Catholic Joy and Catholic Sorrow

The Catholic Church, as has been seen, is always too “extreme” for the world… 

It is a common charge against her that she rejoices too exceedingly; is arrogant, confident, and optimistic where she ought to be quiet, subdued, and tender… In another mood, however, our critic will find fault with our sadness.

The happy red-faced monk with his barrel of beer is a caricature of our joy. Can this, it is asked, be a follower of the Man of Sorrows? And the long-faced ascetic with his eyes turned up to heaven is the world’s conception of our sorrow. Catholic joy and Catholic sorrow are alike too ardent and extreme for a world that delights in moderation in both sorrow and joy–a little melancholy, but not too much; a little cheerfulness, but not excessive. […]

The fact is, of course, that both joy and sorrow must be an element in all religion, since joy and sorrow together make up experience. The world is neither white with black spots nor black with white spots; it is black and white. It is quite as true that autumn follows summer as that spring follows winter. It is no less true that life arises out of death than that death follows life.

Religion then cannot, if it is to be adequate to experience, be a passionless thing. On the contrary it must be passionate, since human nature is passionate too; and it must be a great deal more passionate. It must not moderate grief, but deepen it; not banish joy, but exalt it. It must weep–and bitterer tears than any that the world can shed–with them that weep; and rejoice too–with a joy which no man can take away–with them that rejoice.

It must sink deeper and rise higher, it must feel more acutely, it must agonize and triumph more abundantly, if it truly comes from God and is to minister to men, since His thoughts are higher than ours and His Love more burning.

For so did Christ live on earth. At one hour He rejoiced greatly in spirit so that those that watched Him were astonished; at another He sweated blood for anguish. In one hour He is exalted high on the blazing Mount of Transfiguration; in another He is plunged deeper than any human heart can fathom in the low-lying garden of Gethsemane. […]

Is it any wonder, then, that the world thinks her extravagant in both directions at once; that the world turns away on Good Friday from the unutterable depths of her sorrow, and on Easter Day from the unscalable heights of her joy, calling the one morbid and the other hysterical? For what does the world know of such passions as these? What, after all, can the sensualist know of joy, or the ruined financier of sorrow? And what can the moderate, self-controlled, self-respecting man of the world know of either?

Lastly, then, in the Paradox of Love, the Church holds both these passions, at full blast, both at once. As human love turns joy into pain and suffers in the midst of ecstasy, so Divine Love turns pain into joy and exults and reigns upon the Cross.

For the Church is more than the Majesty of God reigning on earth, more than the passionless love of the Eternal; she is the Very Sacred Heart of Christ Himself, the Eternal united with Man, and both suffering and rejoicing through that union. It is His bliss which she at once experiences and extends, in virtue of her identity with Him; and in the midst of a fallen world it is the supremest bliss of that Sacred Heart to suffer pain.

– Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, Paradoxes of Catholicism, pp. 24-27.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” (Php 4:4)

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6 responses to “Catholic Joy and Catholic Sorrow

  1. Does Msgr. Benson tie that middle road of “little cheerfulness/melancholy” into sentimentality and kindness? I hope he does.

    Being Catholics, we should not strive for gentle kindness, but a love that consumes and burns; we should strive not for sentimentality, but a sorrow that shakes creation.

    • Hmm, I don’t think he particularly dwells on that aspect. His main thesis is that orthodox faith is too much of everything – but you should read it! It’s free on Kindle and one of the books that majorly propelled me toward Catholicism.

      And I completely agree about sentimentality and being content with mere politeness and inoffensiveness – but I wouldn’t call that gentle kindness. It takes real love to be meek and kind as Christ is, to discipline ourselves to take the little way, the narrow way, the lowest seat. Often the most passionate love is expressed in the tenderest, littlest kindnesses. But I know you know that. 🙂

      Oh, and I love the phrase “a sorrow that shakes creation.” Reminds me of “the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now.” (Rom 8:22) Good stuff. 🙂

      • Found an online copy! Browsing through some of the chapters, and I’ve gotta say it reads a lot like G.K. Chesterton’s arguments.

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