Most people do not realize how much the sneer has become part of modern life. We have, unfortunately, gotten used to sneering and being sneered at. We are often so busy and so distracted that we lack the time, the patience and the energy to try to understand the other person. If we disagree with that person, it is easy to write off them with words like: “stupid…backward...nonsense…pathetic…ridiculous.”
Typically the sneer will not only insult the other person’s intelligence, but also their motivation. In our post-election animosity we have heard plenty of sneers. For example those who voted to uphold the traditional definition of marriage have been styled “anti-gay” or even “homophobes,” while those on the opposite side have been called “godless.”
If a sneer is clever it will sometimes outlive the person who makes it. Those of us over thirty-five remember the famous sneer against Dan Quayle: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy!” Everyone who watched the 1988 vice presidential debates – even Quayle partisans - chuckled at the line, yet today almost no one recalls the name of the man who said it. The sneer lives on, but the “sneerer” is forgotten.
So it is in today’s Gospel. The Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers and even one of the men condemned with Jesus, they all sneered at him. “He saved others. Why doesn’t he save himself – and us?” Those words have lasted – although now we remember them with irony.
One man did not address Jesus with a sneer. I don’t think we appreciate what that required. Think about it. Like Jesus, he was suffering an agonizing and humiliating death. What courage – and self-forgetfulness – to stand apart from his own situation and consider the man next to him.* Like everyone else, he saw the written charge against Jesus and he heard the accusations. The broken man next to him had evidently called himself a king. The absurdity would cause anyone to scoff. Yet, by a remarkable grace the second thief did not sneer. Instead he believed and prayed, “Jesus, remember me…”
I have sometimes heard people refer to a crucifix as beautiful. So it may be in an artistic sense - but the reality itself is hideous. There is nothing attractive about a drained, lacerated body. Today we see the disfigured body of Christ not so much in the crucifix, but in his Mystical Body, the Church. And we hear the same astonishing claims about him. Like the two criminals, you and I also have a choice: To sneer or not to sneer.
*The English writer, G.K. Chesterton, describes the remarkable effort involved in such self-forgetfulness. He considers it the very basis of sanity. As an example, Chesterton analyzes the case of a man who accuses everybody of conspiring against him:
If we could express our deepest feelings of protest and appeal against this obsession, I suppose we should say something like this: “Oh, I admit that you have your case and have it by heart, and that many things do fit into other things as you say. I admit that your explanation explains a great deal; but what a great deal it leaves out! Are there no other stories in the world except yours; and are all men busy with your business? Suppose we grant the details; perhaps when the man in the street did not seem to see you it was only his cunning; perhaps when the policeman asked you your name it was only because he knew it already. But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.” Orthodoxy
From Archives (Christ the King Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Stewardship, Retreat, Pontius Pilate, Mel Gibson, Empty Cradle)
Local NOW President, Mavra Stark: “If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder.”
Thinkers Behind the Culture of Death
The Kinsey Corruption
Hollywood Embraces Pedophilia
Chesterton: A Spirit of Vatican II Bibliography (Notice for humor impaired - contains satire)
Light from the East: Quotations from Greek Fathers regarding Papacy
Nuns Anger Planned Parenthood
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
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Centro Mary Bloom