Father Tom's Notes
I began reading John Steinbeck when I was 14 years old, beginning with The Red Pony. I set a goal of reading all thirty-three of his works, but made it through only The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, The Pearl, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, Travels With Charley, and his final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck (1902-1968) won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for Literature, writing what seemed to me dark and moody observations of life in America in the early Twentieth Century. I couldn’t continue with my reading during my college years, but it seemed that we had become good friends by then. Years later, on a trip to California, I visited a number of sites where his stories were set.
The novel that has come to mind recently is “The Winter of Our Discontent.” The title is borrowed from the opening words of Shakespeare’s “Richard III”:
Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York.
From speaking with people here, in other parts of the country, and even a friend in Europe, we seem to be living through a collective winter of discontent. I’m not speaking primarily of the weather (in England the Daffodils are already popping through) but of the palpable malaise with which so many are facing the day ahead: some with fear, some with sadness, some with fatigue, some with all of the above. Steinbeck’s “winter,” though, as well as the themes in a number of his stories, suggests that as a society we have reached the depth of our unhappiness, and only better times lay ahead.
This is a novelist’s offering of hope to a broken world in a previous century, but it bespeaks the concerns of so many who worry about what’s going on in Washington, in the Vatican, and in our own vicinity as we continue to soldier on though this pandemic. Speaking with my siblings, they have come up against a separation from their own families: my sister cannot visit her husband in his nursing home, and other siblings cannot visit their grandchildren except through closed screen doors. Our church is mostly empty, dismally so at Christmas, because of people’s understandable fear of crowds. Looking ahead, it seems likely that we will face the same at the coming Easter.
Our hope, in the midst of our present discontent, is based in our Faith. God has been with His people in the midst of plagues, famines, wars, volcanic eruptions and pandemics, all of which have taken the lives of far more people than what we are now living through. Where is He, then, in the midst of this? He is suffering with us. Not content to remain aloof in Heaven, He came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, whose suffering and death won our salvation. The Sorrowful Mother, who gave life to Our Lord by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, becomes our model for suffering, offering everything to God as we stand/kneel at the foot of the Cross. Suffering and loss are an inescapable part of the human condition, but these need not define our outlook on life. We can see these egregious realities as stepping stones to eventual holiness, emulating Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother.
Daring to re-write Shakespeare, we can consider that this winter of our discontent will be made glorious summer by the Son of God.