A literary critic sheds light on the influence of faith on Catholic writers

New Jersey native Nick Ripatrazone was once considered the priesthood. But today, he is a teacher, literary critic and father of twin girls.

“I think writers go through phases (but) creatively I landed mostly in the genre of narrative non-fiction – writing that’s inspired and based on real stories, but benefits from storytelling methods, such than characterization, dialogue and pacing, which are tied to fiction,” he told Catholic News Service.

Ripatrazone and his family are parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Sparta, New Jersey. He told CNS how he discerned his vocation.

“My father and I, when we were both in college, were formed by a Jesuit-Ignatian tradition, and that shaped our understanding and appreciation of the priesthood,” Ripatrazone said in an interview. “While I was considering whether to take the plunge and apply to the seminary, I met my future wife, (and) it was an easy decision. The priest who was advising me at the time told me that it This was exactly how discernment was to happen –– God would reveal my true purpose and path.

Ripatrazone is the author of seven books of literary criticism, poetry, short stories and a short story. He is also a culture editor for Image Journal, a quarterly magazine specializing in art, poetry and prose with religious and spiritual themes. Additionally, he contributes to the UK-based Catholic Herald with a monthly column on American Catholic culture.

Ripatrazone also teaches English at Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope, New Jersey. From 2004 to 2015, he taught at Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School in Somerset County, New Jersey. Along with teaching in high school, Ripatrazone taught part-time at Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey.

Although the author has produced books of poetry and short stories, his forte appears to be in journalism and literary criticism. His major work to date, “Longing for an Absent God”, is an examination of faith and doubt in the American literary tradition. The book deals with the work of practicing and fallen Catholic writers as illustrations of a lifelong quest to discover the purpose of religious faith in a context of uncertainty, doubt and suffering.

As Ripatrazone notes in the book, “contemporary Catholic literature is sustained by the interplay between the works of practicing and cultural Catholics. The fact that a Catholic worldview transcends the lived practice of Catholic belief has resulted in a rich and diverse literature that continues to make a significant contribution to American letters. Practicing or fallen, Catholic writers long for God, and their longing creates a beautiful and melancholy story.

In its discussion of the influence of faith in contemporary fiction, Ripatrazone pays particular attention to the late Toni Morrison, who won a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize, and countless other accolades over the course of a career as a writer. 45 years old.

“The fact that one of America’s finest writers (Toni Morrison) is Catholic—and yet he is not spoken of as such—shows why the status of lapsed Catholic writers is so central to understanding American fiction. A faith loaded with sensory detail, performance and history. Catholicism seeps into the lives of these writers, making it impossible to assess their moral compass without appreciating how they refract their Catholic past.

Some commentators have described Ripatrazone as a writer specializing in uncovering elements of the Catholic faith not only in fiction, but in various modes of popular media. Some of this writing appears in the Truly Adventurous, a digital magazine focused on real-life drama and incidents.

Another recently published book is “Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age”. Ripatrazone is a longtime follower of the late media guru, and the book outlines how McLuhan’s Catholicism became the foundation for many of his media theories.

As if he wasn’t busy enough with the full-time teaching load, the author is now working on a new book, “The Habit of Poetry: The Literary Lives of Nuns in Mid-century America.”

“This book describes the work of a handful of Catholic nuns and nuns who wrote skilled and remarkable (but little known) poems in the middle of the last century,” Ripatrazone said. “I met women who both lived grace-filled lives as sisters and nuns, and other women who left those grace-filled lives for a world outside the convent walls.”

Despite his full-time teaching workload, Ripatrazone awaits the completion of a film based on one of his stories in Truly Adventurous magazine.

For Ripatrazone, Catholic fiction, especially that created by less-practicing Catholics, suggests a yearning for spiritual meaning and an ongoing fascination with the language and sense of faith, as well as a deep struggle that “illuminates their stories and speaks to their readers”.

Ripatrazone in turn offers insight into the motivation and inspiration of practicing Catholic novelists.

“The sincerity of their literary beliefs,” he says, “makes their works devotional, but not pedantically. They bear literary witness to the power of history. For a practicing Catholic fiction writer, Christ is metaphor, body, symbol, blood, breath – Christ is everything. It is a paradox, but one that resides in the ambiguity that imposes itself on faith.

Whether he composes narrative fiction, poetry or short fiction, Ripatrazone remains focused on “Catholic storytelling”. His creative work focuses on an original actor or central character as they navigate through the hills and valleys of a capricious and vaguely understood existence. At the same time, Ripatrazone aims for the universal in much of its work.

“Catholic literature must be ‘Catholic’, so to speak, to transcend the metaphorical walls of the church and reach a wider community,” Ripatrazone said. “Catholicism is a great ‘history’ – a true story, of course, and writers and poets who skillfully and humbly examine the tensions, paradoxes, revelations and images of this story can create beautiful and dynamic work. Above all, the tongue must sing. Create something beautiful, and people will read it – and think about the truth behind the words.

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Mastromatteo is a writer and editor from Toronto.