[percy-l] Flannery on tenderness

Jim Forest jhforest at gmail.com
Mon Jul 9 05:03:06 EDT 2012

Re Flannery's comments, here's the text referred to... see the highlighted

Jim Forest

* * *

 Flannery O’Connor’s Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann

The Death of a Child

The creative action of the Christian’s life is to prepare his death in
Christ. It is a continuous action in which this world’s goods are utilized
to the fullest, both positive gifts and what Père Teilhard de Chardin calls
'passive diminishments.' Mary Ann’s diminishment was extreme, but she was
equipped by natural intelligence and by a suitable education, not simply to
endure it, but to build upon it. She was an extraordinarily rich little

Death is the theme of much modern literature. There is Death in Venice,
Death of a Salesman, Death in the Afternoon, Death of a Man. Mary Ann’s was
the death of a child. It was simpler than any of these, yet infinitely more
knowing. When she entered the door of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in
Atlanta, she fell into the hands of women who were shocked at nothing and
who love life so much that they spend their own lives making comfortable
those who have been pronounced incurable of cancer. Her own prognosis was
six months, but she lived twelve years, long enough for the Sisters to
teach her what alone could have been of importance to her. Hers was an
education for death, but not one carried on obtrusively. Her days were full
of dogs and party dresses, of Sisters and sisters, of Coca-Colas and
Dagwood sandwiches, and of her many and various friends . . . ; from
patients afflicted the way she was to children who were brought to the Home
to visit her and were perhaps told when they left to think how thankful
they should be that God had made their faces straight. It is doubtful if
any of them were as fortunate as Mary Ann. . . .

Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil, to look it in the
face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we
do not argue, but good is another matter. Few have stared at that long
enough to accept the fact that its face too is grotesque, that in us the
good is something under construction. The modes of evil usually receive
worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliché or
a smoothing-down that will soften their real look. When we look into the
face of good, we are liable to see a face like Mary Ann’s, full of promise.

Bishop Hyland preached Mary Ann’s funeral sermon. He said that the world
would ask why Mary Ann should die. He was thinking undoubtedly of those who
had known her and knew that she loved life, knew that her grip on a
hamburger had once been so strong that she has fallen through the back of a
chair without dropping it, or that some months before her death, she and
Sister Loretta had got a real baby to nurse. The Bishop was speaking to her
family and friends. He could not have been thinking of that world, much
farther removed yet everywhere, which would not ask why Mary Ann should
die, but why she should be born in the first place.

One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to
discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited his goodness,
you are done with him . . . . Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one
child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ,
because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our
gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they
saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental
eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith
now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off
from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is
detached from the source of tenderness. Its logical outcome is terror. It
ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chambers . . .

This action by which charity grows invisibly among us, entwining the living
and the death, is called by the Church the Communion of Saints. It is a
communion created upon human imperfection, created from what we make of our
grotesque state. Of hers Mary Ann made what, like all good things, would
have escaped notice had not the Sisters and many others been affected by it
and wished it written down. The Sisters who composed the memoir have told
me that they feel they have failed to create her as she was, that she was
more lively than they managed to make her, more gay, more gracious, but I
think that they have done enough and done it well. I think that for the
reader this story will illuminate the lines that join the most diverse
lives and that hold us fast in Christ.

* * *

On Sun, Jul 8, 2012 at 7:31 PM, <marcus at loyno.edu> wrote:

Janet Cantor writes, "On page 128 Father Smith asks, "Do you know where
> tenderness leads?" And he answers,..." to the gas chamber"."
> I think Percy told somone he was paraphasing a remark by Flannery O'Connor.
> I argued with Percy about this epigraph more than once.  My reply was that
> tenderness (romantic secular sentimentality, kitsch, etc.) may have been
> involved in the cultural roots of the Holocaust, but plain old nasty
> anti-semitism burrowing through centuries of the "Christian West" was the
> primary agent driving the catastrophe.  I don't recall that we ever
> concluded our discussion.
> By the way, the original title of Lady Chatterly's Lover was, of course,
> "Tenderness."
> Marcus Smith

* * *
A Canonization in Munich:

Photos of the canonization:

Article about St. Alexander Schmorell:

Photos of my recent travels in Poland:

Reflections on a visit to Auschwitz:

Recent books:

*All is Grace*
revised and expanded biography of Dorothy Day:

*Saint George & the Dragon*
a children's book:

*For the Peace From Above*
a resource book on war, peace and nationalism:

Jim & Nancy web site: www.jimandnancyforest.com
Jim's books: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/
Photo collections: www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/collections/
In Communion site: www.incommunion.org
Forest-Flier Editorial Services: www.forestflier.com
On Pilgrimage blog: http://jimandnancyonpilgrimage.blogspot.com/
A Tale of Two Kidneys blog: http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com/

*Jim & Nancy Forest*
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands

* * *
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