I have heard many Catholics – priest and laity – speak about spreading the “joy of Christ”, or launching easy slogans like “Jesus is Joy”. Not one of them – priest or lay – ever made to me the impression that he could ever convert anyone truly interested in his own salvation, rather than mere fun. If anyone were to embrace Catholicism based on that, let me tell you he will be bitterly disappointed.
I can't hear anymore how, in a society focused of fun and self-satisfaction, Catholicism is presented as a dispenser of the same stupid surrogates of happiness most people are already actively looking for outside of it. In this “joy” thing there is – there must be, in these stupid times of ours – an implicit promise of something for nothing. This becomes very evident in the words of The Most Astonishing Hypocrite In Church History (TMAHICH, if you are new to this blog), who always talks of Christ as if He were simply giving to us, and never asking of us; but it is also rather transparent in your typical Novus-Ordo “homily for all the family”, in which sin or punishment are never mentioned lest it should cloud the sunny Sunday morning of the pewsitters, in which everyone drives home to his Sunday lunch feeling so astonishingly good.
Well, I beg to disagree.
I think that in this day and age, every unqualified talk of “joy” smacks so much of Disneyland, that it should be carefully avoided unless it is put in the proper context. A world that does not fear hell will never put joy in the context of Salvation. Rather, it will put it in the context of quality of life. A big, big mistake, because a properly formed Catholic conscience will give one fears, and pangs of remorse, utterly unknown to, say, the rosewater mainstream, “I think I believe in God”-Anglican. This ex-Anglican convert will also discover that many things he thoughts harmless aren't harmless at all, and he is not allowed to skip Mass. Not even then, when he goes around “spreading the joy of Christ” instead.
This “joy” thing is, in the present world, nothing more than deception. It is marketing under false pretences. It encourages a wrong thinking that infects even those who should know better, and who profit from it to willfully ignore their own grave sinfulness because hey, they “spread the joy”.
If you ask me, every discussion about Catholicism, and every attempt at conversion, must begin with hell. Hell, and nothing else, is the reason why we are Catholics, then if there were no hell I would enthusiastically chase skirt for all I'm worth, and every consideration about what Catholicism says of it would be a gentle suggestion – but hey, God is luv, right? – at best.
My reason for being Catholic is hell, not joy. My fear of hell, not this promised Disneyland of the nuCatholics, is why I remain Catholic. The harshest truths on the planet are the very foundation of the only true religion of the planet. Christ died for me on the Cross, so I can go on doing what I please, because Cool Bearded Guy takes care of me anyway. You can't even begin to talk about Catholicism without mentioning those harsh truths; because if the world is the merry-go-round with guaranteed happy ending peddled by Francis and by all those modern apostles of joy, there is no reason whatever to go through life full of “Catholic guilt” (also called sanity, and fear of the Lord) and encumbered with all those prohibitions to do, and obligations to do, that are everywhere in the life of a Catholic.
Forget the talk of the “Joy of Christ”, at least until the planet has forgotten what it really means.
Focus on the Wrath of Christ instead.
It may be less pleasant, but it is far more salutary.
Perhaps it is just me, but I do not remember hearing so much talk of “joy” from Catholics when I was living in Italy, or Germany. Actually, not anywhere near as much. On the contrary, I remember a different accent being put on things: that life is a vale of tears I have heard infinite times as a child, and that we must bear sufferance with resignation was another leitmotiv.
Notice here that the people from whom I heard these words (mainly my grandmothers, and their sisters) where, generally speaking – and as most Italians, by the grace of God, undoubtedly are – rather serene, reasonably happy, good-natured and good-humoured people. So much so, that as a child – eagerly registering every word of the adults – you have some problems in reconciling these mostly jovial, smiling, loving old women with the affirmations they were spreading around as if they were the most natural things on earth.
When I came here, I started to hear a different tune. You talk with some Catholic and you think that they have just come from some Protestant superchurch, or spent a couple of hours listening to protestant tv evangelists. I am not talking only of people in the pews here, but also of priests. I’ll never forget the Franciscan in Notting Hill who thought he was a fat and bald version of Joel Osteen, and felt undoubtedly very cool in being so. You listened to him and you thought that life is just a huge amusement park, and your duty to enjoy every moment of the fun whilst shouting “praise the Lord” all the time. Sufferance was just swept aside.
