“I will be happy the day when Catholic critics will approach a book without preconceived ideas, will examine it as it is, for what it is, instead of looking for some ideal intention and reproaching it for lacking it” , noted the brilliant Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), an essential American, Catholic from the bottom of her soul to her fingertips, supremely free. The pages she blackened on her farm in the southern United States offer those who read them an art that is violent, strange, but without illusion – therefore traversed by grace. The titles of many of his masterpieces are taken from Holy Scripture, or appear to be: wisdom in the blood, And it’s the violent who win,Why these nations in tumult?
It is always urgent to read Flannery O’Connor, and I even wonder if it would not be a health emergency for any serious Catholic: “I write because I am Catholic and not although I amsays Flannery. That’s how it is, there’s no squirming. But I am a Catholic particularly concerned with the modern conscience, this phenomenon that Jung describes as solitary, guilty, escaping history. To be in this situation within the Church represents a test, the inevitable burden that every lucid Catholic must bear, a way of feeling, with the maximum acuteness, the world around us. I think the Church is the only thing that makes the terrible universe we live in bearable; and the only thing that makes the Church bearable is that it represents the very body of Christ, that body which nourishes us. It seems inevitable that we have to suffer as much for the Church as for her, but if we believe in the divinity of Christ, we must love this world while struggling to endure it. »
genius of christianity
Flannery the clairvoyant is already adored by many. Alas, according to a phenomenon with deep sources, with sometimes antagonistic ramifications ranging from identitarianism to angelism, the “cultural” references of the Catholic world are often foreign to the genius of Christianity. In 1904, Father Louis Bethléem (promised, it wasn’t a pseudonym) published what was to become a bestseller: Novels to read and novels to avoid. The title, unlike Flannery O’Connor’s, is self-explanatory. Under the rule of the vigilant abbot who – what generosity! – had stuffed himself with hundreds of thousands of pages which he forbade the Catholic people to read, farewell Balzac, Dumas, Flaubert, Proust, etc., etc. (the list is long and, now that it is no longer consulted by anyone, frankly funny).
In any case, there is no doubt that, in this month of January, Father Bethléem would add to his list the impressive Paraíso (Casterman, 2023), newly translated manga by the talented Suehiro Maruo. The usual repertoire of this mangaka with its refined and terrifying design, which I don’t believe is Catholic, but which Christianity visibly fascinates, tends to look more towards the erotico-grotesque. With Paraísothat is to say “paradise”, Maruo offers us in the space of five short stories a dive into the darkness of the human soul and the violence of the world.
But not only. Because the perverse, abusive and brutal priest of the first story is compared to the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, which occupies the author in his last two variations. The miracle depicting charity, the strength of gentleness that emanates from certain pages are more convincing than the dumpsters of silly pages yet recommended by Louis Bethlehem in his time. May the Catholic world beware of falling back into such faults, please!