The best Catholic fiction is always written by the worst Catholics. Not the saints in all their virtue-and especially not the heretics, who are willing to undo the whole of Christianity if only their vices can be redefined as secret virtues-but the sinners in all their sin are the ones who are able to create a genuine story. The best Catholic novels seem to be written by those who know, no matter how far they've fallen in faith and morals, that above them or outside them or beyond them lies a truth they did not make and cannot change.
Or perhaps we should say the truth, for this is what distinguishes Catholic novelists from most others in the twentieth century. They may have moved so far away they do not even consciously realize it anymore. That's James Joyce. Or they may have failed to reach it in their own lives, and so imagine that no one can ever reach it.
That's Graham Greene. Or they may even suppose that it enters the actual human world only in the comedy of our actual human failings. That, finally, is Evelyn Waugh. But they always somehow know that the truth is there, and it looms unchanging, pure, and real-as both the perpetual indictment and the perpetual hope of the characters in their stories. It's simultaneously how their characters can know they've wasted their lives and how they can go on living.
Take F. Scott Fitzgerald, who fell about as far as anyone can from the Church-though, of course, (and this is what everyone who reads Fitzgerald with even half an eye must eventually see) it turns out that you can't fall very far, no matter how hard you try. Apostasy or sin, even atheism pursued with all the wild-eyed devotion of a...