From Fr. Nick Kotsis - My mother’s sister and her three children would come up to visit the family from San Antonio, Texas every summer. Each of our three cousins matched us in age. Since they would spend nearly the whole summer up here, we grew particularly close to them, and we still are. We couldn’t wait until school was over because we knew that our cousins were just days away from coming up.
On two occasions, both families all got into the car and we went on vacation together. That meant ten people, six from my family and four from my cousins’ in one car! My parents had a Buick Electra Station Wagon. The outside was gray with faux wood paneling. The inside was maroon cloth, and it had a rear-facing seat. That seat was vinyl. It would burn our legs in the summer. My parents usually forgot to crack the back window, and when it was hot and you opened the door, you could see the heat pour out of it. We used to call it the “oven” after that scene from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” when the British officers were put into the punishment boxes.
My dad always drove and my mother was always in the passenger seat. My aunt was always behind my mother. One of the smaller kids, usually my youngest brother, would sit on the armrest in the front seat between my parents (we loved that “seat”). Three kids sat in the middle row with my aunt, and two of them on top of one of the suitcases. The three oldest usually sat in the rear-facing seat.
We had a canvas carrier on top for most of the luggage, but my aunt always brought up this gigantic suitcase. My dad put it in the area of the rear-facing seat where our feet would go. The unlucky guy that sat in the middle of that seat had to put his legs up on the suitcase. No one wore seat belts. I’m assuming they must have meant bad luck if you wore them in those days…
The two trips we took together like this were some of the best times of our lives, for all of us.
On one of the trips, the kids switched the seating. The four youngest sat in the rear facing seat, and the three older kids sat in the middle with my aunt. As we were driving along, the two youngest kids in the back (my brother and cousin) were making a racket. My father warned them to keep it down. The noise subsided for two minutes, then continued. Again, my father warned them to keep it down or there would be trouble. And again, they were quiet for a few moments, then the noise continued.
My dad then did something quite unusual; he offered a third warning. That was unheard of in our family. Usually, one warning was enough and a second a merciful gift. But three? This time, he told them if they didn’t settle down, he was going to pull the car over, come back there, and…
For several minutes, there was relative peace, but the two youngest in the back decided to test my dad to the limit, and the crescendo of the ruckus reached new heights. “Alright!” my dad clamored. “I’m coming back there!” With a quick jerk of the wheel and a heavy push on the brake, we were on the shoulder kicking up rocks and slightly fishtailing it.
The car went quiet. My dad got out and began to walk towards the back. I heard my aunt say, “Uh, oh, he’s coming back there,” as she patiently sipped her coffee and continued with her crossword puzzle – as if she betrayed a secret to us kids.
As my dad walked along the side of the car, the noisemakers went from awe-struck with mouths agape, to full on panic mode. The shouted “oh, no!” and began to crawl over into the middle seat. My cousin and I, being interested in nothing else but the proper execution of justice, turned around and prevented the youngest two from climbing over. They screamed at us to let them through. “Nothin’ doin’” from our perspective.
My father opened the rear gate, ducked his head slightly, and had the perfect angle on my brother and cousin. Now, my father had enormous hands and fingers; the kind of hands a baker would love, the kind that engulphed mine even as an adult, and the kind of hands you don’t want to see attached to the arms of your urologist. Needless to say, with one fell swoop, four buns were swiftly and generously buttered.
Then there was weeping and a certain gnashing of teeth. Everyone else was silent as my dad returned to his seat, slammed the door, and began driving again.
After five minutes or so, the crying had subsided to the usual afterglow of corporeal punishment; soft whimpers, gentle sniffles and the requisite rubbing of the affected area.
Just then, in the middle of this general quiet, my cousin called out, “Uncle Harry…”
“Yes, Philip,” my dad gently said in a way that hinted of regret in the action taken.
“God’s going to punish you for that!”
Well, I will say that those lines certainly broke the tension of the moment. My dad chuckled at the proclamation of a kid with such moxie, and the rest of us laughed because we realized by dad was no longer angry.
This incident comes up often in our reminiscing.
My cousin was just a young boy when he said it and I would never ascribe the statement to simple fact, but more as a visceral reaction to a perceived injustice (even though a certain portion of it is necessarily based on faith). But this idea comes up, that God punishes us for our actions which results in calamity, and I’ve read of it quite a bit lately.
My response to that statement is usually the following question: and you know the mind of God such to make that determination?
It’s very easy to make quick and general statements about situations when we don’t have all the facts or knowledge at our fingertips. It’s simple to be self-righteous. It doesn’t require discretion to point out the faults in others. And it seems to me, that most people making such a statement, are themselves not suffering from the same punishment.
Jesus didn’t come to punish. When the Pharisees brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, he forgave her and confounded the Pharisees. When everyone murmured that He went into the house of the horrible tax-collector (Zacchaeus), Jesus upheld his conversion and brought Zacchaeus into the fold. Yes, He did rebuke the Scribes and Pharisees about their misappropriation of the Law and for their hypocrisy, but it was to illustrate their way of thinking as the road to condemnation. Jesus didn’t come to punish. He came to save, heal, bless, forgive, and give life!
The Lord says to Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not as your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” (Is 55:8) This makes it pretty clear that we need to be very careful when asserting causal relationships to events that lead to suffering.
Jesus wants us to be faithful, not fearful. He wants us to have peace, not punishment. He wants us to show mercy not malice. He wants us to love. These things we do know, because these things are the clear messages of His Gospel. Amen.