Because we haven't heard from John Donne around here in a while, ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to share with you his "The Sun Rising," a pretty little love poem, kind of.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys and sour 'prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Something entirely unexpected happened this morning. But before I tell you what that is (spoiler: the aforementioned spiritual boost) let me tell you why I needed it without knowing it when I got it.
My spiritual director, a simple and holy priest with immense responsibilities and patience, told me last week something unpleasant to hear. He basically said that I make ceasefires with sin. Sometimes they are little and last for fifteen minutes; sometimes they are long and last for fifteen weeks, or, God help me, fifteen months. In these times, I need a spiritual alarm clock, a spiritual boost.
By E. E. Cummings, in honor of springtime's advent:
in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how
in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so(forgetting seem)
in time of roses(who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if,remember yes
in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)
and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me,remember me
The fifth sorrowful mystery of the holy rosary is expounded upon by the last few stations of the cross. Last year, I went with my sister and her little girls, aged 3 and 4 at the time, to walk through the stations of the cross at a local pilgrimage site, the National Shrine of the Grotto of Lourdes, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This year, we did something similar, a sort of tour of the splendor of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.. Each tour has taken place on Good Friday, and that is not an accident, and the fact did not escape the notice of her bright little girls, except maybe for the new 7-month old. I think last year was the first time that the girls really heard of death, and they were disturbed to hear that Jesus died - people made him die - even though he was good.
Over the last year, my sister tells me that the girls have some thinking and talking about death. They have seen dead animals. They know that their dog is very old and will soon die.
The explanation of death that my sister and brother-in-law gave their children was simple, profound, and true: it is like when someone has to go home, and you miss them, but you cannot see them for a very long time.
Dear friends, death always involves separation: body from soul, loved ones from each other, me from my own desires. It is terrible and fierce. It is the devil's ultimate weapon. Really, it is every dictator and tyrant's ultimate weapon, for that matter - maybe with a strong dose of torture thrown in. These cruel masters will separate you from your loved ones, from your homeland, from your dearest dreams and hopes. That threat is how they intimidate and control.
But is that all death does? Does it only separate? Does it only intimidate and control our lives?
In the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary, we reflect upon the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Road of Christ carrying the cross through Jerusalem, mocked and jeered by most, consoled by very few. While praying the rosary, generally, my thoughts have stayed on the heavy steps that dragged the bulky lumber through those narrowing streets. Last night, I suddenly saw the thing through a whole different perspective.
Several years ago, Archbishop Dolan of New York wrote a book unfortunately titled Priests for the Third Millennium. I say the title is unfortunate because really, the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the book contains all sorts of spiritual advice that directly applies to every Christian, not just to priests. One of the archbishop's reminiscence that I remember from the book is about how he, as a young priest, gave a talk at a parish or a Knights of Columbus meeting. The talk was supposed to be for many people, but only a couple ended up showing up. A lot of people would have called it a night and just told everyone to go home. That's not what young Fr. Dolan did though.
There is one, and only one thing that you can or ever will do that will ever change anything for the better.
Have you ever been in a situation where you got shown up, publicly put down, or otherwise just made to look the fool? Maybe someone else did it. Maybe you did it to yourself. Either way, you're in good company. In fact, I know that I've been tempted to think of myself as like Jesus in these situations.
But upon further reflection, and looking at Caravaggio's stunning work on our Lord's crowning with thorns, this basic attitude feels off to me. Backwards. In fact, more and more, I think it trivializes what our Lord underwent. Think about it: "That time when my boss thought I stunk and called me out unfairly in front of coworkers, that was like when Jesus got crowned with thorns."
Well, then, what's the takeaway from the crowning with thorns, from this third sorrowful mystery of our Lord's passion, as reflected in the holy rosary? Let's reflect a little on his crowning, and then I'll toss out three things you can do, or rather, not do, in order to make the most of your own crowning humiliations.
Today is the second weekday in Holy Week, and I'd like to reflect with you for a minute about the second sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, when our Lord was scourged at the pillar. It tells us something about what the Christian life isn't, and what the Christian life is.
It sounds like an obvious point, because we all know that self-flagellation, beating ourselves up, isn't good. At least, in our therapeutic culture, we all vaguely know something about how "troubling ourselves" with our "past inappropriate behaviors" can "damage" our "self-image" or leave us "neurotic" or "dysfunctional" or just plain "feeling bad." But is that really the heart of the Christian life?