The Pope is visiting the USA this week. We will hear the musings of the chattering class about pedophilia and oppression and those comments and critiques are well deserved. As a Catholic I am ashamed of what happened just as I am ashamed of other things that are done in my name since I ascent to be a member of the Church.
Having said that one of the differences between Catholicism and other groups is that we have a distinct Culture that informs our history as a people. The thing that no megachurch or evangelical group can ever replace is the fact that Catholic Culture gave birth to so much of what makes up our current world. Our community is based in many things and these are not new.
One area of Catholic Culture that is not known- even by Catholics is our poetry. In the USA we Catholics are proud of our fiction writers, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Jack Kerouac and many others but it is in poetry where Catholic culture has given so much to the world.
The origin poetry in Italian and Spanish are profoundly Catholic. The first poetry written in the Italian language was written by Francis of Assisi and Dante. This poetry sits as the origin of that language and it can be argued that the Divine Comedy is the greatest poem ever written apart from the Illiad and the Odyssey.
In Spanish the poetry of John of Cross continues to influence Spanish poetry to this day. It was John of Cross who served as the essential bridge between Moorish Spanish poetry and the poetry of the Americas. There is no poet writing in Spanish who has not been influenced by John.
There are many contemporary poets who are identified as Catholic. Gerard Manley Hopkins who many see as the progenitor of Modernism. Czeslaw Milosz who made poetry of the Slavic world and the Iron Curtain real for the 20th Century. Thomas Merton and William Everson whose work brought the journey to American audiences and Gabriella Mistral the Nobel Lauriate who brought personal inner poetry to the world. It could also be argued that Cesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda and Ottavio Paz could be classified as Catholic culturally- the Church and its culture fill their work.
Why is this important? Because in most cases religion in the United States is more like a drive through restaurant than a feast. We fill up on Bible and emotion and then go back to the grind that is our lives. But Catholics and others whose religion have a culture have so much more to draw from. As Mozart said "to leave the Church would mean that I could not recieve the Eucharist in the great Cathedrals and that thought is intolerable". That is also how I feel about our poets and writers. Many concervatives want to boil down the Faith to practices and devotions but Catholicism is more than that it is a Culture a Culture that most of my brethern do not even know exists.
To be separated from these poets- well the thought is intolerable. But many will say why? Why be a member of this Church that does so many bad things (which is does). Mostly because life is not a drive through window- it is work and to leave would be easy.
I think that too many poets today are based not in a history or culture but in their own narcissism and that has made their work too personal and too stale. It is in the contradictions that we are made new again. So I remain angry but obedient-
So as the Pope visits us- I will choose the poets.