Sunday, March 26, 2017
Lætare Jerusalem! Laetare et conventum facite omnes: gaudete cum lætitia.
“Rejoice! Rejoice with joy! Exult!” We are exactly half-way through Lent and the Church orders us at the very start of Mass to rejoice. This is not a request. You are commanded to rejoice. If you don’t feel it, then fake it. Because few things give more scandal than a churlish, ill-tempered Christian. We have twenty more days of Lent, and maybe in the midst of all the fasting and abstinence and penance we find ourselves inclined to indulge in a bit of melancholy—even sorrow. That’s good. But the end-goal is joy, and today we are ordered to put all that aside for a moment and celebrate. This is why I am wearing rose vestments (not pink, by the way—rose).
Truly, at any given moment any one of us can find at least a thousand excellent reasons to be miserable. Our lives never turn out exactly the way we’d hoped. But if we stick to the facts—if we resist the temptation to lust after fantasies, if we resist the temptation to eye with longing some world, some work, some wife other than the one we actually live with—we will see that happiness is an act of the will. It’s a choice. In the monastery, we have an expression: we say, “He has been looking over the wall.” An unhappy monk will always be casting furtive glances out of the cloister and into other men’s lives, imagining that they dwell in halos of unremitting bliss.
Abbot Luke liked to tell a story about a sermon he gave on the glories of the married life. He was interrupted halfway through by an elderly woman in the front row who said to her neighbor in a stage whisper: “I wish I knew as little about marriage as he does.” I have my own similar story: shortly after my ordination, I was approached in a gas station parking lot by an elderly man who stepped out of a black BMW and handed me $100. I was in my habit. He said to me, “You know, I thought about being a priest, but decided that I couldn’t handle the celibacy. Then I got married and found out I could.” No matter where we find ourselves, it seems that we have this tendency to glamorize someone else's life.
But hidden in today’s gospel is the antidote to that temptation. Our reading from Saint John focuses on one of the bible’s more unlikely heroes: a man born blind—unlikely not because he was blind but because in the course of the story, he shows himself to be lazy, obstinate, disobedient, disrespectful, and irreverent. Interrogated by the authorities concerning his miraculous cure, he answers, “You’re not listening to me, or is it that you people want to be his disciples?” He’s a real smart Alec, and I am convinced that he is a teenager. (After twenty years in the classroom, I consider myself an authority on laziness, obstinacy, disobedience, disrespect, and irreverence. Plus…why else would they go to his parents? And why else would they need to point out that he was old enough to speak for himself)
At any rate, Jesus appears to be the only person in the story who isn’t annoyed by him. But this kid has one redeeming quality—redeeming in the theological sense of the word. He may be disrespectful and obstinate, but he sticks to the facts.
“How did you get your site back?” they ask him.
“I dunno. He stuck in mud in my eyes and now I see.”
“But that man is a sinner.”
“Maybe so. I dunno. I was blind and now I can see.”
“But we have no idea where this guy is from.”
“Who cares? I was blind and now I can see! How many times do I have to tell you?”
Notice that he makes no profession of faith. And only after relentless interrogation does he finally acknowledge that this man Jesus (whoever he is) must be from God. He doesn’t even thank Jesus afterward. Jesus has to find him.
"Do you believe in the Son of Man?" says Jesus.
Jesus says, "You’re talking to him."
Now I can imagine an alternative ending to this story where the teenager says, “Oh. Right. Thanks a lot for everything. But you know, maybe it wasn’t you who actually healed me. Maybe that was just a coincidence. Maybe my blindness was all psychological to begin with. Maybe there was something in that mud. Maybe I’d better go think about this for a while before I make any rash decisions.”
But remember: this kid is a pragmatist. For better or for worse, he sticks to the facts.
Saint John tells us that all he said was, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.
I once asked Abbot Patrick Barry if there was any way for me to know if God was really calling me to be a monk.
“Well,” he said, “you’re not somewhere else.”
We’re all here and we’re not somewhere else. This is cause enough for rejoicing.
Lætare! Laetare et conventum facite omnes: gaudete cum lætitia.