Flannery O’Connor isn’t your typical Catholic writer. She enters the darkness of our experiences and shows us the creeping evil that infests our lives. Her stories shock and make us uneasy as Catholics.
Matt Malone, S. J. in his column in America (Nov. 3, 2014) discusses her stories and asks “Where is the joy and peace that come from a conscious living relationship with God and his church?” Her stories, he says might be considered “too brooding and violent, so different from the ‘buddy Jesus’ I had encountered in C.C.D. in the years following the Second Vatican Council.” He goes on to say that O’Connor is right: the real world is not a dichotomy between good and evil but “largely one big mess.”
Our task as disciples, then, is to act in the midst of this soiled world as saintly losers (my term). From the perspective of the kingdom of this world, for example, celibates stand for love while wasting their sexuality and tossing away whatever intimacy is possible in this life. Kindness is unrewarded in this society of hard-nosed consumerism. Non-violence is impotent in changing our society for the better.
Christians are part of the story of this world and work to grace the world and bless the mess. Pope Francis told a gathering of priests that they have to get out of their sacristies and work so that the grace of Christ can enter their lives and the lives of their friends and families. The pope went on to say that the priests will end up smelling like their sheep.
It seems to me that there is a freedom available to us Catholics now that was not preached when I was growing up. Every sin is not mortal; every weakness is not a sign of lousy discipleship. You have to act. You have to act in this world. You have to act not as you want to be but as you are and then accept that that is what you can do to help save the world and build Christ’s kingdom.
Flannery O’Connor, a Catholic with deep convictions, tells stories that stink of the evil of this world. She holds up a stark vision of reality and says “What are you Christians going to do about this?”