The Life You Save May Be Your Own

I also think she was incredibly beautiful.
The following woman has been accused of being the most shockingly dark, disturbingly vulgar, morbidly twisted, pessimistic, evil, sadistic lady America has seen. In actual fact, she was very probaly the holiest, most fervent Catholic you’ll hear about. This holiness allowed her writing to be truly dark, twisted, sadistic and all the rest, because only holiness can recognize evil and call it by it’s name. Evil likes to be sly, to appear as good, to breeze by us, not to alarm us, but to allow us to sink into complacency, as C.S Lewis’ demon Screwtape says:
  “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
It takes a fantastic author like Flannery O’Connor to make evil appear as it is; shockingly wrong. And of course, her secular critics hated her for it. And I love her for it. She, more than any modern author, has a lot to say on guilt, sin, and forgiveness, that stuff Bad Catholics want to hear.
I was reading her short story ”The Life You Save May Be Your Own“. Read it. You owe it to yourself. Otherwise, it needs a short summary. A man, Mr. Shiftlet, promises to marry a woman’s retarded daughter in exchange for a car. He pretends to be going on a honeymoon, ditches the girl – miles from home – at a breakfast joint, and drives off. The sky seems to be falling in on him, the wrath of God is near, when he picks up a boy who had just run away from his mother, and convinces him to go back home, to honor his mother. Then we read this:
Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him. He raised his arm and let it fall again to his breast. “Oh Lord!” he prayed. “Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!”…After a few minutes there was a guffawing peal of thunder from behind and fantastic raindrops, like tin‑can tops, crashed over the rear of Mr. Shiftlet’s car. Very quickly he stepped on the gas and with his stump sticking out the window he raced the galloping shower into Mobile.

What was O’Connor saying? That the man was damned? That God’s wrath was breaking down upon him? Consider the scripture: “But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved your own life” (Ezekiel 3:21). Read it again. Here comes the bombshell. The life you save is your own. By saving the boy from a bad life, Mr. Shiflet saves his own. Can you believe the mercy of God? One of the biggest effects of sin is that we become cowards. I end up thinking to myself, “I’m worthless, I can’t get it right, I’m a hypocrite, I deserve to be lightning-smited for living such a double lie. I can’t help others because I can’t help myself.” Honestly, that thought can seem sensible at times. But God calls us to the opposite. He calls save our own sinful lives by helping others, not by hypocritical judgment, but by honest love. Sin draws us into ourselves, when God tells us to cry out from the depths, to save our own life.

Are you consumed by guilt? Maybe you’ve been forgiven through Reconciliation, but still can’t shake the weight of the sin off your soul. I believe the cure for this is to act outwards, to save your own life. Why do you think I write this blog?

End Tangent: I went to Reconciliation today. I am as pure as snow.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12558074489796240430 Kevin O’Brien
  • http://octoberrose.wordpress.com/ octoberrose

    Flannery O'Connor is my hero in so, so many ways. Her letters, collected in "The Habit of Being," are an excellent read. (And of course all of her fiction.)

  • http://badcatholicblog.blogspot.com/ badcatholicblog

    I know! I never would have thought a writer could make my flesh creep, my heart disturbed, and bring me closer to God all at the same time! My all time favorite is her novel Wise Blood. Yours?


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