“O God…grant to us… that by Thine inspirations we may think what is right, and under Thy guidance perform it.” Collect
The Easter Season contains many very important lessons for overcoming our fallen human nature. Today let’s consider a lesson about keeping our sense of humor in trying situations… a lesson about attaining true happiness even in this life.
The lesson I have in mind flows from this simple fact: in every account of the Resurrection, the disciples were caught off guard because they were expecting something else. The key word here is expecting… Expectations. Ah! Those little mental concepts we formulate ahead of time… little concepts that are very often the sourceof much gain for the devil and much misery for man.
Consider for a moment the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Walking away from the apostles in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday, they were discussing the things that had happened in Holy Week as well as what St. Mary Magdalene and the other women had lately reported. And the Scriptures tell us, they were sad. They were depressed. Why? Things did not turn out as they had expected! “we hoped that it was He that should have redeemed Israel…”So, they were expecting A-B-C to happen…and instead they got X-Y-Z. Ah…they failed to realize just how good the X-Y-Z was! The Resurrection! The Ascension! Eternal Life!
The effects of these expectations on the disciples are sobering: (i) they were walking away from the Apostolic Church symbolized by the apostles gathered in the Upper Room. “This is not what I was looking for in the Church. I am taking a breather.” How many people, falling into some disillusionment start walking away from the Church? Most converts leave the Church within the first year. (ii) Their tongues were loosed. As they were walking away they mulled over their disappointments. The Scriptures say, “in the multitude of words there shall not want sin” (Prov 10:19). Surely in their words were various complaints, detractions and perhaps even gossip… “Mary Magdalene…she is sinner, what does she know anyway.” Oh how this is greatly amplified in our times… with blogging, Facebook, texting, cell phones and email! My goodness how the devil must love these times! (iii) Third, they were sad. They were depressed. They were down. Failed expectations cause sadness. More on this in a moment. (iv) They did not recognize the glorious and wonderful truth when it was presented to them… They did not believe St. Mary Magdalene’s report of angels and they did not recognize the Word made flesh when He came to walk among them. Expectations cause a certain blindness in the soul.
In a word, we can safely say, forming expectations and holding on to them very often takes away our sense of humor. St. Mary Magdalene was expecting to find the body of Jesus in the tomb in order to give it a proper burial. This is why she and the other women had brought spices with them. When she did not find the body, she wept.
Recall the Old Testament story of Naaman found in the 4th Book of Kings. He was the great Syrian general who had leprosy. At the beckoning of a little Hebrew maiden he was encouraged to visit the prophet Eliseus. After making his way to the door of the prophet, not without some trials, he was ready to be healed. But the prophet stayed inside and sent a message to the general to go and bath in the Jordan seven times. The response of Naaman is of key importance.“Naaman was angry, and went away, saying: I thought he would have come out to me, and standing, would have invoked the name of the Lord his God, and touched with his hand the place of the leprosy, and healed me” (4Kings 5:10). Ah there it is! “I thought…” The great general was expecting A-B-C…and he got X-Y- Z. Ah!… once again, he failed to see how good the X-Y-Z really was! The result? His tongue was loosed, complaints rolled out… and he became angry. Failed expectations produce anger! No sense of humor here. Yet, we know that cooler heads prevailed, Naaman obeyed and became a wonderful type of the Resurrection… coming out of the waters of the Jordan, with “his flesh restored, like the flesh of a little child: and he was made clean.” And what is more,he was now able to SEE the prophet face to face. His sense of humor was restored, he professed the faith and was glad. “And returning to the man of God, with all his train, he came, and stood before him, and said: In truth, I know there is no other God, in all the earth, but only in Israel: I beseech thee, therefore, take a blessing of thy servant.”
When St. Bernadette was seeking to fulfill the 15 days of visits to the Grotto in Lourdes, she was devastated on the 5th day when Our Lady did not come to visit her with an apparition. She was almost inconsolable… She was expecting A-B-C and got X-Y-Z.
Oh how much these expectations hurt us… cause us much unnecessary pain and anguish. Consider a few more simple examples: I expect to fall asleep when I go to bed…because I have determined that I need so many hours of sleep to function well. I go to bed on time…and what do you know, I cannot fall asleep for some reason. What is the normal human reaction? We start getting angry that we cannot fall asleep. And that only makes it worse, no? What about driving? Expecting others to be courteous and law abiding? I expect the house to be clean when I get home today? What if it is not? We quickly become angry and miserable creatures. I expect Mass to be so long… I expect the sermon to be 10 minutes… I expect people to dress modestly… children to behave…
In getting married, how many fall into this trap! I expect my husband to be like A-B-C…and I got X-Y-Z! Ugggh. I expect my wife to be A-B-C and I got X-Y-Z! Hummm. I wanted children to be this…and I got that. I entered religious life and expected… “I thought…” and I found something very different. “I thought” the priesthood would be like… and well, it was not. So many shipwrecks on these shoals of failed expectations… divorces, failed vocations, addictions and habitual sinners are all floundering here!!!
