Wednesday 27 February 2019

The Substance of Things Hoped For Short Fiction by Modern Catholic Authors - John B. Breslin, SJ Editor

The Substance of Things Hoped For:
Short Fiction by Modern Catholic Authors
John B. Breslin, SJ Editor
Doubleday Religion
ISBN 9780385234283
ISBN 0385234287
ISBN 9780307590992
ISBN 0307590992


Father John B. Breslin, SJ, was a priest, a professor, and a writer. He was the editor of this collection. In the introduction he states:

“In a self-consciously ecumenical era, it may seem invidious to publish a “Catholic” anthology of short fiction. Surely, a Christian collection would be more in keeping with efforts to break down ghetto walls and remove the scandal of division that has undercut the credibility of Christ’s followers for the past four and a half centuries—-and more. Twenty years ago, as the effects of the Second Vatican Council began to seep down into the lives and imaginations of Catholics, such considerations would have made this anthology an instant anachronism, perhaps even an embarrassment to the bien pensants of the day.”

He also stated:

“As for the stories themselves, the choice was ultimately and inevitably personal, for which I assume full responsibility, taking the blame for omitting a reader’s favorite story while hoping to get occasional credit for introducing the same reader to a new author or a hitherto unknown tale.”

I recall picking up this collection in hardcover on a bargain table at a book store shortly after the paperback edition came out. At the time I was a student at Queen’s University and love the collection. For many of the contributors it was my introduction to their works. I read the book twice that year I believe. Later that year wile living in a rectory I loaned the book to a seminarian and never got it back.

But there was one story in the collection that came back to me often. In 2006 I wrote these words about that story and this book:

Haunting, that is the only way I can describe the short story. I read a short story years ago, back in the late 80's I had a collection of short Catholic Fiction, I read it ad enjoyed it, but there was a particular story that has haunted me. I can only describe it that way. Yet I no longer had the book. It was lent out and not returned back in the early 90''s and yet this story would come to mind again and again over the years. I did not know the author of the story, the editor of the book, all I could remember was that the book had a black cover with yellow writing.

A few weeks ago I was at a retreat at Mount Carmel Monastery in Niagara Falls, and this story came to mind again. So I decided to try and find it. I did searches on and and tried to find the book. I searched '`Catholic'' and 'fiction'' also 'Catholic' and '`Short Story'' and tried many other searches. Nothing matched what I remembered but there was a book from 1984 that they did not have a cover image for The Substance of Things Hoped For edited by John Breslin S.J. so I interlibrary loaned the book at school and found the story I was looking for. It was called, The Warm Sand by J. F. Powers and was very much what I remembered. I also found out that it had been made into a novel that won the National Book award in 1968 so I am now reading the book Wheat That Springeth Green of which the short story is chapter 6 in the book almost exactly. I have posted the Short Story as the post before this one and would love your take on it. I have my prie-dieu and at times it has been used, but not as much as it should. Check out the story and tell me what you think.

And in the almost twelve years since tracking the book down I have read it several times. When researching this review, I was surprised to discover that the paperback edition is still in print. It was a happy surprise as I can think of many people, I would want to share this volume with. The sections and stories in this collection are:


The Beginnings Of A Sin - Bernard Maclaverty
Delia - Mary Gordon
A Christmas Tale - Francois Mauriac
Alice Long’s Dachshunds - Muriel Spark
The Liar - Tobias Wolff

The Enduring Chill - Flannery O’Connor
Hot Ice - Stuart Dybek
Life After Death - Elizabeth Cullinan
Polikushka - Ignazio Silone
The Salvation Of Me - Breece D’J Pancake

A Father’s Story - Andre Dubus
Mothers - Shusaku Endo
Candles For The Madonna - Heinrich Boll
The Warm Sand - J.F. Powers
The Recruiting Officer - John Mcgahern
The Promiscuous Self - Walker Percy
Crucifixus Etiam - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Comedian- John L’heureux

A Visit To Morin - Graham Greene
Absolution - Morley Callaghan
Jack Frost - Josephine Jacobsen

Profiles of the Authors

There are some very powerful stories in this collection. The Warm Sand by J.F. Powers as mentioned has stuck with me for years. Other stories that stick out to me in particular were Mothers, by Shusaku Endo and The Enduring Chill by Flannery O’Connor which were both about the power of Mothers over sons. There are some that were a shock, both when I first read the collection and again rereading it now for example Hot Ice by Stuart Dybek.

Today I make a distinction between Catholic writers, Catholics who write Catholic stories, and authors who write Catholic stories. To some extent all three are represented in this collection. And some authors may even have works in more than one of the three categories.

Another interesting piece of this collection is the author biographies. These biographies provide some interesting information and also serve as a time capsule. As of the writing of this review in 2019 only 5 of the 21 contributors are still alive. For Powers it states he has 3 collections of short stories, the years after this collection was published, he published his second and final novel both of which won the national book award.

This collection has a wide range of stories, from a diverse group of authors. It does a great job of providing a snapshot of Catholic fiction from the last century. It is worth the time to pursue and if you do give it a read I would love to know what stories have an impact on you.

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