Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Duty of Delight

As Gaudete Sunday dawns, a special (rose-hued) buona domenica to one and all.

Given this week's news cycle and the time needed to cover it, it's going to take just a bit longer for the usual "Word" to dwell among us... in the meantime, though, here's a worthwhile snip from the reflection on the importance of joy of the ever-relevant Paul VI, dated Pentecost 1975.
Christian joy could not be properly praised if one were to remain indifferent to the outward and inward witness that God the Creator renders to Himself in the midst of His creation: "And God saw that it was good." Raising up man in the setting of a universe that is the work of His power, wisdom and love, and even before manifesting Himself personally according to the mode of revelation, God disposes the mind and heart of His creature to meet joy, at the same time as truth. One should therefore be attentive to the appeal that rises from man's heart, from the age of wondering childhood to serene old age, as a presentiment of the divine mystery.

When he awakens to the world, does not man feel, in addition to the natural desire to understand and take possession of it, the desire to find within it his fulfillment and happiness? As everyone knows, there are several degrees of this "happiness." Its most noble expression is joy, or "happiness" in the strict sense, when man, on the level of his higher faculties, finds his peace and satisfaction in the possession of a known and loved good. Thus, man experiences joy when he finds himself in harmony with nature, and especially in the encounter, sharing and communion with other people. All the more does he know spiritual joy or happiness when his spirit enters into possession of God, known and loved as the supreme and immutable good. Poets, artists, thinkers, but also ordinary men and women, simply disposed to a certain inner light, have been able and still are able, in the times before Christ and in our own time and among us, to experience something of the joy of God.

But how can we ignore the additional fact that joy is always imperfect, fragile and threatened? By a strange paradox, the consciousness of that which, beyond all passing pleasure, would constitute true happiness, also includes the certainty that there is no perfect happiness. The experience of finiteness, felt by each generation in its turn, obliges one to acknowledge and to plumb the immense gap that always exists between reality and the desire for the infinite.

This paradox, and this difficulty in attaining joy, seem to us particularly acute today. This is the reason for our message. Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual. Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage. Do people perhaps feel helpless to dominate industrial progress, to plan society in a human way? Does the future perhaps seem too uncertain, human life too threatened? Or is it not perhaps a matter of loneliness, of an unsatisfied thirst for love and for someone's presence, of an ill-defined emptiness? On the contrary, in many regions and sometimes in our midst, the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes! These miseries are perhaps not deeper than those of the past but they have taken on a worldwide dimension. They are better known, reported by the mass media—at least as much as the events of good fortune—and they overwhelm people's minds. Often there seems to be no adequate human solution to them.

This situation nevertheless cannot hinder us from speaking about joy and hoping for joy. It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song. We sympathize profoundly with those over whom poverty and sufferings of every sort cast a veil of sadness. We are thinking in particular of those who are without means, without help, without friendship—those who see their human hopes annihilated. More than ever they are present in our prayers and our affection. We do not wish to overwhelm anyone. On the contrary, we are looking for the remedies capable of bringing light. In our view, these remedies fall into three categories.

People must obviously unite their efforts to secure at least a minimum of relief, well-being, security and justice, necessary for happiness, for the many peoples deprived of them. Such solidarity is already the work of God, it corresponds to Christ's commandment. Already it secures peace, restores hope, strength, communion, and gives access to joy, for the one who gives as for the one who receives, for it is more blessed to give than to receive. Dear brothers and sons and daughters, how many times do we urge you to prepare a world, one more suitable for living in, to bring about without delay justice and charity for the integral development of all! The conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes and numerous pontifical documents have indeed insisted on this point. Even though this is not the theme that we are directly touching upon here, effort should be made not to forget this fundamental duty of love of neighbor, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of joy.

There is also needed a patient effort to teach people, or teach them once more, how to savor in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path: the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy and satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice. The Christian will be able to purify, complete and sublimate these joys; he will not be able to disdain them. Christian joy presupposes a person capable of natural joy. These natural joys were often used by Christ as a starting point when He proclaimed the kingdom of God.

But the theme of our exhortation is situated on still another level. For the problem seems to be, above all, of the spiritual order. It is man—in his soul—who finds himself without the means to take on himself the sufferings and miseries of our time. These sufferings and miseries crush him all the more to the extent that the meaning of life escapes him, that he is no longer sure of himself or of his transcendent calling and destiny. He has desacralized the universe and now he is desacralizing humanity; he has at times cut the vital link that joined him to God. Hope, and the value of individuals, are no longer sufficiently ensured. God seems to him abstract and useless. Without his being able to express it, God's silence weighs heavily on him. Yes, cold and darkness are first in the heart of the man who knows sadness. One can speak here of the sadness of non-believers, when the human spirit, created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore instinctively oriented towards Him as its sole and supreme good, remains without knowing Him clearly, without loving Him, and therefore without experiencing the happiness, even though imperfect, that is brought by the knowledge of God and by the certainty of having a link with Him that even death cannot break. Who does not recall the words of Saint Augustine: "You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You"? It is therefore by becoming more present to God, by turning away from sin, that man can truly enter into spiritual joy. Without doubt "flesh and blood" are incapable of this. But Revelation can open up this possibility and grace can bring about this return. Our intention is precisely to invite you to the sources of Christian joy. And how could we do this, without ourselves becoming attentive to God's plan, listening to the Good News of His love?