When two writer friends and I visited the hometown of famed Catholic fiction writer Flannery O’Connor a year ago, the reading we heard spoken at Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, her home parish, was the same as the Gospel reading from this past Sunday.
So when I heard it spoken by our brand-new priest, who happens to be from Fargo, I couldn’t help but smile for many different reasons.
The reading from Mark 6 can be boiled down to this: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”
Our new priest, just ordained the weekend before last, smiled, too, and noted God’s sense of humor. He’s been away in Maryland these past years, studying his heart out, living at God’s hand, learning how to be the father of a flock. But here he was, in his hometown, where he’d gone to elementary school, middle school and high school; where his mother taught junior high English at the same school he attended; where everyone knew him, as well as his past mistakes; where he was called by most “Kyle” and not “Father Metzger.”
Back in Milledgeville, Georgia, the three of us were on a mission to meet a woman who has become a heroine to us, but when we stepped foot in her home church, there was nothing immediately extraordinary about it.
And we didn’t see any signs that the esteemed writer had ever been there, except on our way out.
There, in the back, were a few marks that this faithful Catholic who had gone on to move many through her writing, had once claimed this little church as her home.
We talked to some of the parishioners there and when they asked why we’d come, and we told them, “to meet Flannery,” they mostly dismissed her writing. “Some of it is okay, her letters, but her fiction is very dark.”
A prophet is, indeed, without honor in her native place. The irony of the situation was not lost on any of us.
And we contemplated our common lot as writers, and if writers, prophets. Now I’m not saying that any of us would claim the talent of Flannery O’Connor. The woman had a special gift, and a time and place in which she was meant to share it, and the impact on those who have discovered this gift has been profound. Many are only beginning to know and fully appreciate what this woman, who lived most of her life with a disease that would shorten her life, has given us.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that she was prophetic; that her keen vision saw more clearly than many, and that through her writing, she has offered our world insight that we can apply directly to our lives now, especially now, and be bettered because of it.
I’ve experienced the Gospel reading myself in ways that hit home (pun intended), feeling perhaps more appreciated at times by strangers than those in my midst. It is a natural thing, and in many ways, a human thing, and it can humble us in a good way. Being reminded that we are just “the girl I grew up with” can bring us back to our essence, and that’s not always a bad thing. As long as we keep it all in perspective, God will use us for His good, and allow these reality checks to keep us grounded.
But is the writer a prophet? I think writers can be. When they stay close to the Lord and absorb His word and way, and when that is the truth they commit to translating, then yes, a writer can be a prophet, just as Flannery was, even without trying to be.
For we are not prophets on our own accord, anymore than John the Baptist, who simply heralded the way to someone more magnificent than he, was prophetic. We are prophets not because we deserve to be, but because we ought to be. And by staying close to the source of life, whether we strive for that or not, we as writers, as communicators, can indeed prepare the way of the Lord and bring others to a better way, to the source of life.
Q4U: Whom in your life is a prophet?