Restoring the Catholic Historical Imagination” — my title for this paper — is itself problematic. Why should anyone want to restore an imagination of history, that Picturerecord of what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat”? At first glance, ancient history seems a recycled tale of building up and tearing down — conquest, persecution, intrigue, and betrayal. Then, modern history — often marked as beginning with the guillotine — is defined by the death camps at Auschwitz, the darkness of Hiroshima, and the mass murder that is abortion and genocide. What is there in history, if anything, that we would want to pass along to our poor children? How do we, leading our children, get out of this cycle of death and domination? Is there a way out? Can we imagine any history with a happy ending? Or do we follow the pagan imagination, expecting loss, defeat, and death, and declare: “Call no man happy until he is dead.”

The problem for parents and teachers today is the current malformation of our own and our children’s imaginations. The imagination of our time is on a wide scale formed, or malformed, by some one else’s nightmare: movies, pornography, popular fiction, music, and ideology-driven TV. We see what we have been trained to see. We image what we have been taught to image. The modern imagination is an imagining of despair and increasingly, as a people, we cannot imagine a happy ending.

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