Those of us who have grown up close to the Word of God know them well:
The Hidden Treasure, The Pearl of Great Price, The Lost Sheep, The Prodigal Son, The Unjust Judge, The Wise and Foolish Servants.
The parables of Jesus account for approximately one third of his recorded teachings, and present truths about God and our relationship to Him in a way that is at the same time strikingly simple and unfathomably deep.
In the Gospel of Matthew, He was asked about His preference for this method of teaching:
“The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’”
Jesus gave them an answer, the last bit of which speaks to me the most:
“Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.” (Matthew 13:15)
It seems Jesus chose to teach in parables because it’s easier on us; it allows us to hear the truths of the faith in a non-threatening way, in a way that allows the truth to be contemplated in our minds and to grow within us. Our human nature seems to dispose us to starting off skeptical when we hear the truth presented more directly (this is good, this is bad, this is the way you should be, etc.), and knowing us better than we know ourselves, Jesus saw parables as a means of keeping our guard down while he fed us with his Word.
This style of teaching was impressively picked up by, in my opinion, one of the most powerful (and most underrated) Catholic American authors of our time, Flannery O’Connor.
Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, Flannery has a writing style that could only develop by way of being raised in the grit of the South. Her ability to hit at truth, morality, and the Catholic faith through often difficult to read stories, characters, and plot lines is emotionally jarring and intellectually compelling.
We tend to turn to non-fiction titles when we are trying to grow in our faith and make progress on the journey to holiness, devouring books by great saints, contemporary theologians, and popular-level Catholic motivational authors.
However, it shouldn’t go unmentioned how reaching for an intense work of fiction, like those given to us by O’Connor, can go a long way toward bringing us closer to God, His Church, and His truth.
She expertly weaves tales that shock us, make us want to look away, and leave us feeling uncomfortable. She skillfully uses that shocking, grotesque, and uncomfortable reaction to open our eyes and hearts to a deep and profound truth.
O’Connor uses the brutal murder of a family to illustrate our daily struggle to be holy, the unexpected stroke of a mother to show the destructive nature of our hateful thoughts, the surprising theft of a prosthetic leg to showcase the problem of pride and feeling superior to those who we see as simple, and even the shocking exposure of a hermaphrodite on stage at a local fair to teach us the importance of being thankful for and content with the person God made us to be.
She has an incredible ability to get to the heart of human nature, and present it in a way that sticks with us as much for its truth as its shocking presentation.
If you’re looking for a good read that will help open your heart to truth, and have also been looking for a break from the world of non-fiction, picking up Flannery O’Connor might be just what the doctor ordered.
O’Connor would leave that up to God though, as she once said: “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business.”
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of four boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.