Looking back on my first year of university, being in the true realm of academics for the first time, one of the most important lessons I learned was the necessity of reading good literature. Serious analysis of such literature is the means for becoming a full human being who can bring God to every relationship.
Firstly, I think it is necessary to define good literature as a book which seeks to understand a truth about humanity. It contains an honest look at culture which leads the reader to contemplate his/her own place in the world. Good literature generally does this by developing characters who act sincerely and humanly in order that they may in some way be relatable to all readers. Entertainment is not the goal of the book, but depth. Most of what we consider “classic” works fall under the category of good literature.
Good fictional literature benefits a reader firstly by making him/her more relational. Complex characters give readers both perspectives of poor and valiant decisions and the effects they have on us. Ultimately, the characters challenge us to seek the true meaning of love in our lives. This includes compassion for the suffering, truthfulness towards liars, and glory amidst mediocrity. It allows us to continually realize that the value of people is greater than anything else in this world and challenges us to find ways to live our lives in such a manner.
By taking fictional literature seriously, we are in turn called to read non-fictional writings critically as well. In order for us to love our fellow man, we must know his past. This necessitates having a solid grounding in history, a familiarity with current events, and concern about the politics of the world. If we are willing to take the time to know from whence someone comes, we can invest in him where he is now, and find common ground to discuss the big issues in life.
The greatest piece of literature ever written is the Holy Bible. It offers answers for the fullness of truth, relationships, love, beauty, understanding, courage, joy and justice. Most of its authors were educated in the classics available to them. This provided them with the necessary rhetoric and knowledge to write such a masterpiece. God perfected the education they had; he built upon their natures with grace and allowed them to write infallible words.
God, just as he did for the authors of the Bible, will build upon our natures too. If we devote our time and talents to understanding literature, he will provide grace to share the fullness of the truth we learn in these books with others. God will transform the knowledge we learn from literature about people and turn it into true love for our neighbors. He will use our historical and political knowledge to bring truth to our entire society. Blessed Pier Giorgio, my favorite saint, regularly read poetry and newspapers. His sincere love for God allowed him to bestow the beauty learned from poetry into genuine relationships with the poor. His knowledge of current events compounded with God’s right arm allowed him to be a leader against fascism in Italy as a mere 20-year-old!
Ultimately, if we decide to educate ourselves with good literature, with the Bible at the core of our study, God will use what we learn to build up the virtues we need to interact with the world. We will find some kind of common ground on which to meet everyone and be able to show them the love of Christ. This love may manifest itself through words, but most likely it will portray itself through sincere relationship with another person. Christ founded his ministry on relationships, and we must too, by learning all we can about them from prayer and literature.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.