A reader might find a technical basis for quarreling with me if I should attempt to reckon “joyousness” amongst “customs.” But there could be no fair quarrel if customary expressions of joyousness should be thus reckoned.
Catholics who try to live the liturgical life of the Church and the ascetical life it points out to them, are a happy, joyous-minded folk. “Merrie England” was a mediaeval fact, and might represent the simple-hearted enjoyment of good Catholics everywhere. These do not share the pessimism voiced in the modern lament, On ne rit guère aujourd’hui—“There is but little laughter nowadays!”
It is a misunderstanding that leads some Protestants to say that they fear to enter the Church because our religion is a stern and exacting one: “I couldn’t live up to it!” We might well reply: “Why, living up to it is precisely what makes for joyousness.” And we could point to the Divine Master’s example at Cana when—ever-gracious and loving and kind Lord—He furnished the marriage-feast with miraculous largess of such excellent wine as the merry-makers had never tasted before. And we could point to His specially-elect vessel, St. Paul, who bade the early Christians to “rejoice always; again I say, rejoice. Let your joy be known to all men.” And the lives of the Saints, and the lives to-day of those who emulate the Saints, are vivid paintings of joyfulness. One can read the quiet and lasting attainment of peace upon the faces of the Sisters who, whether in hospitals, asylums, or schools, assuredly work in the midst of the most trying tasks that can confront our excitable nervous systems.
And herein we find a sufficiently appropriate illustration of the Catholic paradox that suffering can beget joy; discomforts, a gentle tolerance; trials, a sweet patience; the loss of life itself, the true finding of it, as Our Saviour has Himself pointed out to us.
Perhaps we begin dimly to surmise how it came to pass that St. Paul could write of the “exceeding great joy” he experienced “in the midst of tribulations.” Or how St. Francis Xavier, alone amidst overwhelming trials, should write to his Superior that he could hardly see the paper because of the floods of happy tears pouring from his eyes. Or how —to make what should be a long story very short—Pope Leo XIII, in his young manhood, was able to describe in his Artigiano, the Italian workingman as singing cheerily through-out his long day of toil:
|He toils and sweats and watches long,|
And racks his weary head
How he may win for wife and child
A scanty loaf of bread.
Yet is he happy—for no shapes
Leo XIII, in his encyclical on The Condition of Labor, described the Magna Charta of the workingman. But many decades of years before, he had pictured in happy poetic phrase what the Oxford economist and convert, Devas, argued with homelier prose in our own day, namely that “the light-heartedness of true Christian populations cannot be crushed by economic or political oppression.” Read Section 36 of his book entitled The Key to the World’s Progress, concluding with this thought: “And while we see around us the After-Christian world grow daily more terrified at pain and suffering, throwing a veil of euphemism over the stern realities of disease, grasping at every anodyne, shrinking from self-discipline and self-denial, the Christians can say with simple confidence, ‘in Cruce solus.’ This principle is for them a source of strength and victory, while the others are involved in a principle of irremediable weakness.”
With this introduction to Catholic joyousness, we may consider next some customary exhibitions of its pervasive power