When College Shakes Your Faith, Listen to Flannery O’Connor (Lights in the Darkness series)

When College Shakes Your Faith, Listen to Flannery O’Connor (Lights in the Darkness series) April 9, 2016

My second piece in the Lights in the Darkness series

In a modern culture that is adrift, it is good to be reminded of the true, the good and the beautiful. Each week it is my humble privilege to offer one selection from an indispensable canon of essays, speeches and books that will light a candle in the darkness. It is a canon I have assembled over many years that I hope will challenge and inspire each reader. But most importantly I hope it will remind us of what is true in an age of untruth. And if we know what is true, we are more apt to do what is right.

It was 1962 when he first wrote to her. A college freshman at Emory University, Alfred Corn was transfixed when the 37-year-old Flannery O’Connor spoke to his English class about her jarring story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” She was articulate, acerbic and Catholic. He was young, reserved and intrigued. So Alfred Corn wrote a letter to Flannery O’Connor. In it he discussed his struggles with faith. He was earnest. And Flannery respected that. So she wrote him back.

Here is what she said.

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith …

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief … Peter [sic] said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames of reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe…

For more, please click here for more at Aleteia.
Photo Credit: Aleteia & AP File Photo 1962

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