Why Do We Catholics Look Miserable?
Why does it seem like many of us Catholics always seem to look so miserable?
I find it disheartening to see fellow parishioners, and sometimes clergy, walk around with drooping faces. It looks like they are dead within themselves.
In the Gospels, Christ says: “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:11).
When we look joyless, it’s like we don’t have Christ living within us. We profess our faith, but if our faces, our actions and our relationships with one another do not emulate what (or rather who) exists within us, then we are basically “faking it” all.
It is the flipside to a song we used to sing back in primary school: “J-O-Y and its down in my heart, deep, deep down in my heart. Jesus gave it to me, and no one else can destroy.”
But what got us to this point where we bottle up this joy which exists within us and walk around like it’s the end of the world?
If we look like a Church without this joy, which is meant to enlighten the hearts of others, we become off-putting not only to outsiders but to also our brothers and sisters sharing the pews with us at Mass.
Pope Francis puts it quite aptly when he says: “The word of God is not ashamed of celebration.”
The Holy Father reflected a few weeks ago on how David danced before the people, expressing his joy without feeling shy. The pope pointed out that David loved the Lord, and he was happy and joyful to bring back the ark of the Lord with dancing and singing like all the people.
Similarly, Pope Paul VI said: “The Gospel will not go forward with boring, bitter evangelisers. It will go forward only with joyful evangelisers full of life.”
Why then do we think we can take the Gospel into the homes of our families, schools of our children, the places we meet our friends and public spaces where strangers roam, with such a bitter attitude?
David danced before the people to express his joy, but it seems like we are told to “shackle up our joy” and to be more reserved as a Church. I find that this attitude of “do not lift your hands in praise and worship” or strict prohibitions on dancing during Mass restricts us from fully expressing that joy which exists within us.
Yes, we need to be reverent in our worship, but we also need to praise the Lord with all that is within us. It seems that we are worried about obeying Church laws, rites and traditions but forget that, in fact, it’s all about that relationship we have with Christ and his people.
I work a lot among our brethren from other denominations and have attended a few ecumenical services. 99% of the time, I feel welcome and part of their family, even though I’m an outsider.
“Bread lasts but a day; love is for always
On New Year’s Eve, I drove around my neighbourhood looking for a church which would be open so that I could welcome in the new year with God and his people through prayer. My parish, unfortunately, had its Mass too early the evening.
As I drove through the streets of my community, I found a church which had just started its service. I parked my car, and as I walked through the foyer, I was warmly greeted by about four or five youth who had been assigned the “job” of being welcoming hosts.
I was then shown to a seat near the back. When I sat down the congregants on either side of me greeted me and whispered: “Welcome to the service, brother.”
After the service, which I have to say felt very Spirit-filled, congregants—people whom I didn’t know from a bar of soap—said “Happy New Year”, shook my hand, welcomed me, and wished me a “happy, healthy and prosperous 2020”.
I find it so strange for these clergy from other churches to walk around with huge smiles across their faces, emulating Christ who lives within them, while so many of us Catholics walk around miserable. Are we just going through the motions?
A priest once said: “One day of life and one day closer to death.” Is this how we want to live our lives? Is this the way we want people to see us as Church? A bunch of misery guts?
Sadly, it seems like we no longer want to smell like the sheep. We distance ourselves completely from the joy Christ plants within each of us.
To recall Jesus’ joke in the parable, it’s like hiding a lamp under a bed, not allowing its light to illuminate the hearts of others.
But we have recourse to profound examples of joy.
After driving through the streets of Kolkata with Mother Teresa, one woman couldn’t hold back her tears at the poverty the people there experienced.
Seeing this, Mother Teresa gently told her: “These people have enough tears of their own. What they need from you is your smile.”
The saint also said: “Just a simple ‘hello’ can make a person’s day brighter. This feeds more than food.
“Bread lasts but a day; love is for always.
“Be Jesus to everyone you meet. And in everyone you meet, see Jesus.”
As a Church, let’s start to unbottle that joy which exists within each of us, let us be more welcoming as a Church community, and through the bitterness of this world, remember to smile.