Georges Bernanos, author of the novel, Diary of a Country Priest, was one of the truly great Catholic writers of the last century: brash, simple, and moving. He ignored the theologically puffed up, loved the everyday believer, and that’s for whom he wrote. But he did it with astonishing brilliance. In 1955, a few years after he died, Greenwood Press published a collection of his work with the title, The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos, translated from the French. It was long out of print when I finally found a copy, more than a decade ago. It’s now my most treasured book. Every Lent I reread the essay, “Our Friends the Saints.” And I always pause on one particular passage:
“We are created in the image and after the likeness of God because we are capable of loving. Saints have a genius for love . . . the saint is the person who knows how to find in himself, and to make gush forth from the depths of his being, the water of which Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman: ‘Those who drink of it will never thirst.’ The water is there in each of us, a deep cistern under the open sky. Undoubtedly the surface is cluttered with debris, broken branches, dead leaves . . . But immediately under that pernicious layer, the water is so limpid and pure. Still a little lower and the soul finds herself again in her native element, infinitely purer than the purest water, in that uncreated light that bathes all Creation — in [Jesus Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men . . .”
For Bernanos, “ordinary” Christians simply don’t exist. God created each of us, no matter how seemingly gifted or lowly, to be a saint. There are no exceptions. And while one may think “that the era of the saints has passed,” the opposite is true, because “it is always the era of the saints.” Cluny Media has recently released a new version of these marvelous Bernanos essays with the title, Liberty: The Last Essays, available on Amazon. Buy it. Read it. It will enrich your life.
Francis X. Maier serves on the Napa Institute board and as the 2020-21 Busch Family Fellow at the University of Notre Dame
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