That the blind shall see

“Lo, we are going to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man shall be fulfilled.”

This is how the Gospel begins in today’s Quinquagesima Mass. The Twelve to whom Christ was speaking were, as we are given to understand, at a loss. They must have assumed He was speaking in riddles, as they must have assumed He often did. No disrespect would have been meant by this. I had once a cat who would look rather earnestly into my face, when, as a boy, I explained everything to her. She did not, of course, understand one word, yet she listened intently, and respectfully (not all cats do this). But the Twelve were not cats, and as the prophecies were fulfilled, they did at least begin to follow.

The difference between a human and a cat is something I’ve been trying to explain lately. The challenge is surprisingly great. Clearly, not one of the nine judges on the bench of Canada’s Supreme Court is capable of grasping the distinction, and would let human beings be put down as if they were sick cats. A poll showed at least 87 percent of the Canadian public had been idiotized to the same fatal degree. God help them; God save us from them.

Many things a human cannot understand, but therein lies the beginning of wisdom. What we cannot see in prospect we can sometimes see in retrospect: be patient. Even today, among the intelligent and faithful, there are many things Christ said that we don’t understand; and I do not mean arcane things about worlds we have never visited. We have spent our whole lives down here on Earth. We might think we know our way around here, that we are prepared for any eventuality, that we’ve parsed things out. And then we turn the slightest corner, and see that we understood nothing: that Christ’s simplest, almost childish parables passed right over our clever little heads.

Mea culpa. I have reached the age when a writer — by fate not choice in my own case — thinks back over what he has written, through decades. Passages come to mind, now acutely embarrassing. I will give a minor example. Yesterday I wrote, “The asinine notion that this indicated two Saint Valentines first surfaced in the nineteenth century.” On re-reading later I recalled that I had fallen for that nonsense myself, and repeated it in some column many years ago, perhaps quite confidently as if it were established fact. It took me many years to learn that standard reference sources are crawling with lies, passed on from one glib trusting fool to another; and therefore to investigate what one is taking for granted. How often the source of the stream is poisoned. I should have sniffed it out at the time, for the cheap plausibility of the statement, combined with its use in ridiculing tradition, carried in itself the profound moral stench of the liberal mind.

Ecce enim: Father Hunwicke this morning, in his own post on Quinquagesima, scooped me (yet again) on a like point of shame. He writes on the “Hymn to Love” in this morning’s Old Mass (I Corinthians 13). Everyone knows it, hardly anyone understands it:

“What a bore clergy find it, as yet another engaged couple want Uncle Bob to read it at their wedding. Read, however, in the context of the blistering attack Saint Paul is making on the failings of the Corinthian Christians, its cutting irony, verging on sarcasm, is rather fun. Whenever Saint Paul says, ‘Love is not X’, he is mightily suggesting that the Corinthians are X. But it isn’t irony Kevin and Sharon think they’re getting.”

That epistle was read, entirely without irony, at my own wedding, more than thirty years ago, where other shallow sentiment was in plentiful supply. I look back in memory over a hundred guests, and at my own face in time’s mirror, and realize that we didn’t get it. We took it all as a Hallmark card — as perfumed fluff — whereas Saint Paul is specifically savaging perfumed fluff. Or more precisely, savaging us.

Quinquagesima announces Lent. In the old monastic practice, meat had already been withdrawn at Septuagesima; then dairy from today. But the fast would become serious on Ash Wednesday. Why, the modern asks, did people put up with such inconveniences? Because not going to Hell was important to them.

In the Gospel, Christ is healing the blind man; in the Epistle, Paul is trying to open the Corinthians’ eyes. Lent is similarly proposed — the inner penance and the outward cheer — not as some kind of fat-free diet, but as a cure for blindness.