January 30, 2010

The Misfit In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”


Flannery O'Connor
In Flannery O’ Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Misfit is the embodiment of evil. His chance encounter with a Georgia family culminates in the execution of the grandmother after she reaches out to touch him. O’Connor uses the Misfit to show how grace and salvation are available to both saint and sinner alike. Whether we accept these is another matter. The Misfit exercises his free will to do evil. Instead of sparing an old woman, he brutally murders her. Rejecting the grandmother’s kindness, he chooses violence over virtue – symbolizing our fallen humanity.

Despite being a cold-blooded killer the Misfit by his own words has contemplated Jesus’ resurrection and power over death. The Misfit has asked the same questions many Christians pose. His curiosity about Jesus and ultimate rejection of Judeo-Christian morality (that rooted in the natural law and the teachings of Christ), mirror the view of religious skeptics and others for whom religion has little value. In his mind, good has not conquered evil as evidenced in this statement to the grandmother:
Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead . . . and He shouldn't have done it. he thrown everything off balance. If He did what he said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw everything away and follow Him, and if he didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can - by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him.. . .
The Misfit has not “thrown everything away “ to follow Christ. Quiet the opposite. He is “enjoying the few minutes” he has left by killing and robbing. His words are prophetic. Shortly after uttering them he kills the grandmother and steals the family’s car. Like others, the Misfit sees evil and injustice as repudiating the idea that God is loving and good. Furthermore, the Misfit cannot square his own suffering with Jesus’ redemption of humanity. Christ did not conquer sin and death by rising from the tomb. To the Misfit there is no victory in the cross, no resurrection on Easter Sunday. Being open to grace requires an act of faith – something the Misfit is incapable of.

As the conversation with the grandmother continues, the Misfit reveals more about himself. At one point the grandmother says, “I know you're a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!" The Misfit replies that God never made a finer woman than his mother and that his father had a heart of gold. While he speaks the grandmother’s family is taken into the woods and shot. The grandmother tries to appeal to the Misfit’s humanity: “’Listen,’ she said, ‘you shouldn't call yourself the Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell.’" To this the Misfit replies, "No, I ain't a good man… but I ain't the worst in the world neither.”

For the Misfit to state,” I ain't a good man… but I ain't the worst in the world neither,” at the same time he is ordering the grandmother’s family members to be killed is remarkable. The Misfit rationalizes his actions, even the murder of innocent children.

Later the Misfit reveals he went to jail for murdering his father. He claims to be innocent of the charge but then indirectly acknowledges his guilt when he reflects:
Jesus thrown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course, they never shown me my papers… I call myself the Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.
The Misfit feels his incarceration was unjust and that the punishment didn’t fit his crime. His statement: “I call myself “the Misfit” because I can’t make what all I done fit what all I gone through in punishment,” illustrates this. He doesn’t deny committing murder nor does he admit to it. O’Connor offers us a tantalizing clue however. Earlier in the passage he says: “Jesus thrown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except he hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I committed one because they had the papers on me…of course…they never shown me my papers.” First, it is significant that the Misfit identifies himself with Christ. Just as Christ is the source of morality for Christians, the Misfit adheres to a view of right and wrong that is entirely of his own making. Secondly, he acknowledges that like Jesus, he, the Misfit has “thrown everything off balance.” But he quickly adds: “It was the same case with Him as with me except he hadn’t committed any crime.” The Misfit acknowledges Jesus’ innocence while seemly indicating his own guilt.

Finally, O’Connor contrasts the grandmother’s last earthly act and the Misfit’s violent reaction to it. In the climactic scene the grandmother tells the Misfit that he is: “One of my babies…,” and one of “my own children.” When she reaches out in compassion and touches him, the Misfit springs back from her: "as if a snake had bitten him….” The fact the Misfit would react as if she were a snake is itself telling. The snake has long been associated with evil as in the Garden of Eden.

According to Catholic theology, to sin against the Holy Spirit is to know that a thing is good and to hate it for its goodness. The Misfit is at once afraid, repulsed and startled by the grandmother’s desperate and ultimately futile act of charity. He “shot her three times through the chest,“ then removes his glasses to clean them. The Misfit is evil, By rejecting grace and doing unspeakable harm, he perpetuates evil. For the grandmother it is an occasion of grace. She dies in a pool of blood: “her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.” Perhaps in her last dying breath she found redemption.

