Happy – Unhappy
Sunday, Ordinary Times, 15 A
There was a test for the students of suffering, regardless their age. The question was simple: “Prove that you are miserable.”
The first student, a man in his 60’s, wrote: “I grew up in a poor farmer family. My parents worked very hard in the field. Since we were poor, I had to stop going to school to help earn a living. I feel sad when thinking about it!…
The second student, a young lady, wrote: “I am of poor health. I have often been sick since my childhood. It’s easy for me to be under the weather. Very uncomfortable! …
The third student, a man in his 20’s, wrote without any hesitation: “I don’t have any talent. When my friends get together, they sing but I don’t. They always tease me since I can’t keep it in tune. So upset and discouraged! …
The fourth student was about to write when he suddenly stopped. He then seemed very tense. Finally, he decided to leave the paper blank.
The results of the test: The first three all got 1 point as a reward for their…effort to write. The fourth had to come see the professor to explain why he did not write anything.
Then came the time for the professor’s response. He gave a general comment:
+ You guys don’t get high marks because you didn’t manifest your ability to think deep. You only listed the things you didn’t like in your life. Anyone can do the same. Your work didn’t actually prove that you were truly miserable since your view was too narrow.
The professor then turned to the fourth student and asked:
+ Why did you leave your paper blank?
– Mr. Professor, at first, I also had a tendency to give a list of things I didn’t like. But I startled…
+ Why did you startle?
– Please allow me to come in front of everyone. It’s easier for me to talk.
Then he limped over with difficulty to the teacher’s platform. He graciously greeted everyone with a friendly smile. People saw burnt marks on half of his face. He began to speak:
– When I was young, my parents would work on the farm far from home. My sister and I were home. One day my sister was cooking when the house caught fire and was burnt to the ground. As you see, I was badly burned and the marks are still on my face. When I was seven, my dad passed away. So I had to go around the local markets to sell lottery tickets (very poor job) to help my mom earn a living. Then a few years ago, on the way home from church, a drunk driver hit me and made me a lame since. Now when it is cold, I feel a lot of pain in my leg. Recently, I must confess, I have been in love with a girl, but with my condition, how could I ever match her?
The room was crowded. His voice was quite soft but everyone heard clearly what he was saying because a great silence penetrated the room.
+ But why didn’t you write these down on your paper?
– No, because I startled. I startled when I unexpectedly recalled the words of my friend in the church last Sunday. He told his poor friends: “Blessed are you.” This made me stop and think. Then I realized that, in order to prove that I am truly miserable, I must prove that I have nothing to make me happy.
Everyone listened attentively. The professor raised his voice:
+ Great! Sorry I am not a Christian, so please let me ask about your some friend there. What did he exactly say that changed your way of viewing things?
– My friend’s name is Jesus. He says: “Blessed are your eyes because they see what they are seeing, and your ears because they hear what they are hearing. For truly I tell you, many people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Mt 13:16-17) At that moment, I began to hear and see lots of good things in my life. I have my mom and my sister. Our home, though not rich, is warmhearted. I have feelings. I have generosity. I have a conscience. I have friends to talk to. I have many people who pray for me. I have a chance to go to school. I have intelligence to discover that good can come out of bad, meaning there is grace in a plight. For example, since I grew up in difficulty, I learned to sympathize more easily with the poor. Since I am handicapped, I understand the pain of others. Since I see that I am limited, I put more trust in God. Ah, each weenkend, I have an opportunity to go to church with my mom and sister and many neighbors to listen to God’s word. Fantastic! You see, I have so much to be happy.
My dear friend, if you share the view of the fourth student, I’d like to invite you to go back to the word of Jesus when he says that the disciples are blessed. Compared with them, we may be even more blessed because we may have heard and seen more. Among the blessings mentioned by this student, I’d like to contemplate more on the blessing of knowing God and God’s word. Although I am still ‘young’, I have had opportunities to listen to different people who confided in: “Without God’s presence, I don’t know how I would be when landing in an impasse. Without God’s guidance, I don’t know what to do when life gets heavy, when I am lonely, lost, burdened, discouraged, etc. Having experienced many ups and downs, I realize that the greatest blessing to me is to know God.”
Yes, knowing God is a wonderful treasure. As for me, I can only say that I am like today is thanks to knowing God, being guided by God’s word although many times I am not faithful, not listening to Him or cooperating with His grace. He knows all my limitations and sins, but never abandons me. Once I know Him and experience His loving company in my life, I will never be foolish to leave Him.
I’d like to quote this following message as a way to temporarily conclude this reflection:
“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down
And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats,
So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
And, one of my favorite biblical passages is: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.