Writers, artists and poets can show the world that the Church is more than a vast committee meeting
A YouTube broadcast by Fr Robert Barron has caught my eye: he is lamenting the recent defection of the author Anne Rice from the Church. Until I had read her autobiography Called Out of Darkness, I had never heard of this writer of the famous Vampire Chronicles. Called Out of Darkness is just that: a return to the Church of her childhood after a 38-year absence, in which she admits she invented a dark vampire world with its own strange moral code in order to fill the vacuum left after she abandoned her faith during her student days. A conscientious atheist, she relates how she finally began to “lose her faith in the non-existence of God”.
Born and raised as a Catholic in New Orleans with all the colourful pageantry and sensuous celebration of feast days this implied, in a world where faith permeated the whole of life, Rice felt starved of beauty and hope; as she writes in her autobiography, she would watch Scrooge and It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas as if they held the key to another universe for which she yearned and from which she was excluded.
Fr Barron says he was moved by her account of abandonment and later return to faith, triggered by a visit to Brazil and seeing the statue of Christ in Rio, with his arms outstretched. Thus he admits to a “fair amount of dismay” at Rice’s announcement that although she still remains faithful to Christ she no longer goes to church. Apparently she can’t take the company of Catholics and finds the Church homophobic, unsympathetic to women and plagued by scandals.
Fr Barron makes the obvious point: the Church is not like a club or voluntary society from which you can withdraw while still admiring its founder; it is “the Mystical Body of Christ”, to use the powerful image of St Paul. He quotes Christ: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” When someone defects from the Church or causes scandal within it, the whole body is wounded. This is definitely not like a golf club.
Personally, I was glad to hear the Church described in this way. I had rather thought the image of the Mystical Body had been replaced by the post-Vatican II, very Tablet-like phrase: “The people of God.” Indeed, when I had once timorously quoted Fr Barron’s description at a parish committee meeting some years ago, I was informed by the very bossy lady chairman that we were no longer a Mystical Body but “an Easter people” and that was an end to it. The trouble with these modern phrases is that they are too vague and imprecise; they only go to show that you cannot improve on the genius of St Paul.
Fr Barron concludes his broadcast with an appeal to Anne Rice to come back. “We need you,” he says. I second him. We have more than enough bossy “Easter people” in the Church; what we need are more artists, writers, poets, painters – people with the vivid imagination of an Anne Rice who can show the world that the Church is more than a vast committee meeting.