O’Connor uses the Misfit to show how grace and salvation are available to everyone. As human beings we also have free will and are ultimately responsible for our choices and actions. We can be open to and cooperate with grace. But we are just as capable of doing evil. No one is without sin in this story. But one senses no one is beyond redemption either.

January 25, 2010

Theology of the Body, Part 3

Adam and Eve
Matthew Coffin

In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he compares and contrasts the three states of man: "Original Man," mankind before the Fall or first sin, "Historical Man" man after the Fall, (our current state,) and "Eschatological Man," man following Christ’s second coming, (our life in heaven).

Original Man

The state of original man concerns two human beings: Adam and Eve. They viewed each other with, "all the peace of the interior gaze." God walked in their midst, suggesting an intimacy with their creator we can only imagine. Adam and Eve’s lives were untouched by sin. Vice, depravity and despair were foreign to their experience. Everything in creation was perfect. The world was a temple in which human beings worshiped the one true God.

The boundary line between the state of original man and historical man is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is key. Man was the only person in the garden. The animals were not persons. They could not choose like Adam could. They could not till the ground or tend to the garden as human beings were called to do.

We have a choice. We can love God or reject God. We can be good stewards or bad stewards. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents this choice.

Two Accounts of Creation

The book of Genesis features two accounts of creation. Detractors of Christianity, and even some Christians, claim these stories contradict each other by telling different versions of the same event – namely, when God created the world. The two creation accounts also pose a challenge to fundamentalists who hold a literal interpretation of the Bible. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, shows how the two creation stories in Genesis are complementary, not contradictory.

The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:9) is called the Elohist account since the term used for God is "Elohim." It is chronologically newer than the second creation account starting at Genesis 2:10. The second creation account is called the Yawhist account since the name used for God in that story is "Yahweh."

The Elohist account or first creation story is creation from God’s point of view. God separates the light from the darkness, divides the waters, creates the sun, moon, and stars, land, vegetation, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and so on. Before creating man God pauses as if pondering a momentous act. He makes man in his image, that is to say, in God’s own image. In this way, human beings – men and women – are different from everything else in creation.

The second creation account, the so-called Yawhist account, is creation from Adam’s point of view. The second creation account is the story of creation through Adam (and Eve's) experience. In other words, the second creation account is creation seen through the eyes of the first humans. In this sense, the Yawhist account is subjective - based on experience.

At first, Adam is alone without Eve. The Hebrew word for Adam in the Bible before the arrival of Eve is man meaning mankind. Adam before Eve is genderless. Only later does Adam the male appear with the first woman Eve. The Theology of the Body puts it this way:
The Bible calls the first human being "man" ('adam), but from the moment of the creation of the first woman, it begins to call him "man" (ish), in relation to ishshah ("woman," because she was taken from the man—ish).
Our personhood - being a subject before God - is more fundamental to who we are than even our gender. In the Bible, our personhood, our dignity before God, comes before gender differentiation. (We will discuss gender more fully in a future post.)

God brings all the animals of the Garden to Adam to name. After naming all the animals Adam realizes he is alone. John Paul calls this "original solitude." It is through the experience of original solitude that Adam comes to realize that he is a person. Furthermore, after naming all the animals Adam is aware there are no other persons like him. (Adam knows that even the most human like animals are not persons.) He longs for an other to relate to and love. God waits for Adam to have this self-revelation before making Eve. As a loving creator, he never acts before Adam is ready.

Original Solitude

When Adam named all the animals in the garden he realized he was alone. In other words, he realizes that he is the only "person" in the visible world. He experiences what John Paul II in his Theology of the Body calls "original solitude." This original solitude has two senses.

The first sense of original solitude has to do with Adam's relationship with God. In "the beginning," Adam quickly began to understand that he had a unique relationship with the creator. He alone could talk with God. He alone could have a personal relationship with God. None of the other creatures in the garden could do this.

It naturally follows that only man has an interior life. Only man is capable of loving. Adam/man is the Hebrew word for "mankind" as mentioned previously. Adam and Eve together experience original solitude. This is key to understanding the Theology of the Body. Mankind experiences original solitude in all its senses, both male and female. Adam and Eve both experience original solitude, not just Adam the male.

The second sense of original solitude is perhaps the most obvious one. In naming all the animals Adam discovers he is alone. There is no other human person to love and to receive in love. Adam longs deep in his heart to love an other and to be loved by an other. This profound loneliness, the second sense of original unity, was felt by both Adam and Eve.

