I’m not sure how it was that I was able to live over three and a half decades without being aware of Flannery O’Connor. What I’ve learned and read of her in the last few years has me wanting to make sure others are aware of her.
The paragraphs below were published in an article 53 years ago called The Church and the Fiction Writer. The whole article deserves to be read, but these closing thoughts are significant not only for how Christians create art, but how they engage with it as well. When I read them, I know that she was either way before her time, or that some of us have taken a long time to catch up:
If we intend to encourage Catholic fiction writers, we must convince those coming along that the Church does not restrict their freedom to be artists but ensures it (the restrictions of art are another matter). To convince them of this requires, perhaps more than anything else, a body of Catholic readers who are equipped to recognize something in fiction besides passages that they consider obscene.
It is popular to suppose that anyone who can read the telephone book can read a short story or a novel, and it is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the truth in the Church, we can use this truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself. Catholic readers are constantly being offended and scandalized by novels they don’t have the fundamental equipment to read in the first place, and often these are works that are permeated with a Christian spirit.