Shadows on the Rock, while not Willa Cather’s most well-known novel, is my personal favorite. Set in colonial Quebec in the waning days of the 1600s, it is more portrait than story, more contemplative than narrative. The novel is set at a historical moment of seismic proportions, which Cather captures brilliantly—the opening of the New World to the Old World. We are introduced to Euclide Auclair and his young daughter, Cecile, and their circle of friends and acquaintances in and around Quebec. As we follow their lives over the course of a year, Cather offers us a glimpse into their hearts and minds. In their particular lives and stories, a bigger picture comes into focus—the legacy and beauty of European culture, as well as its decadence and hypocrisy. We see the symbiotic shaping—the land forming the people, the people shaping the architecture and culture of the land. While the novel is slowly paced—more thoughtful and “poetic” than plot-driven, Cather’s richly drawn characters and prose speak to us of human things and of permanent things: bravery, holiness, longing, transformation, regret, mercy, devotion, death, and simple human joy.
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Whenever I hear the readings for today’s Mass, I’m tempted by the grumbling to be discouraged all over again. In the First Reading, the whole Israelite community grumbled; in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he has to exhort the people not to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; and in …READ MORE