Thursday, August 01, 2002


I realize I’m skating perilously close to nihil obstat territory here, but I am beginning to wonder if the subjunctive mood is un-Christian.

It seems strange, surely, to suggest that grammar could be sinful, but bear with me. As we all know, the subjunctive mood is a form of a verb that expresses hypothetical action, or action contrary to fact. It is no doubt a major stumbling block for the pedant named above, because it is so often used incorrectly. An example of the subjunctive is the song “If I were a rich man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” He is not a rich man, but he sings about what he would do if he were.

And there is the problem. That little word “if,” out of which flows so much sin. How many acts of uncharity, of pride, of petty theft even, flow from that word “if.” “If only I weren’t so broke, I would surely pay that debt.” “If only I can get the promotion…” “If only he weren’t such a jerk…” “If only…if only…if only.”

The act of bearing a cross is the act of stifling the subjunctive. There is no past or future in bearing a cross, no hypothetical other realities. Only the act of accepting what the present has to offer, making the most of it, and heading for the next moment. It may in fact be a simplification to say that all sin flows from “if” but not much of one.


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