Of course, she hasn’t gone anywhere since I positioned her in that nook out front a decade ago. She stands watch around the clock, poised and serene, although half the year she’s completely obscured by vegetation (we take a very minimalist approach to groundskeeping).
Then, a month or so ago, we got hit with a preliminary dose of that Polar Vortex we remember oh-so-well from last winter, and the overgrowth started to recede. And now we’re in the thick of wintry things – with sub-zero overnights and a base layer of snow everywhere – and Mary is back in plain sight.
I’m glad to see her as I drive past to and fro every day. It’s comforting and reassuring – like calling mom just to hear her voice. Yet, there’s an awkwardness as well: Seeing that statue of Mary reminds me that I haven’t exactly been faithful in my prayers, and that I’m overdue for making my resolution to say the rosary every day…again.
It was way easier to slack off when the overgrowth was thick.
Such was the story in the Gospel yesterday:
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Note that Luke depicts the encounter between the Lord and the leper as something that just “happened” – a fluke, maybe, or a coincidence. The other Evangelists tell it differently: “A leper approached,” St. Matthew records, and St. Mark? “A leper came to him….” In their telling, the leper was assertive and motivated: He sought Jesus out for healing.
Not so in Luke’s version. There, the diseased man is depicted as relatively content with his lot…until confronted by the sight of the Divine Physician. It was as if seeing the healer reminded the man that he even needed to be healed. This is all the more intriguing if we consider thatLuke himself was a physician – could it be that he had patients like this? You bet, and we know them today: Nagging symptoms, pain and disability, but go see a doctor? Naah.
In any case, that sounds a lot like me and our Mary statue: Driving by in the spring, when the weeds are having a heyday, it’s all “la-de-da,” and “anything good on the radio?” and “what’s on my to-do list today?” Then, winter arrives, and Mary reappears: Have you said your rosary today? No! Do you have stuff to pray about? Yes! So, then do it – pray. Now! The radio and to-do list can wait!
We need the snow and the cold sometimes, miserable as it all is, to make the essential things plain. We need hardships and setbacks and disappointments to strip away everything that obscures our spiritual line of sight – how are we going to clear up the sin and mess in our lives if we’re able to blithely go about ignoring it?
Timothy Keller, pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, said pretty much the same thing in a recent interview:
“Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.” Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”
That being the case, why wait for the chill of catastrophe and misfortune to clear away the weedy camouflage of our souls? Why not get out there and mow it all down, right?
No matter. If my spiritual sloth gets the best of me, I just have to wait: Winter is always right around the corner.