“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 have to 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.” -Flannery O’Connor, Catholic novelist, July 20, 1955.
In a recent conversation with a Bethesda youth, the young man remarked that he wished he grew up when his great-grandpa did. He wasn’t too hopeful about the world’s future prospects. This was not a unique opinion, but I can’t shake the conversation. His great-grandpa was born during the depression, graduated and promptly served in the Navy during WWII, served in Korea, and raised his family during the tumultuous Vietnam Era. Were these details lost on his great-grandson? Surely he knew about some of these struggles. I can’t answer for him, but I have some thoughts of my own.
People can struggle fiercely when they have something to cherish, something worth struggling for. People have endured tremendous challenges for the sake of a greater cause. I wonder if what is missing in the young man’s life is a sense of something big to cherish. Maybe great-grandpa’s early years were not marked by the absence of struggle but by the presence of precious things to produce and protect. Maybe the missing ingredient is not peace but purpose.
One of my favorite novelists, Flannery O’Connor, wrote the header quote in a letter to a new unbelieving friend. I appreciate her evangelistic honesty. For her, the Church is both gift and struggle. We suffer from it and for it. The only thing that makes the Church endurable is the sacramental mystery of the Church as Christ’s body, which is our sustenance. When this is grasped, the world opens up for a Christian in a way that it cannot for the unbeliever. Because we trust in Christ, we must cherish the world even as we struggle to endure it. Because Christ is all in all, because in Him all things hold together, we labor not in vain. We run the race, we fight the good fight. We do not not lose heart. We live in faith, hope and love.
You don’t have to feel Pollyannish about the direction of the church or the world. But “the love of Christ compels us because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We are engaged in this cherished struggle and, sometimes, the struggle to cherish. I am thankful to partner in this work with you, Bethesda. You are ever in my prayers, and close to our family’s hearts.
Shalom, Pastor Tom