I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic. This is a fact and nothing covers it like the bald statement. However I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern condition, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty.
To possess this within the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It’s to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level. I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.
It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it, but I you believe in the divinity of Christ you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it. This may explain the lack of bitterness in the stories.
The notice in the New Yorker [a review of her collection of short stories A Good Man is Hard to Find] was not only moronic, it was unsigned. It was a case in which it is easy to see that the moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead.
Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being
Reflection – This is mighty profound stuff here. Often when people quote Flannery O’Connor, this one letter to her friend who chose to be anonymously identified as ‘A’ in the collection comes up. It is packed with gems: a generation of wingless chickens… you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it… the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable… if you believe in the divinity of Christ you have to cherish the world at the same time as you struggle to endure it.
I write this post with some difficulty. I am aware that my blog readership is largely American, while I am Canadian. The United States Supreme Court yesterday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, largely paving the way for a wholesale legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the nation. In Canada, we crossed that particular Rubicon quite a number of years ago. I am aware of the pain and distress of many of my American Catholic friends, and I share it with you, along with the real fears of religious persecution that in my view are anything but fanciful.
So… what to say. I deliberately looked for this letter of O’Connor’s, because I think she is pointing out the way we have to walk in our difficult times. That is, we have to go deeper. The time for superficial Christianity is over. And by superficial Christianity, I do not only or even primarily mean rote prayers and mechanical routine. I don’t even primarily mean lukewarm compromising practice of faith and morals. All of that, yes, but really what I mean is that we have to plunge into the depths of Christ in these matters. We cannot stay on the surface, railing and ranting about the evils of the government or of society, or railing and ranting about the evils of the bishops and the clergy, or floating along in some haze of unawareness of any of these evils, or looking for easy answers in the surrender to the spirit of the age or the retreat into a cozy Catholic enclave.
All of that is, or at least easily can be, superficial Christianity. We need to plunge into Christ. We need to plunge into the passion of Christ—his passionate love for the world that led him to die for the world, his passionate mercy and tenderness that bore not a trace of sentimentality or laxity.
We need to become lovers. The flocks of wingless chickens have increased in the sixty years since O’Connor wrote this letter. People believe love means you can do with your genitals anything you please; people believe that what is a clump of cells in the womb is turned into a baby by the mere act of locomotion a few inches down the birth canal; people believe any evil can be justified if it accomplishes something good, something we really, really want.
The moral sense has decayed and degraded, and it is hard to see how or where it will end. We need, not to rant and rave and rail, but to love. Only love creates, and what is needed now is not endless wrangling and controversy, but a new creation. Only love can make the beauty and truth of the good visible, and that is the pressing urgent need of our day. We need beauty, and only love is truly beautiful.
And it is the Church, with all its faults and failures, that feeds us with Love each day in the body and blood of Christ. So it is the Church that alone makes it possible for us to get through these hard times. And that is my word today for my American readers, and for the rest of youse guys, too. God bless you, and keep your chin up.
Update: Welcome, Sheavians! I just finished writing a whole series of posts, further reflecting on same sex marriage and the challenges of loving as we try to present the Church's views on the matter. Click on the 'same sex marriage' label at the bottom of this post if you are interested in seeing what I have to say.