Life, death, resurrection … and some heavy-duty summer reading

Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to William Sessions, wrote of the different presuppositions we must make when we deal with Protestants and Catholics:

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic, on the other hand, suspects that the voice may in fact come from the devil, unless it’s in accordance with the teachings of the Church. You are judging the old man as if he should act like a Catholic. The prophets were Jews and old Tarwater is a Protestant and his being a Protestant allows him to follow the voice he hears which speaks a truth held by Catholics. One of the good things about Protestantism is that it contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends — at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief.

Here, the big problem returns as the need to contrast our own freely chosen picture of the world — which we create for ourselves by our actions and the thoughts from which they flow in order to explain or justify what we do — over and against that picture of the world that we find in reason and revelation.

The Catholic bets that the picture held in the tradition of the Church about the highest things, about what is, is better for him than anything he might concoct for himself, even if it comes from a “voice” in the wilderness. The Catholic’s wager, to recall Pascal’s famous word, is that his ultimate well-being — including his very physical well-being as reflected in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body — is the true picture of the world in which he is to live. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, stated the issue succinctly: “For if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Faith in the heart leads to justification; confession on the lips to salvation” (10: 9-10). In these brief words we are asked clearly to state what we believe — that Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead. And we are asked to state these things not only to ourselves in private but to confess them to the world; so both words and deeds are expected of us.

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