I thought I’d like to begin by telling you about a very strict monastery and a new recruit, Brother Alpheus. When Brother Alpheus joined the monastery he was told that the monastery was so strict that the monks were only allowed to say two words every five years. They were to spend their five years considering what they would say. Well, after five years in the monastery, the Reverend Abbot called Brother Alpheus in and asked him what his two words were.
Brother Alpheus said, “Food Cold.”
“OK,” Brother Alpheus,” the Abbot said, “You may no longer speak until five more years when you will be allowed to say your next two words.”
After five years the Abbot called Brother Alpheus in and asked him what his two words were.
Brother Alpheus said, “Bed, hard.”
“OK, Brother Alpheus,” the Abbot said, rather dismayed, “you may say your next two words five years from now.”
Five years later the Abbot called Brother Alpheus in and again told him he could now say two words.
“I quit,” said Brother Alpheus.
“Well, no wonder, the Abbot said, “You’ve been complaining since you got here.”
Now let’s join Ezra as he reads from the Law of God. The occasion is some time after the Dedication of the rebuilt Temple, after the exile. Let’s just place it about 510 BC. Ezra presents the Law of God on a major feast day, perhaps the New Year, perhaps what later generations would call Yom Kippur. One thing caught my eye in that first reading from the history book, Nehemiah. Ezra continually tells the people not to be sad, but instead be full of joy. The Law of God results in joy, not sadness.
In the Gospel, Jesus begins his public preaching in the equivalent of a synagogue in his own town: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners. To announce a year of favor from the Lord.”
These two readings assert that the Law of God, The Word of God should be received in joy not in gloom. The Law of God is seen as liberating, not something that is restrictive.
Let us be honest now. This is not how most of us view commandments, church teachings, etc. But if we really think about it, we can understand the joy and the freedom we have received when we have adhered to the principles of our faith life, our morality.
Many people in our times have demanded a freedom from all codes of moral conduct. How happy are these people? Can a person be a member of a family he or she loves and receive love from that family if that person flaunts the basic code for living in the family? A person cannot be happily married and at the same time unfaithful. A person cannot grow in love and be basically selfish. If a lack of rules brought happiness, than why do so many hedonists commit suicide? If a code of morality is supposed to be somber and oppressive, than why are the happiest people in the world those whose lives revolve around a very strict following of the Lord? Some of the happiest people I have ever met are the Trappist monks I made retreats with in Conyers, Georgia and in Gethsemani, Kentucky. They have to get up in the middle of the night. They have set hours for work and prayer. Their diets are restricted. They take vows of silence. Yet, they are happy. These are not people who do not know any better. They are some of the brightest people of our generation. Nor are they social misfits, people who could have no place in society. The monastery will only accept people who have been successful members of society. They are people whose lives point us to the true source of happiness. Honestly, I have never met Brother Alpheus in a Trappist monastery. The monks are happy. The Law of God has brought joy.
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL