Archive for September 23rd, 2011

I ran across a quote from Flannery O’Connor the other day that I don’t remember but must have read at some point. It was on the back of my parish bulletin, which is a bit unusual; Byzantine Catholic bulletins generally have a quote from one of the Church Fathers there, relevant to the icon which graces the front. This one was for the Sunday After the Exaltation of the Cross. What she said was this: “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies…”

This runs contrary to the instincts of most people, who think dying in their sleep with no pain ideal. But I know what she means.

Unlike Miss O’Connor I did not spend my youth in ill health; until I was 49 I never had any serious health problems other than a case of salmonella that I got at 19 from drinking from a stream when I was staying at a hippie enclave in the woods of northern Vermont, and that was quickly cleared up with antibiotics when I broke down and went to the doctor.

But when I was 49 I found myself in an intensive care unit, and even through the fog of painkillers I could tell from the worried looks on the faces of my nurses and visitors that it was possible I would not leave the hospital alive. I asked for a priest and confessed my sins and then began to pray almost ceaselessly. I was newly interested in Eastern Christianity and was not experienced with the Jesus Prayer, so in good Latin Catholic fashion I began praying the rosary, which felt like a lifeline in my hand. In many ways the Jesus Prayer would have been better; the long prayers and required activity of the discursive intellect in meditating can be problematic for one in the state I was in. The Jesus Prayer is more a cry of the heart and does not require much concentration. But the rosary was a grace in that situation.

I was not praying out of abject fear. I have never much feared dying. I don’t know if that is from foolishness or wisdom, though I am inclined to believe that what  people fear most from death is the utter aloneness of the thing, and I have always been good at being alone.

But the prospect of death certainly concentrates one’s focus. I just knew that if I was going to die I wanted to be as close to God as possible.

The years have gone by and that focus gets lost easily; minor pains and injuries do not have the same effect.

But Flannery O’Connor knew from the age of 25 that she had a terminal illness, not to mention that she suffered from bone disease, shingles, anemia, and a tumor. In the fourteen years that she lived with this knowledge and pain she wrote her greatest works. And anyone who has read her letters knows that she bore this with great grace and self-deprecating humor.

I realize that her art may be an impediment to the Church ever recognizing Miss O’Connor’s life of heroic virtue; her writing is as hard and shocking as any of Christ’s hard sayings, and just as counter to natural human sensibilities.

But those of us who have studied her life and her art have no doubt.

Servant of God, Flannery O’Connor, pray for us.

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A Response to George Weigel

George Weigel recently claimed that Centesimus Annus was still relevant for rejecting any notion of a “third way”; that it definitively enshrines capitalism. Richard Aleman responds:

‘George Weigel, who openly dissents from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate  is still making his case for free market economics based on his misrepresentation of John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.

Weigel’s insistence that Pope John Paul II’s encyclical embraces, “[the] free market of the liberal democracies” is nowhere to be found in the text. The “free market,” a self-regulating system determining prices, wages, interest rates, and so forth, with little or no interference by government, is the same economy described as shooting from “a polluted spring” by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno and “radical capitalistic ideology” by Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus:

“… there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.” ‘

Read the rest, from The Distributist Review:


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