Monday, July 12, 2010

Graham Greene on Peace & Despair

I'm finding that the Catholicism that makes me feel at peace is that of the English (and of what I can find, the Canadian) Tradition - as I've posted many times before on - and even more specifically, the Catholicism of novelists. Evelyn Waugh, Michael D. O'Brian, and Graham Greene. They called the period leading up to the First World War and all the way to the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Literary Revival. These authors (many of whom were converts) I find to be inspiring because they are so real. My favourite right now is Graham Greene, whose book I am reading "The Heart of the Matter". It was once said that while other religious novelists were writers of faith, that Greene was a writer of doubt.

I was talking with a Catholic friend who suffers from severe scruples (I on the other hand seem to just frequently commit serious sins, and thus don't have to worry about being scrupulous). Anyway, my friend and I both agreed that the main problem we have with Catholic faith is how idealistic it is. What we meant by that was: everything in Catholicism is measured by ideals, the real lives of everyday Catholics, repeated faillure, doubt, frustration, are not to be found in any of the 'official' sources of the Church. For this reason, authors like Greene who deal with these issues have a special place in my heart (and I hope in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord as well.)

Here is one passage I enjoyed from the novel I'm reading. It's about a police officer who is in a state of frustration and unease over the way his life is going. He is a Catholic convert and his wife is quite devout, but he no longer loves her and doesn't know how to resolve things, and she offers to just leave and go to South Africa.

"... she said, 'if I go away, you'll have your peace.'

'You haven't any conception,' he accused her, 'of what peace means.' It was as if she had spoken slightingly of a woman he loved. For he dreamed of peace by day and night. Once in sleep it had appeared to him... by day he tried to win a few moments of its company ... Peace seemed to him the most beautiful word in the language: My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you: O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace. In the Mass he pressed his fingers against his eyes to keep the tears of longing in.


He had always been prepared to accept the responsibility for his actions, and he had alwasy been half aware too, from the time he made his terrible private vow that she should be happy, how far this action might carry him. Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practices. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing-point of knowing absolute faillure. Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation." - Graham Greene "The Heart of the Matter" 61-62


One month since my last confession, anywhere from 60-75 various mortal sins. Last night I was praying my Rosary in the Cathedral before Mass, and at one point when I reached "...ora pro nobis peccatoribus..." 'pray for us sinners', I realized that at least in my almost constant dwelling outside a state of grace, I can still pray the Ave Maria with great honesty. St. Francis remarked after he threw off his clothes and handed them to his father infront of the Bishop, that he could now truly pray "Our Father". On the contrary, in all my sin, I can now at least truly pray "us sinners" with authenticity.

By some blessing of providence, I found another church that has reconciliation Monday nights, and I have the day off. I'm anxious for reconciliation, and I know the feelings Greene describes about peace and despair. Malcolm Muggeridge (another Catholic convert) described his friend Graham Greene by saying he was "a Jekyll and Hyde character, who has not succeeded in fusing the two sides of himself into any kind of harmony."

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