Our Lord's assurance that there is more joy over one sinner
who is saved than over ninety-nine just is a consoling one,
since most of us rightly consider ourselves that 1%. On other
occasions we may be tempted by the churlish attitude of the
Prodigal Son's brother, or grumble like those workers who
labored all day and were paid no more than the late-comers.
There are souls who seem to have to explore the sub cellars of
hell before they are ripe for conversion. J-K Huysmans was
such a one. As a young man he put away his faith and lived a
profligate life. One of his first novels was a "brothel
novel," a genre unto itself in late nineteenth century Paris.
But then he went on to diabolism, black masses, all the
frightening and blasphemous underside of the spiritual life.
It was the art and liturgy of the Church that were
instrumental in his conversion. He became fascinated with the
monastic life and eventually became a Benedictine Oblate and
built a house in the shadow of the monastery. Whereupon the
French government drove the religious orders from the country
and Huysmans returned to Paris.
Even after his conversion he kept up contacts with sorcerers
and magicians, but gradually his faith was purified, largely
through devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Huysmans' "Catholic novels" continue to be read. En route,
The Cathedral, The Oblate. They have helped many
regain their faith, as Huysmans hoped they would. For the
humdrum Catholic they provide insight into a fascinating
journey from the depths. If nothing else, Huysmans' fiction
can bring home to us how much we take the faith for granted,
how routine it has become for us. Seeing it through the eyes
of an author who knew the face of evil can be a spiritual
On his death bed Huysmans received a gift of candy from a
fallen lady he had known in his youth. "Ah, the fruits of
prostitution," he murmured. "We have all tasted those." But
he had heard another voice. "Taste and see that the Lord is