I remember when I was eight years old learning to play piano. When my lesson started with my teacher, I would suddenly become supremely uncomfortable. It’s like I would forget how to sit. I would shift around on the seat, my leg would shake because I knew the teacher was watching me and it made me nervous, I wouldn’t see the notes on the page. It’s kind of how I was the first time I tried to sing in front of anyone else, my throat tightened up, I couldn’t breathe or stay on pitch, my face got all hot…but now I can, sort of, sing in front of other people. My mom made me stay in piano lessons and learning to overcome my discomfort over time made me really good at playing the piano and I love playing it to this very day.
Here’s another random story, I promise it fits together, though, so stay with me. We all love watching magicians, right? Whenever I see one of those shows on television where magicians do performances, I’m all in. I want to watch David Copperfield make an elephant disappear, and some crazy guy put himself in a straight jacket and escape from it before a speeding train runs over him, and I really love to watch Penn and Teller. Now, Penn is the tall one who does all the talking. But the secret genius of that duo is Teller. When he’s in character, Teller never speaks, but he recently broke his vow of silence and gave an interview about how being a performer is something he actually practiced as a Latin teacher. Before he became a magician, he taught the Aeneid to highschoolers for six years. His job, as he saw it, wasn’t to drill knowledge into unwilling students. His job was to help the students fall in love with Latin, fall in love with the poetry and the stories. It was a performance in which he conveyed the romance of the language. When the interviewer asks him about how learning can be difficult and make us uncomfortable when we struggle with a difficult subject, this is what Teller says, “When I go outside at night and look up at the stars, the feeling that I get is not comfort. The feeling that I get is a kind of delicious discomfort at knowing that there is so much out there that I do not understand and the joy in recognizing that there is enormous mystery, which is not a comfortable thing.” His discomfort caused him to wonder, and like Romeo seeking Juliet, to embark on a journey of discovery.
So, there’s the common theme – Discomfort. We regularly read passages from the Scriptures that are supremely uncomfortable. Our Lord makes very strong statements. St. Paul does the same. It may be something that conflicts with our current cultural assumptions or it may be something that hits a sore spot personally, for me maybe a sin that I struggle with or a virtue that I am lacking, a call to faith when I doubt or even reading about how the crowds react to Jesus and I ask myself how I would have reacted if I’d been in the same position.
These last weeks of Lent, in particular, become very uncomfortable. Today for Palm Sunday we read the Passion narrative and have to ask ourselves some hard questions. Do we deny Christ with our sins? Are we willing to follow him all the way to the Cross? Will we be bold in our faith no matter the obstacles? Will we give up or will we persevere?
Pope Benedict XVI once said something I think about every day, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
Being comfortable is the opposite of why we are here on this earth. Comfort is a drive-through window, binge watching-television shows, and mediocrity. It is going with the flow, never seeking to go deeper in faith, giving up quickly in prayer. Religion is not comfortable. Becoming a saint is not comfortable.
Think about your life – learning to play piano, doing well in school, being a parent in charge of a precious little life, doing work you’re proud of, achieving personal goals, fighting for a cause you believe in – none of this is comfortable. It all takes serious commitment, and nerve, and risk.
It can be very tiring, and so easy to give up. I’m going to be very transparent with you all. I love being a priest 99% of the time. 1% of the time, I have a moment. I’ve said 3 masses that day, sat with someone who was dying, had to deal with a complaint, and end up emotionally wrecked and questioning all my choices. Some of you may empathize. It’s the sort of day when the boss treats you unfairly, traffic was stressful getting home, and as soon as you walk in the door the kids are in the middle of a screaming match. When we feel like that, the urge is to quit.
God didn’t create us to quit, though, he created us to overcome all obstacles. Jesus, the perfect example of human greatness, walks that path before us, suffering, carrying his Cross, his unbearable sorrow, the perfect picture of discomfort. But look again, because underneath the struggle is the perfection of his love, the willingness to share our discomfort. Locked away in that mysterious, eternal love that he has for us is the key to the joy and wonder of reconciliation with God and entrance into eternal life. Those who are uncomfortable now for sake of Jesus will later be exalted.