Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter With Flannery O'Connor

By George Weigel
April 16, 2014
This coming August 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. In the fifty years since lupus erythematosus claimed her at age thirty-nine, O’Connor’s literary genius has been widely celebrated. Then, with the 1979 publication of The Habit of Being, her collected letters, another facet of O’Connor’s genius came into focus: Mary Flannery O’Connor was an exceptionally gifted apologist, an explicator of Catholic faith who combined remarkable insight into the mysteries of the Creed with deep and unsentimental piety, unblinking realism about the Church in its human aspect, puckish humor—and a mordant appreciation of the soul-withering acids of modern secularism.
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 by 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.

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