Through his experience of original solitude Adam (mankind) realizes he is alone. There is no "other" to give himself over to in love. Adam cannot perfect himself, he cannot fulfill himself, he cannot know himself except by making a gift of himself to another human person. Adam longs for another human person to love. It is in his spiritual DNA to give himself to an other. God acknowledges this when he says; "It is not good for the man to be alone."

God bringing the animals to Adam to see what he will name them is a kind of test. Through it Adam discovers that there is not a help mate fit for him. Genesis states; "The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man."

In ancient Hebrew tradition, to name something is to have responsibility for it. In this way, mankind is to be the caregiver of the garden, the steward of all creation. Furthermore, in the first chapter of Genesis God tells man;"Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

God is clearly enjoining man to be a responsible master over all creation. In the beginning, this responsible mastery came easily. After sin, it would prove difficult if not impossible to achieve.

God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep "and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man." God then presents the woman to man who exclaims; "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." In that moment, original solitude gives way to the joy of original unity.

Original Unity

When Adam awoke from the divine sleep God presented him with Eve. Adam explained “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This was an exclamation of love. Adam saw in Eve a human person like himself. Eve saw in Adam a human person like herself. In this moment original solitude was over come. The loneliness that each person felt for the other, the longing that they felt for another was over.

Original solitude gives way to original unity. Adam was a gift for Eve. And Eve was a gift for Adam. Their very bodies spoke a language of love and communion, intimacy and union. Neither Adam nor Eve would use another person. Original unity meant they could view each other “with all the peace of the interior gaze” and not be afraid. Man was not given over to dominating woman. Woman was not afraid of man. The two represented a communion of souls. There was harmony in the male-female relationship. Such were the characteristics of original solitude.

The nuptial meaning of the body is central to the idea of John Paul’s Theology of the Body. As he states “the body and it alone is capable of making visible what has been invisible, the mystery of the divine since time immemorial.” The body makes visible the ineffable mystery of the human person. It is a sign of the person but then again it is more, it is the embodiment of the person. There is no disconnect between a man’s spirit and his bodily desires in the beginning. The two work in concert with each other. Just as there was harmony in the male-female relationship so to there was harmony in the mind-body-spirit relationship within the human person.

The Nuptial Meaning of the Body

Adam and Eve were created as gifts to one another. Their very bodies made this truth known. It was through their masculinity and femininity that they could express total self-giving. This is called “the nuptial meaning of the body.” The nuptial meaning of the body is central to Pope Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body. He references it numerous times throughout his catechesis.

To love is the essential activity of the human person. We were created to love others and to receive love from others. Because our bodies make visible what is invisible in the world, it is through our bodies that we are called to be selfless and self-donative. This is evident most obviously in the conjugal union. Moreover, we are called to love and to serve others in numerous ways using our bodies. We cannot serve others unless we have a physical self to serve with. Man can only discover himself through a sincere gift of himself. This is at the heart of Christ’s teaching. It is also the heart of the Theology of the Body.

Before sin, Adam and Eve clearly perceived this truth. After sin, it became cluttered and obscure. For the children of Adam and Eve it remains so. We struggle daily to reject sin and selfishness in order to love and serve others more fully. In the beginning love was undiluted and spontaneous; an instantaneous impulse. Adam and Eve served each other without thinking. It was in their spiritual DNA to do this.

Now with historical man, (that is man after the first sin) we do not automatically love as God loves. It takes work and conscious effort. In many ways it is a battle among our heart, our will, and our body. In the beginning there was no struggle. At the end of human history, we will see God face to face in Heaven. On that day, we will love perfectly like God loves us, and sin will be no more.

January 23, 2010

Theology of the Body: The Nuptial Meaning of the Body

Adam and Eve were created as gifts to one another. Their very bodies made this truth known. It was through their masculinity and femininity that they could express total self-giving. This is called “the nuptial meaning of the body.” The nuptial meaning of the body is central to Pope Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body. He references it numerous times throughout his catechesis.

To love is the essential activity of the human person. We were created to love others and to receive love from others. Because our bodies make visible what is invisible in the world, it is through our bodies that we are called to be selfless and self-donative. This is evident most obviously in the conjugal union. Moreover, we are called to love and to serve others in numerous ways using our bodies. We cannot serve others unless we have a physical self to serve with. Man can only discover himself through a sincere gift of himself. This is at the heart of Christ’s teaching. It is also the heart of the Theology of the Body.

