Saints Among Us // Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor

The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” Daniel 7:27

For all the saints who from their labors rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name,Jesus,be forever blest.Alleluia, Alleluia! 

For the apostles' glorious company,who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea, shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee: Alleluia, Alleluia!

These two are the last people you would expect to be Catholics, let alone saints. Thomas Merton is controversial because even though he converted to the Catholic faith and became a Trappist monk, he had a fascination with Buddhism and had what is called an “affair of the heart” with a nurse. Flannery O’Connor’s writings are equally controversial because they’re often violent and harsh stories with tragic endings. Why would anyone consider these two to be saints?

In spite of the scandals associated with him, Thomas Merton stayed true to the Catholic faith. He never acted on the feelings he had for the nurse nor did he suddenly wind up in a Buddhist monastery. In fact, some people speculate that if he hadn’t died, he might’ve written something that would create a dialogue between Buddhism and Catholicism, similar to Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

Flannery O’Connor’s writings may not be as pleasant to read as, say, a lighthearted contemporary romance, but they all teach a lesson in Catholic morality. My favorite story from her is “Revelations,” which was her version of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In her story, the Pharisee is an old Southern lady and the tax collector is a plain, crazy young girl, who calls the old lady out on her hypocrisy, even though the old lady was keeping her condescending, superior thoughts to herself. The old lady gets shaken up by the young girl’s words and then has a vision of everyone marching into Heaven, with all the people she looked down upon dancing in the front while people like her, who were well-off and content with their lives, were walking with their heads down, taking up the back of the line.

Words from saints can go beyond a theological essay. Thomas Merton’s writings show the beauty of being Catholic. This is especially evident in his memoir The Seven Storey Mountain. In contrast, Flannery O’Connor’s writings shake us out of our contentment and compel us to recognize God’s grace and accept it. In spite of the shock and awe the lives these two Catholics have, God still shines through them in their words.

To Jesus through Mary-Monique Ocampo

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