St. Justin Martyr proclaimed that aspects of Truth can be found in the philosophies of even the pagans. Indeed, in my own experience, my greatest understanding of Church teachings and values have come from non-Catholic — even non-religious — sources.
Below is a list of 5 books that, I think, have really made me into a better and prouder Catholic. I also write this post to encourage you, too, to seek Truth even where Truth is not obviously manifested; St. Ignatius of Loyola urged us to find God in all things. As we know, God can make Himself be known in the most unexpected of ways.
1) Virgil’s Aeneid
The Ancient Roman nationalistic epic that immortalizes the Trojan Aeneas’ journey to fulfill his destiny. Putting aside personal desire and doubts, Aeneas trusts in Fate and in pietas (duty to family, country, and the gods) and founds a new nation in Italy, a nation whose fame will be limited by the stars: Rome.
Everyone has an ideal, a comfort, a belief that drives them through life. For me, it is my trust in God’s Providence. The Aeneid really propagates the idea that there is a divine plan for us. Even when we suffer, even when we are confused, we should have the humility to let go of our own ambitions and hesitations and allow Providence to take us where we’re meant to be.
The Catholic Church teaches that God puts us in certain situations for a reason. He gives us certain talents, surrounds us with certain people, gives us certain duties because He wants us to do something with them. This is the idea of Providence, and if we only use our free will to submit to God’s will, we can truly find who we are.
2) Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi
Novel series turned anime—follows Kino and her motorcycle Hermes as they travel from city to city. Through her travels Kino sees how man destroys himself. But she also finds beauty in the world, and she learns. That’s why she keeps traveling.
This novel taught me to really reflect on my experiences and to learn from them. As Catholics we are called to live in the world and do good works, but we are also called to withdraw into quiet contemplation and prayer every once in a while. Kino no Tabi really gave me a joy in doing this. Whenever I meet someone, whenever I experience something, I always take some time to ponder why.
3) Beaumarchais’ The Figaro Trilogy
Three plays that celebrate the virtue and wit of the common man and woman against the foolishness and follies of the aristocracy. Beaumarchais was a liberal, and The Figaro Trilogy became a precursor to the French Revolution.
What makes the Figaro Trilogy ironic is that though it helped fuel the French Revolution, which is oft-characterized by its venomous anti-Catholicism, it yet promotes one of the hallmark virtues of the Catholic Church: Forgiveness. Two plays in the Trilogy — “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Guilty Mother”–explore the truth that the ones we love most are the ones who hurt us the most. Yet we are always called to forgive, because ultimately forgiving and being together is more worth it than being vengefully bitter.
As Catholics we too are called to forgive each other. And while the Church always holds us to high moral standards, She is also extremely generous in Her forgiveness. As the deathbed convert Oscar Wilde aptly stated: The Catholic Church “is for saints and sinners alone.”
4) Plato’s Republic
The Good, and how to find it in your soul and in society.
Written in the 4th century BC, this book obviously predates any sort of Christian institution. Yet throughout its history, the Catholic Church has looked to Plato as a model for finding God. For me, the Republic has served as a sort of guide. I need to find God with my whole being, but only after I subjugate my passions and will to my conscience. The Republic has also taught me that if one has truly ordered his/her soul well, the Good will show in his/her works and actions.
5) HW Crocker III’s The Old Limey
The Old Limey follows the adventures of an old British general as he seeks his kidnapped goddaughter in the streets of LA. He is hopelessly lost in the heroic idealism and glories of Britain’s past, which, set against the backdrop of the modernistic, materialistic, and pragmatic Southern California, looks ridiculously yet entertainingly absurd.
The Old Limey is actually written by a solid Catholic, H.W. Crocker III, yet it has no explicit Catholic message. The Old Limey is brilliant because it is essentially a modern Don Quixote. Don Quixote and Nigel Haversham both live and fight for ideals that their modern worlds have discounted. As Catholics it is easy to feel like them: The world is always telling the Church to modernize and progress, yet the Church continues to stay true to her teaching and values. The Old Limey inspired me to really hold true to and fight for Catholic ideals, with the singular devotion of an old Spanish knight or British general.