Before sin, Adam and Eve clearly perceived this truth. After sin, it became cluttered and obscure. For the children of Adam and Eve it remains so. We struggle daily to reject sin and selfishness in order to love and serve others more fully. In the beginning love was undiluted and spontaneous; an instantaneous impulse. Adam and Eve served each other without thinking. It was in their spiritual DNA to do this.

Now with historical man, [that is man after the first sin] we do not automatically love as God loves. It takes work and conscious effort. In many ways it is a battle among our heart, our will, and our body. In the beginning there was no struggle. At the end of human history, we will see God face to face in Heaven. On that day, we will love perfectly like God loves us, and sin will be no more.

January 20, 2010

Original Unity

The creation of Eve

In Genesis, when Adam awakes from the divine sleep, God presents him with Eve. Immediately, Adam exclaims, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Adam's response is an expression of love. Adam recognizes in Eve a person, equal in dignity to himself. So too, Eve beholds in Adam a person like her. At this moment, original solitude was overcome. The loneliness and longing that each felt for the other was wondrously fulfilled in their covenantal union.

With original unity, Adam was a gift to Eve, and Eve a gift to Adam. Their very bodies spoke a language of intimacy and trust — enabling them to view each other "with all the peace of the interior gaze". Never would our first parents in Eden exploit each other for selfish purposes. Man was not tempted to dominate woman. Woman was not afraid of man. Participating in the primordial sacrament of marriage, Adam and Eve were a communion of persons. Their love as husband and wife was harmonious, selfless and total, untainted by sin, fear and shame.

Central to Saint John Paul II’s catechesis is the nuptial meaning of the body. John Paul states: "The body and it alone is capable of making visible what has been invisible, the mystery of the divine since time immemorial." The body makes visible the ineffable mystery of the human person. It is a sign and, at the same time, an embodiment of the individual. In the beginning, there was no disconnect between man’s spiritual and material impulses. They worked in concert not conflict. The mind-body-spirit relationship existed in perfect harmony within the human person much like that between men and women, and God and man.

January 14, 2010

Original Solitude, Part II


Through his experience of original solitude Adam (mankind) realizes he is alone. There is no "other" to give himself over to in love. Adam cannot perfect himself, he cannot fulfill himself, he cannot know himself except by making a gift of himself to another human person. Adam longs for another human person to love. It is in his spiritual DNA to give himself to an other. God acknowledges this when he says; "It is not good for the man to be alone."

God bringing the animals to Adam to see what he will name them is a kind of test. Through it Adam discovers that there is not a help mate fit for him. Genesis states; "The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man."

In ancient Hebrew tradition, to name something is to have responsibility for it. In this way, mankind is to be the caregiver of the garden, the steward of all creation. Furthermore, in the first chapter of Genesis God tells man;"Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

God is clearly enjoining man to be a responsible master over all creation. In the beginning, this responsible mastery came easily. After sin, it would prove difficult if not impossible to achieve.

God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep "and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man." God then presents the woman to man who exclaims; "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."

In that moment, original solitude gives way to the joy of original unity.


January 12, 2010

Original Solitude


When Adam named all the animals in the garden he realized he was alone. In other words, he understands that he is the only "person" in the visible world. He experiences what John Paul II in his Theology of the Body calls "original solitude." This original solitude has two senses.

The first sense of original solitude has to do with Adam's relationship with God. In "the beginning," Adam quickly began to understand that he had a unique relationship with the Creator. He alone could talk with God. He alone could have a personal relationship with God. None of the other creatures in the garden could do this.

It naturally follows that only man has an interior life. Only man is capable of loving. Adam/man is the Hebrew word for "mankind" as mentioned previously. Adam and Eve together experience original solitude. This is key to understanding the Theology of the Body. Mankind experiences original solitude in all its senses, both male and female. Adam and Eve both experience original solitude - not just Adam the male.

The second sense of original solitude is perhaps the most obvious one. In naming all the animals Adam discovers he is alone. There is no other human person to love and to receive in love. Adam longs deep in his heart to love an other and to be loved by an other. This profound loneliness, the second sense of original unity, was felt by both Adam and Eve.

Visit our Theology of the Body page for more.

