Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Carnations were originally pink in color. The Caucasian people who saw these flowers thought that they were flesh toned–hence the name CARNATION, from Latin caro, carnis, meaning “flesh.” Today, however, carnations come in red and white as well as pink. The great thing about a white carnation is that it can be made whatever color the florist desires.
Now there are two ways to color a white carnation. The quick and easy method is to spray the carnation. All it takes is one or two quick sprays, and (voilà) the job is done. Here, of course, the color is merely superficial. The other way to add color to a white carnation is to dye it. This process is more gradual. In order to dye a carnation, the florist must: 1) cut the stem of the carnation, perhaps causing a little plant suffering; 2) temporarily deprive the carnation of all water so that it becomes good and thirsty; and 3) immerse the stem of the carnation in colored water, so as to allow the flower to take on whatever color the water happens to be. In the case of a dyed carnation, the color is on the inside, and the effect, in my opinion, is far more beautiful and subtle.
Jesus is concerned with internal holiness rather than superficial righteousness. It doesn’t take much to put on a veneer of superficial righteousness. It doesn’t require much time at all, but, in the end, no one is beguiled. Internal holiness is a completely different story. It requires quite a bit of time, and the results are truly beautiful. Here is my point: I firmly believe that the same three steps required in dyeing a carnation—namely SUFFERING, DEPRIVATION, and IMMERSION—are the same three steps necessary if one is to become truly holy. I repeat: SUFFERING, DEPRIVATION, and IMMERSION—the three steps necessary for dyeing a carnation—are the selfsame steps that are required if one is to become a saint. Here are two brief examples, one communal and one individual.
The ancient Israelites suffered in Egypt under the cruel taskmasters of Pharaoh. Through the leadership of Moses, the children of Israel were led into the desert, where they experienced deprivation. They longed for the plentiful food and water of Egypt. But in the desert, God immersed Israel in the Law. SUFFERING, DEPRIVATION, IMMERSION: The result was that the people of Israel became the people of God.
My second illustration comes from the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola. When Ignatius was a twenty-nine-year-old soldier, his leg was shattered by a cannonball. As a matter of fact, the leg was originally set so badly that it had to be re-broken and reset—all without the benefit of anesthesia! That’s what I call suffering. During his lengthy recuperation, Ignatius longed to pass the time by reading the romantic stories of knights and ladies, of which he had grown to be quite fond. Alas! There were none of these. It was just as if you and I had been deprived of our iPhones! Now that’s what I call deprivation. The only readings available to Ignatius were the Gospels and the lives of the saints. He had no choice but to immerse himself in these. Thus Saint Ignatius Loyola underwent a profound conversion and ultimately became the founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. SUFFERING, DEPRIVATION, IMMERSION: the best way to dye a carnation and the best way to become holy.
What about me? Do I long for internal holiness rather than superficial righteousness? Do I allow SUFFERING, DEPRIVATION, and IMMERSION to transform me into a saint? More specifically, do I regard SUFFERING as a call from God rather than a punishment? Come to think of it, whoever became a saint without suffering? Do I embrace voluntary and involuntary DEPRIVATION as a means to increase my thirst for the divine? Do I regularly IMMERSE myself in prayer, Scripture, and that which is truly beautiful and holy rather than in the junk of this world?
So, what’s the bottom line? Well, when you get right down to it, God loves us with the ardor of a passionate lover. Just as a lover desires above all to possess the heart of his beloved rather than superficial trifles, so God wants us to be holy from the inside out. God, in fact, is like the eager and frustrated lover in the song Bing Crosby used to sing way back in the 1940s:
Whenever we kiss
—I worry and wonder—
Your lips may be near,
But where is your heart?
It’s always like this
—I worry and I wonder—
You’re close to me here,
But where is your heart?
It’s a sad thing to realize
That you’ve a heart that never melts.
When we kiss and you close your eyes,
Are you thinking of somebody else?
You must break this spell
—This cloud that I’m under—
So please, won’t you tell,
Darling, where is your heart?
We often associate earthly love with red roses. Yet I cannot help but wonder if God, the passionate Lover that He is, might much prefer dyed carnations!