mourned not only his death, but the general obscurity of his novels and stories. Although his first novel, Morte D'Urban, won the 1963 National Book Award -- over the more familiar names of John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter, and Vladimir Nabokov -- and his work was praised by such major figures as Evelyn Waugh and Flannery O'Connor (more on her later), he is not very well known, even among Catholics whose Church and priests he wrote about with such skill, insight, heart, and humor.

Joseph Bottum attributes this oversight to the fact that the Catholicism of Powers's stories was so distinctly of the 20th century. "He really was the finest American Catholic writer of the twentieth century," Bottum declares, before adding an epitaph: "And that century is over." Perhaps. But I hope the strength of Powers's writing helps his stories transcend a single period of the Catholic Church in America.

Rather than describe and recommend all of his stories and both of his novels, I'd like to consider three short stories that are particularly moving and fascinating: "Prince of Darkness," "Death of a Favorite," and "Defection of a Favorite." All of these concern Father Ernest Burner, a frustrated and spiritually lazy diocesan priest in Minnesota. While he is a difficult character to like, the stories present very different visions of the priest, culminating in a surprisingly hopeful, though ambiguous, ending. Meanwhile, the purity of Powers's prose, his wonderful turns of phrase and observations, make the stories a joy to read...

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Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.