The Analogical Imagination by William Droel

Catholics are, if you will, vaccinated with an analogical imagination. We assume that God’s creation, especially human beings, are made in God’s image, and that therefore God is “like” creation in some way. Now, the vaccine does not last with all Catholics. It quickly wears off on a Catholic in an environment devoid of enchantment. And some non-Catholics certainly have the analogical imagination.

Gay Talese, baptized Gaetano (now in his mid-80s), is the son of Italian immigrants. He reported on sports for his high school newspaper, then wrote for his college newspaper, for an army newspaper, and also filed stories for small newspapers. In the early 1950s he landed a job as a copyboy for the New York Times, eventually getting a sports-themed column there. Magazine profiles, essays, and more followed.

Stories and photographs of so-called newsmakers appear every day, says Talese in his 2023 memoir, Bartleby and Me. However, he believes that the stories of ordinary people are worth attention. Here, in his words, are some of the “non-newsworthy people” he has written about: “doormen, bootblacks, dog walkers, scissor grinders, the late-night tile cleaners in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the clerks sitting in subway booths, the pushboys in the Garment Center, the carriage drivers in Central Park” and the like.  

That’s the Catholic social outlook. The ordinariness of each common person contains a spark of the extraordinary. Each person has dignity no matter one’s job, one’s wealth, or the size of one’s dwelling. Dignity, says Catholicism, is not given by one’s boss or by one’s fans or one’s friends at the country club or at the tavern. Dignity is not an achievement. It is innate, a gift from the Creator.

Those with a Catholic sensibility walk around with a disposition toward the divine. No, they don’t expect a miraculous apparition at the grocery. But maybe they initiate a friendly chat with a widower there. No, they don’t interrupt their normal routine for a mystical occurrence in the afternoon. But they pause each evening to reflect on the meaning that was lurking within and around the daily comings-and-goings.

God resides with each person, especially those who are overlooked. Should a forum allow for eliciting it, each person’s story reveals a piece of God’s grace to those who have ears to hear or have eyes to read. God revealed God’s mercy and love to shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, widows, a thief, and pious benefactors and the curious. God is somewhere in the story of doormen, bootblacks, dog walkers, scissor grinders, tile cleaners, Uber drivers, mothers, and curious young men.

If God is with each person, the Catholic imagination says that God is offended by oppression. This is why a Catholic imagination puts people on alert for opportunities to advance justice and peace. Normally, justice and peace come in small increments. There is the decision at the managers’ meeting to institute better training for new hires and to penalize any veteran employee who hazes a new hire. Improvement might mean bypassing Starbucks until the company respectfully deals with its legally organized employees. Improvement might be calling three or four neighbors to attend a community meeting. It might be the staff and leaders at a private school or a church who pledge to immediately involve the police in any instance of child endangerment.

A Catholic imagination or Catholic social outlook (to which anyone is welcome) begins and ends with the belief that each and every person has equal, God-given dignity (imago Dei) and that all creation deserves proper reverence. ♦

William Droel is the editor of Initiatives, a printed newsletter on faith and work (sign up for a free subscription here). His book Public Friendship can be obtained from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5).

Image: Kit Suman / Unsplash
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