Sorrowful, yet Always Rejoicing

On the 4th Sunday of Lent, during the Introit, the Church puts the words of Isaiah on our lips: “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” But how can we rejoice when so many countless evils surround us and threaten our salvation? This is a paradox that many Catholics try to avoid. 

Those who are worldly live a compromise between their faith and the pleasures of this world. While they act like Catholics on Sundays, they adopt the customs and slogans of worldly society during the week. Such persons are “Sunday Catholics.” Christ sternly warns these lukewarm Christians in the book of the Apocalypse: “Because you are neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”1

However, Modernism today is attempting a new form of compromise. It does this by ignoring sin, the sight of which causes sadness, and it retains in Christian spirituality only the love of God and the goodness of man. This amputated spirituality has literally gouged out the eyes of many Catholics, including the highest ranks of the clergy: they no longer see evil, and they no longer want to see it. 

The most recent example of this compromise is the document Fiducia Supplicans. However, blindness does not produce true joy. That is why the modern liturgy makes use of the joyful artifices of the world to give an false appearance of joy: guitars, drums, singers, clapping, and sometimes screaming that borders on hysteria (particularly among charismatics)... all the paraphernalia of the world goes into it. However, it resembles the joy of an alcoholic rather than the joy of children of God! 

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those Catholics who only have eyes for evil. Their lives are full of anxiety and sadness because they only see what is bad and disordered around them. It is a remarkable thing if these Christians do not end up in despair! Like their predecessors, these unfortunate people live by an amputated spirituality: they have forgotten the power of grace.

Fulton J. Sheen has summed up magnificently the profound motive for Christian joy: “The pagan must always be the pessimist, for he must always feel that this life is too short to give a man a chance, and the Christian will always be an optimist, for he knows that this life is long enough to give a man a chance for eternity.”2

The root of our joy, then, is the certitude that this life has a purpose that is not of earth. This life has been given us so that we can sanctify ourselves and obtain the eternal joy of Heaven. We must live in the light of this doctrine in the midst of joys as well as sorrows.

In the midst of blessings (I am speaking of legitimate joys, not the joys that result from sin) it is not difficult to taste divine and supernatural joy. In the midst of sorrow, however, it is more difficult. How can we rejoice when we see our faults and the evil that surrounds us? It is at this point that the true Christian resolutely turns away from false worldly or modernist joys. He does not want to accommodate himself to the world, nor blind himself to evil, thinking that evil is not so serious because God is Love!... The Christian is first and foremost lucid. Saint Bernard wrote to Pope Eugene: “The society of the wicked is no safer for your virtue than the proximity of a snake is for your life.”3

Lucid Christians take the time to reflect on the means of their sanctification. Saint Bernard wrote: the spiritual man must “precede all his actions with this threefold consideration: First, is it permitted? Secondly, is it proper? (...) not everything that is permitted is necessarily suitable or useful.”4  Our answer must be considered in the light of our ultimate end. In this way, we can keep ourselves and our families away from many of the evils that could threaten our salvation.

But what about those dangers we cannot escape? Because we live in a materialistic world, it is impossible to avoid all dangers. Saint Bernard wrote: “use wisely an evil of which you are not the author to do all the good you can.”5  To cite just one example: we can take advantage of the prevailing immorality (of which we are not the author) to rediscover the Creator’s plan for the family together with the laws that govern marriage and family life. We can explain these laws to our young people, and together we can practise the virtue of purity by implementing practical means to remove these sources of perversion from our lives.

This is the Christian paradox: on the one hand, we hear “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” because in every place and at every time the grace of God calls us to eternal salvation. On the other hand, the Gospel tells us “Blessed are those who weep” because evil, and particularly moral evil, is a source of sadness. To weep at the sight of evil is already manifests a longing to distance oneself from it in order to attach oneself to Christ, the true source of joy. Sadness and joy therefore coexist in the soul, and it will be so as long as there is evil in the world. This sadness, insofar as it leads us away from sin, infallibly directs us towards the possession of the eternal good which is the only source of true joy.

  • 1 Apoc. III, 16
  • 2Go to Heaven, p. 20
  • 3De consideratione, L. IV, 9.
  • 4Id, L III, 15
  • 5Id, L I, 12