My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit as we gather for this beautiful Sabbath celebration. Have you ever heard of the word schadenfreude? (Pronounced shaw-din-froy-duh) If not, let me give you a couple of examples. Once, when I was in college, I was traveling back to Dubuque from Marshalltown on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was going 60 in a 55 but, nonetheless, began to be followed by a fellow who must have wanted to get into my trunk judging by how closely he was following me. And he was doing that thing where, every three seconds, he would swerve into the other lane to see if he could pass but we were going up a hill and there was a lot of oncoming traffic. As we crested the hill, the driver felt he had enough room to pass so he pulled into the other lane and floored it. Even with all four cylinders working at peak efficiency I could tell he didn’t have enough room to pass so, at first, I just took off my cruise control but it wasn’t enough. I slammed on my breaks and came to a complete stop in the middle of the highway. I looked over and noticed the car coming toward us had been forced to do the same thing. Then, I noticed a light above the other stopped cars mirror and a row of concealed lights that are the hallmark of an undercover police officer. He turned on his lights, did a three-point turn and headed after the idiot that passed me. A couple miles down the road, I slowly passed a red-faced, screaming state patrolman yelling at a kid and I made sure to smile and wave as I went past. That’s schadenfreude. Just in case you still don’t catch it, here’s another example. This past Tuesday, I was at home watching the news with my parents. I was still fuming at how the referees had stolen a victory from Iowa State in men’s basketball the night before because of an incredibly boneheaded call. A story came on about something bad happening in Kansas and I immediately thought to myself that’s what you get when you take advantage of the Cyclones.
Schadenfreude is a compound word of two German words: Schade meaning to feel bad or sad and freude meaning to feel happiness or joy. So, schadenfruede is finding happiness or joy at other people’s sadness. Haven’t we all laughed when we saw a teenage boy trip and fall while trying to impress a girl? That’s schadenfreude.
We think it’s something new but it really isn’t. In fact, Jesus encounters it in the gospel of Luke today. Most of his followers came from the northern part of Israel called Galilee. So, when they heard about a massacre by Pilate involving some of their Galilean brothers, their first reaction is to find joy in the fact that these were the bad, sinful Galileans. Jesus not only challenges them on this assumption but he asks them if they think the same thing about what happened when a tower collapsed just north of the Temple Mount near the pool of Siloam. Bad things don’t always happen to bad people. Most of the time they just happen. And, as Christians, we shouldn’t take pleasure in other people’s pain. Instead, as St. Paul said in the second reading from First Corinthians, we should see it as a caution that bad things could happen to us. It should be a moment to mourn with those who are suffering not a party to celebrate the suffering of others. Let’s face it, it could have been me traveling at 60 in a 55 getting pulled over by the police just as easily as it was the other guy.
Sometimes, in situations involving one pastor with multiple parishes, I notice a kind of reverse schadenfreude that can happen. People believe no one should get anything good if everyone doesn’t get it. So, if Father starts having a holy hour in one parish, the members of another parish immediately start to gripe that Father never does anything for them. Or, if Father has to cancel a Sunday or weekday mass in one parish but not the other, people will gripe it’s not fair that something good is happening somewhere as long as we don’t get to have it here.
In some ways, as Christians we are a people of schadenfreude. But, instead of finding happiness at the suffering of others we find it in the suffering of one: Jesus Christ. He is the one who took on the sins of the world and suffered death. His once-for-all death means that we shouldn’t find joy in other people’s suffering but that we should find real joy because of the death of Jesus. In other words, instead of being a people of schadenfreude, we should just be a people of freude, just pure joy.
One of the areas that is a source of joy for us is the confessional. Now, I know that some of you are going to look at me strangely as I say this but I think this is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the gospel parable of the fig tree. Humanity screams out that we should just cut it down and inflict immediate punishment on those who sin but God responds that he wants to give them some time to produce the good fruit of repentance, the repentance normally offered in the sacrament of reconciliation. Sometimes, I hear Catholics say that they don’t go to confession because they confess their sins at the beginning of mass when we say the penitential rite or they even offer the protestant argument that they just go directly to God with their sins. I’ve heard people say that they don’t go to confession because it’s been too long since last they went and they don’t remember the formula or because it would take too long. Imagine if it has been a couple years since you last went to the dentist and you were to use the excuse that it’s just been too long; you won’t remember how to talk while they clean your teeth or it will just take too long and cost too much. So how are you going to get rid of your teeth pain? I’m invite each of you to find the joy in the sacrament of reconciliation, the joy that lets us experience the forgiveness offered to us by God the Father, the joy that makes us bear good fruit, and the joy that heals us from our true suffering of sin.