In the mail today comes a paperback copy of Father James Martin’s book, Between Heaven and Mirth, and since I liked it so well when I read it the first time, I flipped through it again over lunch, and re-discovered this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:
“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.”
Ah, I thought. Sour is the mot juste! I don’t know whether it’s simply because times are hard and headlines are harrowing, or because people are feeling pinched, but that’s the way a lot of Catholics are coming off in comboxes on blogs and in social media, these days: sour.
Or perhaps even “pinched” and sour, to the point where — even when a writer posts something positive, or uplifting — some seem to be unable to move beyond wrinkling a nose, to say something even a little positive in response. Lots of scab-picking and giving in to the grudging instinct, instead of kissing things up to God and moving on. Why is this so? Do we just fall into a habit of being scrunch-faced and attached to such an extreme skepticism that joy becomes elusive?
I don’t exclude myself from all that. Most of the time I’m in a good mood and can find ways to shake off hate mail, or extend a bit of charity to someone who has name-called in 140 characters. But not always. I occasionally get a case of the “pinched and sours”, myself, and when I do I want to bellow condemnation at the world and respond to every hater with a succinct “bite me” which, while momentarily gratifying, serves nothing but ego and ultimately destroys.
It’s usually those times when I’ll write to my Li’l Bro Thom and ask him, once again to sing the Psalm of the Common Man, which goes like this:
We take each day as it comes
Sometimes I hate my life
But mostly things are good
Which reminds me of a chat I had with someone in Dallas last week — I can’t remember if it was Brandon Vogt or New Avent’s Kevin Knight — and we were pondering the hard job of bishops who — no matter what they do or say — have to live with the fact that someone hates them for it, and probably misunderstands, to boot. Noting that the poor Bishop of Rome has worldwide factions hating on him every time he makes a move, I said, “my son always says, ‘haters gonna hate.’”
My friend piped up, “can you imagine the Holy Father saying that? ‘Vat can you du, hehters gonn heht!’”
Reading Saint Teresa’s lament against sour saints, I couldn’t help but imagine what she would think about the combox lemons of the digital age, particularly those who cannot seem to help themselves and must at all times niggle and never let loose a giggle. I expect she would be charitable for a very long time, but then she might finally give up, cry “suficiente!” and give them a virtual thwap upside the head with the famous virtual thwapping fish. She might say (in fact, did say)
“Hay un tiempo de penitencia y hay un tiempo para la perdiz! There’s a time for penance, and there’s a time for partridge.”
After all, this is the lady who, when her nuns were becoming restless and bickering — when they were losing sight of joy — handed out castanets and had them dance!
Also the lady who wrote words we say we love, but never quite manage to brand into our hearts, as Teresa’s heart was branded:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
To which one can only say, “Ole!”