Easter with Flannery O'ConnorGEORGE WEIGEL
This coming Aug. 3 will mark the golden anniversary of Flannery O'Connor's "Passover," to adopt the biblical image John Paul II used to describe the Christian journey through death to eternal life.
Insofar as I'm aware, there's never been an effort to initiate a beatification cause for Flannery O'Connor. If such a cause should ever be introduced, The Habit of Being (and the lectures found in the Library of America edition of her collected works) should be the principal documentary evidence for considering her an exemplar of heroic virtue, worthy to be commended to the whole Church.
O'Connor's sense that ours is an age of nihilism — an age suffering from a crabbed sourness about the mystery of being itself — makes her an especially apt apologist for today: not least because she also understood the evangelical sterility of the smiley-face, cheap-grace, balloons-and-banners Catholicism that would become rampant shortly after her death. In a 1955 letter to her friend Betty Hester, Flannery O'Connor looked straight into the dark mystery of Good Friday and, in four sentences explained why the late modern world often finds it hard to believe:
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.
A world indifferent to its need for redemption is not indifferent to the possibility of redemption; it's a world hostile to that possibility. Down the centuries, the mockery endured by Christ on the cross may stand as the paradigmatic expression of that hostility.
The Church meets this hostility by doubling down on its conviction that the truths it professes are really true, and in fact reveal the deepest truth of the human condition. Flannery O'Connor again:
the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection . . . are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of those laws. . . . [It] would never have occurred to human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.You can't get much more countercultural than that. Yet what Miss O'Connor wrote speculatively in 1955 was what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council solemnly affirmed a decade later, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: "in the mystery of the word made flesh . . . the mystery of man truly becomes clear . . . . Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam . . . . fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling."
Our age habitually thinks low. Easter bids us to think high: very high. For Christ is risen, and so shall his faithful people be.
George Weigel. "Easter with Flannery O'Connor." The Catholic Difference (April 16, 2014).
Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.
George Weigel's column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3123.
George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of Evangelical Catholicism, The End and the Beginning: John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action, God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring, The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explore.
George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.
Copyright © 2014 George Weigel
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