The Personalist Project

Today, in the spirit of the new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et exsultate--"Rejoice and be glad"--I want to put in a plug for joy, and show that all the arguments against it we manage to muster don't hold much water. Here are a few misunderstandings that deserve to be squashed, the sooner the better:

1. Easter joy is for people who have Done Lent Right. 

Nope. Nothing against doing Lent right, as long as you can manage it without self-righteousness and contempt for slackers. But I call to witness St. John Chrysostom: 

You rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today!...

He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh...

2. But harder is better! The more pleasures you deprive yourself of, the more holiness you will produce.

Not necessarily. I call to witness Dorothy Day:

For many years...she had been a heavy smoker.  Her day began with lighting up a cigarette.  Her big sacrifice every Lent was giving up smoking, but having to get by without a cigarette made her increasingly irritable as the days passed, until the rest of the community was praying she would light up a smoke. 

Luckily, she wasn't too stubborn to resist some good advice:

One year, as Lent approached, the priest who ordinarily heard her confessions urged her not to give up cigarettes that year, but instead to pray daily, "Dear God, help me stop smoking." She used that prayer for several years without it having any impact on her addiction.  Then one morning she woke up, reached for a cigarette, and realized she didn't want it and never smoked another.

Along the same lines, St. Josemaría Escrivá offers this eminently sensible piece of advice:

Choose mortifications that don't mortify others.

I now feel completely vindicated in never giving up coffee for Lent. I couldn't do it to my husband and kids.

3. But what if you're a better person than I am? What if you can deprive yourself inconspicuously without making life unbearable for the people who have to live with you? In that case, deprivation is always better, right?

Wrong. I call to witness Fr. Jacques Philippe:

Sometimes we tend to forbid ourselves some wholesome aspiration, some accomplishment, or legitimate happiness. A subconscious psychological mechanism makes us deny ourselves happiness out of a sense of guilt, or it may come from a false idea of God's will, as if we ought to deprive ourselves systematically of everything good in life.

He continues:

In either case, it has nothing to do with genuine spiritual realism and acceptance of our own limitations. God  sometimes calls us to make sacrifices, but he also sets us free from fears and a false sense of imprisoning guilt. He restores to us the freedom to welcome whatever good and pleasant things he wants to give us in order to encourage us and show us his tenderness.

4. OK, then. Maybe we don't have to seek out sacrifice continually. But surely dancing and feasting are for worldlings and slackers?

No again.

I call to witness St. Teresa of Avila:

She scandalized people when they came upon her teaching the nuns in her convent to dance. When they received a donation of pheasant on a fast day, she instantly cooked them up for all to feast upon. "Let them think what they like," she said. "There is a time for penance, and there is a time for pheasant."

Lent lasts 40 days, but Easter lasts 50. "Gaudete" and "exsultate" are in the imperative mood. They're commands. Like it or not, it's time to rejoice.

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Comments (3)

Rhett Segall

#1, Apr 10, 2018 11:02am

" I call to witness...", delightfully and persuasively expressed, Devra!  Freud spoke of Thanatos as a major motivation in human behavior and it is unchristian and something we should be careful to avoid in our real call to the cross. One of the best principles I've come across is in the 1937 Constitutions (rules) of the Society of Mary. It has stood me in good stead for many years. ( I was a member for 6 years.) In its chapter on penance it states the following:"...the penance, the mortification par excellence for each one, is the trials, fatigues, and difficulties incidental to community life and the duties of state, as also sickness and the infirmities arising from old age. Do they not constitute that daily cross promised by the Divine Master to all those who wish to follow Him? To accept that cross with resignation, to carry it with love and gratitude, is the practice of perfect penance."

Devra Torres

#2, Apr 17, 2018 10:20pm

Yes, a very important point! "Passive mortification," it's been called, and it has the advantage that you don't have to wonder whether it's what God wants of you--it's right there, on your plate, custom-made, instead of being something that you dreamed up on your own, which might really come more of pride, or being too hard or too soft on yourself, or might just focus on something that God doesn't choose to ask you to focus on right now.

Rhett Segall

#3, Apr 18, 2018 10:29am

I am reminded of Admiral Byrd's memoir,  "Alone", about his time in Antarctica gathering weather data. He decided to go alone and not with a helper. He realized that being confined for six months (He would be living below ground in a trailer.) with one other person would be intolerable, and would end up with his killing the other or killing himself! He was convinced that one's foibles can become extremely irritating to others. Byrd mentions one person he knew who always chewed his food exactly 23 times before swallowing!

I also can't help thinking of Sartre's "Hell is other people.". Which brings me back to a key understanding of Lent, the symbol of the ashes. It's not as serious as one might think. In a way the symbol says "Don't take yourself too seriously. After all, what can you do? You're ashes!  Take God seriously."  And so apropos of Teresa's pheasant, I am reminded of what John XXIII would say to the Lord before going to bed:"Lord, it's your Church. I'm tired and I'm going to bed."

Surely an essential mortification, both passive and active, is nurturing our sense of humor!

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