Granted, such priests will tell you that the joy is about the Good News, but crucially, notice that these are invariably the priests you’ll very rarely hear focusing on….. the bad news: the very real, ever-present possibility of hell and the unavoidable reality of sufferance and trial, of disease and death, of bereavement and bitter tears. They just sweep all of this aside, and then you understand that all this talking of “joy” is actually a big process of removal of the unpleasant realities of life and, more often than not, of the unpleasant duties of a Catholic. If you want additional evidence of this, think of another show of Protestantism utterly unknown in the world in which I grew up: the turning of funerals into “celebrations”.
When you have become a party master you can never allow the party to be interrupted, lest the guests notice that the party is not such a great fun after all, and the party master a bit of a smoke seller.
All this focusing on joy sounds very much “new age” to me, and dangerously shallow. It seems to me that those people of a couple of generations ago – those you never heard talking of such things – had a better measure of Catholicism, and of life. They didn’t invite sufferance for sure, but they were under no childish illusion about the nature of our journey on earth. What they appeared to have most in mind was not really their supposed joy, but rather Our Lords’ Passion. As a result, they were acutely aware of the significance and richness of a correct dealing with sufferance in a proper Catholic fashion. The “vale of tears” was reminded to them every time they recited the “Hail, Holy Queen” – which must have been, for many of them, daily -, and this kind of preparedness allowed them to both cope better with the reverses of life, and to make the most of them spiritually.
I don’t see much of this today. Rather I see – as in other matters, too – a protestantisation of English Catholicism; a desire to be like the neighbour attending the church at the other end of the road, shouting his “joyous” message and fully immersed in his “feelings”; and then, possibly, divorcing his spouse because no one told him about the vale of tears. A dangerous thing, joy. If I am supposed to be oh so joyful a witness for Christ, why shouldn’t I divorce if this allows me to give God my joy, be a luminous witness of my joy in Christ, & Co? Is it such a surprise that as the perception of life as a vale of tears fades in the background, the number of divorced Catholics increases? How is it that as the accent shifts on our joy, the serenity of our children slowly fades in the background? “It is better for them, too”. Really?
In traditionally Catholic countries it worked -and, I would say, it largely still works – differently. This fixation with being “witnesses of joy” is just not there – not at the popular, everyday level I mean – because the Protestant neighbour with the amusement park mentality is just not there, either. I met the first chap telling me that he had “met Jesus” and wanted to “share his joy” outside of Italy, already in my twenties; he was a Canadian and I thought that he had some screws loose, so unusual, outlandish was his entire way of thinking and talking. We didn’t grow up with this “joy” thing, at all. We didn’t “meet” Jesus. Rather, your grandma would put you in front of a crucifix and make you kneel and pray, this was our “meeting Jesus”. Again, our ancestors didn’t share much the “joy” thing, as they did the Passion. What I distinctly remember, though, was the immense respect for people, like Padre Pio, who had suffered all their lives. This is what, if you ask me, I’d say that sat – and probably still sits – deepest in people’s consciousness.
And this is also what allowed them to carry on; what gave strenght to the widows; what consoled the wives with a husband and father, or with a son on the front line; what helped men to work hard, alone, in another continent, for the ones they loved; what helped people to help each other as they helped themselves. I know this, because I am old enough to have directly experienced, or heard from eyewitnesses, the way that generation coped with sufferance and misery, and made of it a treasure. Believe me, it worked.
You might think that this is an old-fashioned way to look at things; that it goes together with the fire and brimstone about which the abovementioned old ladies also talked without any problem; fire and brimstone that you will, tellingly, rarely find on the lips of the apostles of “joy”, the idea of gnashing of teeth being a bit of a theological party pooper. I think, on the other hand, that this is more authentic Catholic fare: not so sweet perhaps, but healthier in the end, and truly nourishing.
It’s not a walk in the park, the old ladies were saying. It’s serious. Literally, deadly serious. But this doesn’t mean that they were funereal people themselves! Actually, the contrary is the case! They were simply much better equipped to cope with life, and to get to heaven, than the present generation is. Their absence of illusions made them, in the end, more serene people, giving them more of exactly that “joy” the others are so focused about.
If I compare the old Catholic mentality with the new protestantised version I found here in England, it is not a surprise to me that divorce be so widespread among modern Catholics. They are just not equipped to deal with the, alas, harsh realities of life; they have been raised in a world where happiness is expected, nay, demanded and considered a right. By all the focusing on the joy, no one has told them of the sorrow, and the tears, and the hard gym this life is for everyone of us.
Those old women of the past had a wisdom in them that no trendy priest will ever get near to. Divorce would have seemed absurd to them, the search for individual happiness at the cost of disobedience a thing of the devil.
No much talk of “joy” there. But I am in no doubt as to who lived, and died, better.