I expect A-B-C… come now… when was the last time you really gotA-B-C?! No wonder why we are so unhappy! I have found that Catholics waking up to Tradition and striving with all their might to recover what was lost… have also fallen prey to a sort of failed expectation. Many of us have lived through some of the most trying times the Church has ever experienced! The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. Many fell away during in this period… only to wake up later. Looking back at their path, they come to the conclusion that IF the men leading the Church at those times had only maintained course… which I, even now, expect them to have done no matter what!… THEN I would not have fallen…I would not have led my family astray for so long… my children would not all befallen away right now. And this failed expectation (formulated mentally after the fact… perhaps partially motivated by a sense of guilt), brings anger. So many Catholics seeking to recover Tradition are angry people. This is why some call them “mad Trads” or “sad Trads.” This is the same pattern people use on their families and parents aswell…looking back they get mad at their failure to live up to their present expectations of what should have been.
Let us paint the rest of the picture… as we have seen failed expectations lead to anger. Anger is a passion… meaning that it comes and goes. But anger often produces very powerful experiences at its peak moments. Such strong emotions deposit a bitter memory in the mind. This bitter memory becomes a resentment. Resentments are terrible and nasty things that are hard to overcome. Resentments lead to self-pity…sadness. Poor me! But man hates to feel sorry for himself. It is contrary to his nature. The devil loves to come around at this point and tempt man…with many short cuts to solve his problems… short cuts to feeling good about himself. Giving in, many turn to self-indulge their passions in some way… comfort food, drink, drugs, pleasures of the flesh… entertainment, adventure seeking, etc. … The Poor man then wakes up the next morning…feeling guilty and this renews his anger and the whole cycle begins afresh. Failed expectations, anger, resentment, self-pity, self-indulgence… guilt… anger, resentment, self-pity, self-indulgence.
One of the surest ways out of this spiraling cycle of sin and frustration it so get rid these pre-conceived ideas we call expectations. Expect nothing and work with what you have been given. Work on improving your sense of humor and you will see God behind every event. Writing down our expectations can help clarify them and help us to get a good laugh! I am not God… He is “I Am Who Am.” I am “he who is nothing.”
The saints fought these human expectations by making resolutions. St. Anthony Mary Claret: “Everything that may happen to me I will consider as coming from Almighty God for my good; and so without ever murmuring I will always say: God’s will be done” (autobiography, p. 169). St. Gabriel Possenti: “I will receive all things from the hand of God, as being sent by Him for my own personal benefit.” And so with all the saints. They had a sense of humor! They recognized in the X-Y-Z situations of their life… stepping stones to something greater… stepping stones to heaven!
When we approach a situation without expectations,we are more able to use our reason, to see God working and make good decisions as to what ought to be done. If you came home with no expectations of the house being clean,you would more calmly and reasonably set about cleaning the house and punishing the lazy with a spirit of charity rather than anger. And if the house were clean when coming home, how much more edified you would be!
On the other hand, if we approach the situations of our lives, including our very vocations, with expectations, we will sooner or later fulfill these words of St. Philip Neri: “Men are generally the carpenters of their own crosses.” We will construct cross after cross… we will get angry, sad, blog, Facebook, email, and say things we regret and even start to distance ourselves from the Church.
When St. Bernadette came on the 9th day to find Our Lady not there for the second time, she was not upset nor devastated. Accepting the X-Y-Z of her situation on the 5th day enabled her to grow spiritually mature… and this enabled her to kiss the ground repeatedly for sinners, as well as to drink and wash in the muddy waters on the 8th day. She gained a sense of humor… Tongues were silenced, truths were confirmed… Bernadette heard Our Lady say: “I am the Immaculate Conception!” Millions have been affected ever since, including thousands upon thousands of conversions… people entering the Apostolic Church. Many souls have recovered a sense of gladness and joy in the waters of Lourdes.
I will end with a scene from the life of 19th C. St. Conrad of Parzham which captures these two positions well. As a Capuchin friar working as porter at a Shrine of St. Anne in Germany, St.Conrad had to deal with many beggars. Once a beggar came to the monastery after the best food had been distributed.Br. Conrad explained at that late hour there was little to be had, but he brought him a bowl of soup from the kitchen. After the beggar tasted the food, he immediately threw the bowl at the feet of the brother, saying angrily: “You can eat those slops yourself.” Unruffled, Br. Conrad picked up the pieces of the broken dish and said: “I see you do not like this soup, I will get you something else.”
This is an actual homily given during the Easter season (2013) by a Traditional Roman Catholic Priest.
Hopefully, there will be more to come.