"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, April 10, 2006

Suffering from the Church

I generally dislike collections of quotations. When followed as such, they tend to draw attention more to the speakers than to what is said. But in my rounds of the blogs last night, I stumbed on two isolated quotations that are just too good to pass up and comment on. This post is about the first.

It is from Flannery O'Connor, one of the best and certainly one of the most quotable writers of Catholic fiction in the twentieth century. My favorite quote of hers used to be her riposte to the lapsed Catholic Mary McCarthy. At a New York cocktail party crammed with cultured despisers of Christianity, McCarthy sensitively conceded the beautiful "symbolism" of the Eucharist. O'Connor could only say: "Well, if it's just a symbol, to hell with it"—a reply all the more effective for being unstudied and unpolished. That was the Holy Spirit at work, driving quite a stake through a vampire's heart. But here's an O'Connor quote just as good:
I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic....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 suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.
That is now my favorite O'Connor quote. Even I, a far lesser talent, can say the same for myself. If it would not mean betraying confidences, reopening old wounds, and indirectly impugning a few innocents, I would be quite specific about how I've suffered from the Church. But my own sob story is not needed to establish what's important. What's important is that O'Connor's observation ought to apply to every adult Catholic even if it doesn't.

In fact, any serious, faithful, cradle Catholic has suffered from the Church. Some suffer because, having grown beyond emotional and spiritual adolescence, they find that their faith is at once more mature and less compromising than that of their own clergy. Some, by contrast, have suffered in such a way that they have never matured beyond spiritual and emotional adolescence. These days especially, it is evident that we suffer as much from the Church as for her. But we do so willingly because she is the body of Christ, in which our old selves are being crucified for the world's sake as well as our own. Don't forget that when the next ecclesiastical outrage surfaces.
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