Flannery O’Connor had a hard-edged, clear-eyed, and deeply perceptive sense of the Catholic Faith. Through her stories she told the deepest truths of things, and revealed important matters that our troubled times need to be made aware of. She was a prophetess of sin, grace, God’s mercy and redemption. She died in 1964 at the age of thirty-nine. While bold in her writing, she was intensely shy in social settings. This characteristic of her’s is on display in an excerpt I share with you from a collection of her letters entitled, “The Habit of Being”, where she spars with a well-known writer and essayist of the time over the Eucharist.
I was once, five or six years ago [in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s], taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life). She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual.
We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the “most portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one.
I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.
Prayer Before Communion in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, The Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first.
Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I profess to you:
Remember me, O Lord, when you come in your kingdom.
Remember me, O Master, when you come in your kingdom.
Remember me, O Holy One, when you come in your kingdom.
May the partaking of your Holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of my soul and body.
O Lord, I also believe and profess, that this, which I am about to receive, is truly your most precious Body, and your life-giving Blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen.
David J. Conrad