God isn’t all rules.
This assertion is easy to jumble into some kind of debate about whether the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes are better for teaching Christian morals. That’s not what I mean. Both the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments and the “Blesseds are you” of the Beatitudes are great. They are both important. They’re just not all.
A few weeks ago, Tony Esser wrote a blog post about friendship. That’s more what I’m getting at. Shortly after his election, Pope Francis commented that he thought the number one problem in the modern world is loneliness. He shocked and appalled all sorts of people for all kinds of reasons with that statement. Increasingly, I think he’s right so I’m glad that the theme has recurred frequently in his ministry. A quick Google search shows its importance in his work.
Loneliness is the subjective, psychological manifestation of the absence of community, that is, the absence of love. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (Jn 13:35). If loneliness occurs where love is not sensed, there is no Christian witness. What else is the root cause of suicide, abortion, euthanasia, promiscuity, and any number of sins other than the desperate sorrow of being made for love yet being left alone - or being afraid of being left alone?
I propose that community, love, and their most telling sign, joy, are the opposites of loneliness and the desperate sorrow that leads to death. Bad things happen in life. There’s no way around that. We are “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,” throughout our lives. Here is the difference between the sorrow that leads to despair and death and the sorrow that redeems and saves the world: communion and love. In fact, I think that the Queen of Heaven can also be Our Lady of Sorrows precisely because she is in a communion of love with her Son, with the Father, and with all of us who love them.
Communion and love bring joy even in the face of sorrows.
I might catch the ire of the same people that got pissed at the Pope, but I’m going to risk it.
One of the things that bright young Catholics most often lack is fun.
But seriously, I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we often get so wrapped up in apologetics, Christian courtship and theology of the body, having babies, being involved in church, and more, that we just forget to have fun. This is bad. It’s bad for a number of reasons but one of them is that a mirthless life is not a good witness. On a deeper and more dangerous level, I think it can leave us dry and brittle. The fun of good, clean, hearty laughter, the fun of spontaneous adventure, the fun of discovery - these things get us outside of ourselves. They cleanse us. They hit a sort of reset button. They also show that we have given up worrying, even if just for a bit. And there really isn’t a substitute.
Mind you fun is not the same as entertainment. The modern world is filled with that and it usually costs money. Fun, on the other hand, is often free or maybe involves a little bit of capital up front. Buy a frisbee and play with friends for years. A board game transforms a bored evening home to an evening of hilarity or intensity hard to match otherwise. Charades is free and so is a walk in the woods identifying trees with your kids.
The 21st century to me feels like a very mirthless place. It is almost as mirthless as it is merciless. Maybe those two defects are connected somehow. I don’t know. We know how to mock and to scorn, to sneer and to amuse ourselves. But it’s easy to go days for so many people without goofing around, giggling, running around, laughing and joking, poking and guffawing. This is bad. It’s probably diabolic.
I am not here saying that all the troubles of the modern age are rooted in a lack of laughs. But if loneliness is the deepest cause of so many sins, I think mirthlessness is perhaps how they show up in our attitude. They wear us down and make things gray.
Imagine the witness of a Christian who loves cheerfully. I don’t mean some sort of slathered-on false gaiety that takes no stock of reality. I mean the witness of someone who takes setbacks more placidly as if he knew something secret (Acts 5:41). I mean the witness of someone who never minds helping, indeed, seems to enjoy the hardest bits the most (2 Cor 9:7). I don’t mean someone who never grieves, but rather someone whose grief is less sharp and bitter, as if death had really lost its sting for him (1 Cor 15:55). What about people who seem to enjoy life and the world - who don’t need to blot it out with too much food and too much drink too much of the time? What about people who enjoy each other? What about people who have so much life and love to share that they draw others in? So much that others are drawn to them?
Also, wouldn’t it just be awesome to be that kind of person? To live in that kind of home? That kind of neighborhood?
Here’s a good first step: Pray. Pray to trust more and worry less. Pray to see things as God does. Pray for help to find the good and pure and innocent.
Another good step: Play. Play boardgames. Play sports. Play with people. And remember, it’s not whether you follow all the rules, but whether you have fun.
Wrapping up I just want to drive home the point that a lack of fun and a lack of visible joy are not the two most pressing problems in the Church today. But they certainly don’t help us at all.