Or, as Father Edward Leen puts it, "The Church Before Pilate."
"Do not be surprised," said Jesus to his disciples, "should the world reject you, for they have first rejected me." Why is that? Is this not a terrible mystery? Yes, it was prophesied by Isaiah that the anointed of God would be despised of men, reckoned of no account. The cry of the Psalmist echoes on Calvary, as the people wag their heads in scorn, and cast lots for their own savior's garments. "Let us beset the just man," say the wicked in the Book of Wisdom, reasoning that God does not see them, and that, since the life of man is short, they might as well seize what riches and pleasure they can, while they can.
What can explain the hatred of the holy? The quickest answer, I suppose, is that the holy challenges us to change our lives, and we do not want to do that. As long as Christ stands before us, with his undeceivable eyes fixed upon our hearts, we stand convicted; and it surely is a disconcerting thing, to be convicted by the convict, to have to submit to the lawgiver who so boldly dispenses with our unjust laws. If we are a Pontius Pilate, that incompetent bureaucrat with the streak of cruelty, we fear our loss of face; if we yield to the fury of the leaders of the people, we look small and manipulable, but if we yield to the innocence of the holy man standing before us, we dwindle to nothing at all. Those words, "My kingdom is not of this world," ring in the ear, and at once we scorn them as madness, and wonder what sort of kingdom there could be, in comparison with which Rome itself would be dust. We have our power, and do not want to become as slaves. We are robed in glory, and do not want to be stripped naked. All men speak well of us, at least to our faces, and we do not want to be mocked. We have our fill of good things, and do not want to go hungry. We are rich in our own eyes, and do not want to behold the desert in our souls.
But I cannot help but think there is more. It was envy, says the writer of Wisdom, that moved Satan to bring sin into the world. Envy, as Thomas Aquinas defines it, is a species of hatred; in its pure state it is the hatred of someone else's spiritual good. The faithful Christian may well overlook such a motive in his critics, first because he is far more likely, not less, than his critics are to admit his sins, and second because, living as he does in an anticulture wherein "reason" is reduced to the calculative faculty, he all too quickly will assume that his critic's faithlessness is a matter of the head only and not the heart, the core of his being. Consider, though, for example, what could possibly move someone to call a Mother Teresa "Hell's Angel." Consider what could make someone want to believe that Mother Teresa's long years of spiritual darkness, such as have been experienced by the very greatest of saints, were proof of her infidelity. As if her prayers had not been answered — as if it had never happened, that this sole nun from Albania, in a few decades, among people neither rich nor known for their almsgiving, should have been the Lord's instrument for building hospitals, orphanages, schools, and leprosaria, not only in India but in all those nations where her thousands of followers, in their six hundred and fifty houses, labor. And more than those institutions of assistance to the poor, she brought them, as she taught her sisters continually, the riches of a smile, a gentle hand, a kindly look, those things too small for the worldly mind to remember, yet things of inestimable value to the poor and the sick and the dying. How can one behold what Mother Teresa did and not stand in amazement at the wondrous gift of love?
There is a prayer banner hanging in a school in nearby Cranston, with that general sort of appeal to God that would offend no one of any faith. Or there was; an atheist has sued to have it removed, though it has hung there for more than forty years without controversy. Why? People once jested that a Puritan was someone terrified that somewhere, somebody was having fun. That does an injustice to the Puritan fathers, but there is something reductive and puritanical in those whose idea of righteousness is to ensure that no one in public will be paying homage to the righteousness of God. I recall that when I was a boy, during the three months wherein I attended a public school, we sang "Praise to the Lord," accompanied at the piano by old Mrs. McAndrews. That was several years after such hymns had been proscribed by the Supreme Court; but the people who ran the grade school in my town apparently had said to themselves, "They and whose army?" Is there anyone who really will care to insist that singing "Praise to the Lord" had harmed a century of second-graders in little old Archbald, Pennsylvania? Where exactly was the harm? Were children who believed that the moral law was founded in the power and the love of a divine Lawgiver more likely to steal, to cheat, to fornicate, to squander their means, or to live entirely for pleasure or prestige? As Jesse Jackson once trenchantly said, if you are walking down a dark street in a city and hear the laughter of three or four young men approaching you, would you not be comforted to know that they have just come from a Bible study? Or will it be seriously objected that the harm was intellectual, not moral? If so, it is an odd sort of harm indeed whose sufferers number Dante, Chaucer, Augustine, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Milton, Bach, Mozart, and Michelangelo.
We should never underestimate the power of envy. Those who hate the church are like rickety boys watching a pickup game of football from the kitchen window, despising the vulgar game and the stupid fellows playing it, and longing for that human communion, and the joy it so evidently brings. So the rickety boy will look upon a Pope Benedict — a intellectual titan possessed of the wonder of a child — and call him a "villain in a white frock," seething and sulking, while thousands of people line the streets to see him. There are things, Chesterton is fond of reminding us, that are too big to see. Yes, a rock star might pack thousands in a stadium, to hear music for the mobs; but where, if not among the faithful, can you find a single man like Benedict, old and frail, with a heavy German accent and a voice barely above a whisper, bringing joy to thousands, encouraging them to love one another — as Christ has loved them? Yet even if only one person had heard the message, that we find ourselves by losing ourselves, and that only love, the heartfelt giving of oneself, will set us free, would that not be wondrous?
What should you do, when your envious neighbor asks you to wipe that smile off your face, and keep your happiness to yourself? I think the answer is simple. You celebrate all the more. If a prayer muttered by a single person is too much to bear, then let us lighten the load by praying together, two or three or five hundred. If a single banner hung with cobwebs is too bold, then let two or three or five hundred bear the cross on their chests. If a single hymn sung within the squat confines of a schoolroom is too much for the tender nerves, then let two or three or five hundred sing outdoors, beneath the sky, shamelessly and foolishly, for all to hear. Outdoors, in the marketplace, wherever people gather, let us celebrate, and then, by the grace of God, that lonesome and envious soul may turn, and ask, "May I celebrate too?"