January 9, 2010

The Theology of the Body, Genesis

The book of Genesis features two accounts of creation. Detractors of Christianity, and even some Christians, claim these stories contradict each other by telling different versions of the same event – namely, when God created the world. The two creation accounts also pose a challenge to fundamentalists who hold a literal interpretation of the Bible. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, shows how the two creation stories in Genesis are complimentary, not contradictory.

The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:9) is called the Elohist account since the term used for God is “Elohim.” It is chronologically newer than the second creation account starting at Genesis 2:10. The second creation account is called the Yawhist account since the name used for God in that story is “Yahweh.”

The Elohist account or first creation story is creation from God’s point of view. God separates the light from the darkness, divides the waters, creates the sun, moon, and stars, land, vegetation, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and so on. Before creating man God pauses as if pondering a momentous act. He makes man in his image, that is to say, in God’s own image. In this way, human beings – men and women – are different from everything else in creation.

The second creation account, the so-called Yawhist account, is creation from Adam’s point of view. The second creation account is the story of creation through Adam (and Eve's) experience. In other words, the second creation account is creation seen through the eyes of the first humans. In this sense, the Yawhist account is subjective - based on experience.

At first, Adam is alone without Eve. The Hebrew word for Adam in the Bible before the arrival of Eve is man meaning mankind. Adam before Eve is genderless. Only later does Adam the male appear with the first woman Eve. The Theology of the Body puts it this way:
The Bible calls the first human being "man" ('adam), but from the moment of the creation of the first woman, it begins to call him "man" (ish), in relation to ishshah ("woman," because she was taken from the man—ish).
Our personhood - being a subject before God - is more fundamental to who we are than even our gender. In the Bible our personhood, our dignity before God, comes before gender differentiation. (We will discuss gender more fully in a future post.)

God brings all the animals of the Garden to Adam to name. After naming all the animals Adam realizes he is alone. John Paul calls this "original solitude." It is through the experience of original solitude that Adam comes to realize that he is a person. Furthermore, after naming all the animals Adam is aware there are no other persons like him. (Adam knows that even the most human like animals are not persons.) He longs for an other to relate to and love. God waits for Adam to have this self-revelation before making Eve. As a loving creator, he never acts before Adam is ready.

Original solitude has two senses and it paves the way for "original unity." I will discuss original solitude further in my next post.

January 6, 2010

Theology of the Body, "Original Man"



In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he compares and contrasts the three states of man; “Original Man,” mankind before the Fall or first sin, “Historical Man” man after the Fall, (our current state,) and “Eschatological Man,” man following Christ’s second coming, (our life in heaven).

Original Man

The state of original man concerns two human beings – Adam and Eve. They viewed each other with, “all the peace of the interior gaze.” God walked in their midst, suggesting an intimacy with their creator we can only imagine. Adam and Eve’s lives were untouched by sin. Vice, depravity, and despair were foreign to their experience.

The boundary line between the state of original man and historical man is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is key. Man was the only person in the garden. The animals were not persons. They could not choose like Adam could. They could not till the ground or tend to the garden as human beings were called to do.

We have a choice. We can love God or reject God. We can be good stewards or bad stewards. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents this choice.

January 4, 2010

Coming in 2010: More Theology of the Body


If you ask most Catholics “fill in the blank, Original______” they would reply “Original Sin.” Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body introduces us to three additional concepts, “Original Solitude,” “Original Unity,” and “Original Nakedness.” I will be exploring these ideas in the days and weeks ahead – as well as discussing John Paul’s, Theology of the Body more in depth. For a brief overview of the Theology of the Body in its historical context go here. For a discussion on the exchange of Persons in the Trinity, an idea central to the Theology of the Body, go here.

The Theology of the Body is not light reading – as anyone who has ever tried reading it well knows. I seek to make the complicated simpler for readers of this blog. There is also an excellent review of the latest translation of the Theology of the Body here. Reading the fore mentioned links will bring you up to speed as we begin our journey through the Theology of the Body.

January 1, 2010

The Pope's Urbi et Orbi message.


Happy New Year! - Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God



Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.

New Years Resolutions



  • Pray more

  • Read Scripture

  • Keep holy the Sabbath

  • Sin less

  • Eat less

  • Honor your father and mother

  • Spend less

  • Spend more time with family

  • Read a Psalm a day

  • Live more simply