Good Reading for the Feast of St. Helena

Evelyn Waugh, the celebrated author of such Catholic literary classics as “Brideshead Revisited,” claimed that his favorite work of his own was “Helena,” a historical novel based on the life of Constantine’s mother. Waugh’s own daughter maintained that “Helena” was the only one of her prolific father’s works that he cared to read aloud to his family.

Said Waugh of his reasons for picking Helena as the subject of his study:

I liked Helena’s sanctity because it is in contrast to all that moderns think of as sanctity. She wasn’t thrown to the lions, she wasn’t a contemplative, she didn’t look like an El Greco. She just discovered what it was God has chosen for her to do and did it.

Having read it myself, I believe it to be an excellent work of modern hagiography, of the sort that neither attempts to remove the flaws of the saint in question, nor overaccentuates her shortcomings. Waugh’s account is a beautiful portrayal of a simple and faithful saint, one that warrants repeated reads for its graceful narrative and spirit of Christian charity.

-Matt Swaim

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