“The pilgrim, having passed the Bridge, arrives at the door which is part of the Bridge, at which all must enter, wherefore He says—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but in light. And in another place My Truth says, ‘ That no man can come to Me if not by Him,’ and so indeed it is. Therefore He says of Himself that He is the Road, and this is the truth, and I have already shewn thee that He is a Road in the form of the Bridge.” The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin, Catherine of Siena: Dictated by Her, While in a State of Ecstasy, to Her Secretaries, and Completed in the Year of Our Lord 1370
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble has provided insightful reasons for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to embrace the practice of “memento mori.” Many spiritual classics encourage us to keep ever mindful that our paths all lead to one place–to death, to God, to our final judgment. In a world that has long valued health, fame and fortune, perfection in anything but the spiritual life, the practice of remembering one’s death, one’s judgment before Christ, will always be a challenge.
I struggle with the fear of death, both my own and my loved ones, but God granted me my husband John, now a Third Order Carmelite, whose strong faith enhanced by the extreme medical challenges from his genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome, has allowed me to understand and embrace my mortality through my Catholic faith.
Are there days when I falter and allow fear to overcome me? Yes, just about every day. But thanks to God for bringing John into my life, I have slowly come to a better understanding of how to climb the ladder of theosis, to dialogue with God, to explore my interior castle, and embrace the Little Way. So many times, Christ delights me in the amusing ways He brings my interests together in my life to remind me to get back to the path that leads to Him.
Recently, John chose a book he has owned for years, entitled Praying with Catherine of Siena, by Patricia Mary Vinje, for our family Bible study and saint study. St. Catherine is a doctor of the Church, a title given for the insights into the Faith she provided in her life and writings. I just happened to be in the middle of reading The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz when we started the studies. I confess I pouted about being interrupted in the midst of the thrillers when God suddenly reminded me that His Way is the only way, and that He loves irony.
I sat down with the family, and we began reading. Each chapter takes an image from St. Catherine’s Dialogue as a means of meditation and contemplation. The first one we came to was the “inner cell.” As we pondered the life of St. Catherine who had chosen a cell for her prayer life and was called from there by God to take on politicians who were corrupting Christ’s teachings, and adjure the Pope to go back to Rome, the higher meaning of Koontz’s new series dawned on me.
Every one of Dean Koontz’s books I have read (most of them published since 2000, the year of his reversion to Catholicism) have made me marvel, laugh at the absurdity of humanity’s pride, be filled with proper fear, squirm in my sinfulness, and repent. His work is a true horror, meant to entertain, yes, but also to bring the reader to reconciliation with God. And he does provide some great laughs along the way–a skilled mixture of bathos and pathos. Drawing from Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of Biblical exegesis applied to literature in her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” every one of his books can be considered literally, allegorically, typologically, and anagogically. His new Jane Hawk series is no exception.
As we read excerpts from St. Catherine’s Dialogue, my mind reeled with the understanding that Koontz’s “silent corner” is a synonym for the “inner cell.” Thus began the revelation of the higher meanings of The Silent Corner that I would never have learned if I had tried to bow out of the saint study. (Pray for me.) With that realization of the parallels between St. Catherine’s Dialogue and the names and imagery in Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, I continued to find the gems of allusion he had used from Catherine’s spiritual work and incorporated into his fictional yet spiritual masterpieces.
I don’t want to give too many spoilers in my brief analysis, but I would like to provide a few key points. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena refers to Christ as the Bridge, and she refers to the importance of having an inner cell of the soul recollected to God, essentially a “silent corner.” In the Jane Hawk series, Jane has a son named “Travis,” which means “bridge.” The name “Jane” means ” God is gracious” and one of the meanings of the name “Hawk” is “nook” or “corner,” so, her name blended could be construed as “God’s gracious corner.” Catherine in her Dialogue refers to the sin of the world as a “river.” So, extending the imagery, Jane as the soul recollected to God’s grace can use her focus on Christ as the Bridge (Travis) who has overcome the river of sin. Every hotel room (silent corner, inner cell) she stays in as she pursues and is pursued by the enemy, she considers her actions and inspiration (Holy Spirit) as a means to return to her son and honor his father (so, the Trinity). In that sense, Jane could be the Blessed Mother, God’s full of grace corner. Dean Koontz made Our Lady a rogue FBI agent! Or, taken another way, Jane is Catherine herself, a soul recollected to Christ, who took on the powers that be to bring them to repentance and to bring them to Christ.
As a final insight, in St. Catherine’s Dialogue she describes the Body of Christ as the staircase to Heaven…the next Jane Hawk novel is The Crooked Staircase...and the fourth novel in the series is The Forbidden Door, yet another reference to Christ in Catherine’s Dialogue. I can only guess what images will be taken for the fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series.
So, if you were looking for a unique way to practice “memento mori,” I suggest reading The Dialogue of St. Catherine and Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series. All of his books since 2000 can be considered a type of “memento mori,” as he encourages us readers to see our good deeds in the work of the heroes and heroines, but also to see our sins in those of the villains, and thus consider our final judgment, all the while providing suspenseful, amusing, inspiring, sobering, and terrifying fiction.