By Benedict Augustine
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”
For much of his career, Oscar Wilde stood proudly among writers, creating literary masterpieces that flaunted his prodigious confidence and insight—key qualities for a satirist and critic. A brilliant man of letters, he could clearly express a big idea in a few words while most writers would wrestle with that same idea for so many pages unsuccessfully; moreover, he could bring a smile to reader as he wrote about these things. Few English writers of any age could ever muster the wit and grace that Wilde produced consistently, and few people knew this so well as Wilde himself. Eventually, his overconfidence and vanity precipitated in one of the most embarrassing scandals in literature, tragically reducing this genius to a caricature—a caricature most people still have of him. Few people defended him at his trial, and few people would defend him now; more than a few people rejoiced while he wept in shame.
During the period of his imprisonment, Wilde produced two works revealing the humbling yet enlightening experience he had in prison: De Profundis, an epistle to the man who accused him, and “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a poem capturing the abject degradation of prison life. In both works, Wilde’s wit continues to flicker, but his aims delve much deeper. From the clever moral allegory of Dorian Gray, a novel in which a man keeps his physical beauty by relegating his sins to a painting containing his soul, Wilde plunges into the meaning of suffering, a condition he truly experiences for the first time. In De Profundis and “Reading Gaol” Wilde finds the real Christ, and realizes the beauty of His life, a beauty that made his essays on art seem frivolous and superficial. Finally recognizing the heavy reality of sin, his works reveal a man ready to repent. After a lengthy and doleful lament and that spans many pages, Wilde finds a way to rejoice in the final section of his ballad:
“Ah! happy they whose hearts can breakAnd peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?”
Wilde declares beautifully, and with surprisingly humility, that sadness and suffering must have a place in the heart of a Christian.
Anticipating his future departure from this earth, Jesus prepares His disciples to mourn for him because they will soon experience the pain of His absence. The reason for this upcoming period of sadness remains unclear until he utters his concluding statement, “you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” The disciples must remember why they are mourning: true grief will lead to true joy, as Jesus’s death will lead to His resurrection.
Christ does not go through His passion for the sake of a dramatic effect that dazzles us with its contrasts; He does so to atone for our sins and to open up the meaning of our suffering and grief. If Jesus merely ascended after putting in a few years as a minister, His gospel would ring hollow and superficial like a story with no conflict or internal character development. Rather, Jesus takes on the gruesome reality of His passion to demonstrate just how sinful the world is and much we need to change so that we rise above it like He did. We need to experience the reality of grief to experience the reality of joy. The suffering that accompanied Jesus’ absence brought clarity, depth, and strength to the disciples, and continues to so for us. When we accept the pain of his absence, we can then receive his ultimate Presence when He returns: “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”
After “a little while,” Christ returns to the disciples, first in His resurrected form, and then through the Holy Spirit. After experiencing a life without Christ, disciples, like Paul and Timothy knew of the difference that Christ makes in a person’s life. The scoffers in the synagogues, who rejected the gospel, elicited Paul’s pity and frustration; they preferred to wallow in the darkness and live out empty lives, sacrificing an eternal joy for a worldly joy that lasts only “a little while.” We should not make the same mistake as they did. At times, especially during times of persecution, this will prove difficult, since it separates us from the majority who live in the moment; however, enduring this difficulty will eventually enable us to unite with blessed who live in eternity.