Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 27, 2009

The Real Need for Reality

I can think of two reasons to read fiction or to watch fictional stories on TV or in movies. First, because sometimes truth and reality are presented and found through fictional stories: Jesus, after all, often taught truth by way of parables. Second, there is a darker reason – a person can seek to escape from truth and from reality, preferring “make-believe” over that true belief that leads us to God, and to eternal life.

There is troubling evidence of the latter in our entertainment culture. So many are obsessed with sports and actor celebrities! So many are mere spectators of shallow caricatures of people in infantile sitcoms or in brutal stories of vengeance. It would be so much better to seek the hidden realities of truth, from authentically human characters, in believable human stories that point us upward. It would be so much more profitable to resonate in heroic accounts of the triumph of justice, truth and love.

Why would a person prefer to patronize his own dehumanization, rather than nurture and tend his rightful human development? Why would a person seek fantasy and avoid truth – why not seek the bread than endures to eternal life, rather than that bread that perishes? Why do so many squander precious life-times in plays and games and make-believe, and not once and for all resolve to find and embrace and live the truth that waits beneath all that is?

God is here! Eternal God is near, among and within, so close! We are surrounded by parables, proclaiming the saving truth of God. The great poet and Catholic priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote (1),

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Are we not distancing ourselves from Him more and more, choosing to be distracted, preferring to be too busy, seeking the surfaces of things and avoiding the “deep down things” where waits His charged grandeur?

Holy Ghost, waiting in the morning light, warm and waken our poor chilled souls.


(1. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918. “7. God’s Grandeur”,


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thank you for pointing out the need for the “real” in our lives. I appreciated especially the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins who is one of my favorite poets.

    Interestingly, I have been reading a book by Joseph Pearce entitled, “Tolkein the Man and the Myth”, and was impressed by Pearce’s observation on the similarity between Tolkein’s concept of myth (as true) and Hopkins’ concept of “inscape”.

    I will quote Pearce’s words, since it seems to me, this adds to the discussion of what is “real”:

    “For Hopkins, as for Tolkein, the true reality of a thing, be it a tree, a kestrel (bird), a cloud, a sunset or a man, was to be found in its beauty not in the physical properties defined by its molecular composition. This concept of “inscape”, the metaphysical design which gives a thing its beauty, was developed by Hopkins from his reading of philosophy, and particularly the metaphysical writings of Duns Scotus, who stressed that each thing had an essence, something intrinsically essential beyond its physical appearance…”

    There is in true myth, such as The Lord of the Rings “something intrinsically essential beyond its physical appearance”. It is, I believe, Truth, which is far beyond the story and the characters. This is what I hear in your first reason for reading fiction (or poetry). It can be a way to understand Truth and Beauty, which cannot be conveyed as well in other ways.

    Jesus’ use of parables is the best example of conveying Truth through stories.

    The danger, however, as you point out can be in seeking not Truth but diversion from the Truth. Instead of seeking what is real, there seems to be a preference for what is “unreal” because Truth challenges a person to see the truth of his own essence. The world needs heroic men and women to seek and defend Truth.

    How sad! We are created for union with God Who is Love, Absolute Truth and Beauty, and yet we can settle for so much less. It seems, indeed, that many persons are running away from Absolute Truth, to the detriment of themselves and all in the human family.

    Thank God for His Infinite Patience with us, and for His continuing Presence in this world, as Hopkins so beautifully pictured Him:

    …”the Holy Spirit over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

  2. 1 John 2:15 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

    I look back at my life when I was once immersed in fictional characters and make sci-phi movies and books and wonder how much time I truly wasted. Even while I was doing this I knew why. The habit would be flick threw the channels and see what we can get into. I even used to force my self to enjoy things that weren’t entertaining just so I would have something to tune out to. I find myself turning on the TV now I cant stand anything that I see. Besides the occasional contradictory things they show on History, the News or EWTN the TV stays off. Unfortunately with school I still find myself not making enough time for the Lord. So some of us find it easy to trade one thing for the other. But if we spent half our time focusing on Christ that we used remembering the Stats of our favorite player we would all be ” speaking the very words of God.”

  3. Even when we are not trying to tune out the truth in our lives, there are so many distractions that do just that. When we finally get to the point of realizing that Satan is alive and well and rejoices when we take our focus off of Christ, we tend to start thinking a little more maturely and intelligently. We must surround ourselves with the Truth through Sacred Scripture and the wise teachings of such people as Mother Angelica and Mother Teresa. We must look for every opportunity to tune out the world. Perhaps that is why the hour I spend in Perpetual Adoration each week is so precious to me. I have vowed to spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The outside world cannot touch me there.

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