punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How Not To Be a Frowny Faced Catholic

When it came to convincing Eve to eat the apple, it was all in the marketing.

“See this? It’s not that bad,” the devil said to Eve (paraphrased, of course). And indeed, to Eve, it didn’t seem that bad. (Pretty tricksie on the devil’s part considering she wouldn’t really have known what how bad bad could get in a prelapsarian state). So she ate. That was all…and that was enough: here we are today still battling our fallen nature.

The marketing hasn’t changed either. “That really bad thing, yeah, it’s not that bad,” comes the monotonously repetitive message of culture.

Only today the ‘fruit’ the devil now offers to tempt us away from God has become more dynamic. A temptation may come disguised as a completely reasonable or inevitable option. And I am personally convinced that the devil still has one last 'fruit' with which to tempt the fully convinced Catholic and that is grumpiness.

But grumpiness doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, does it? We are Catholic, after all, and the world always half expects us to be miserable anyway, right? That and we have so much more to live up to, don’t we, and so many battles on all sides we fight every day? If people only knew what we suffer, they too would see how tough it is to crack out the tidings of good cheer!

See what I did there? I just listed all of the reasons that sometimes enable me to shirk not giving the world a cheerful face and it all amounts to the devil’s most frequently used, base marketing strategy of “it’s not that bad.” Why does the devil bother with making us just plain old glumbots? Because it works; in fact, it’s deadly! Let me explain.

The hedonist is the most boring person for the devil to try to tempt because he knows they’re going to ‘give in’ anyway. A Catholic, on the other hand, who is really trying to adhere to Church teachings and live a faithful life is much more fun for the devil to take down. Therefore, he tempts us with discontentedness, for, just in case we still manage to go to mass, say our rosaries and do charitable works, he knows we can still accomplish those things with downtrodden expressions, feelings of resentment and bitterness in our hearts.

That way, when others see how much ‘doing good in God’s name,’ doesn’t make us happy, they’re put off by faith altogether. And why should people believe if the so-called professed ‘believers’ are just as miserable as everyone else? Not believing, then, becomes an understandable thing and we are back to temptation in its most deceptive form: reasonableness. The stakes are really that high, and that’s why the devil keeps that ‘frowny face Catholic’ card handy (especially on Sundays as you are getting ready to go mass, I think).

Bottom line, without cheerfulness, we neutralize ourselves in our faith, so that we are indistinguishable from the next pagan on the street (and the sad fact is that many such pagans often seem to be more content than we do)! So how do we do it? How do arrive at a genuine, divinely rooted cheerfulness that is not based on our emotions or anything worldly whatsoever?

First of all, accept yourself as you are. If you are like me, you may struggle with being cheery but don't beat yourself up over it! Take a deep breath and realize that God already knows intimately where you are on the lightheartedness spectrum and when we are the most tempted to feel down. And no, I don’t think cheerfulness is just a personality thing – we are all genuinely called to be light to the world, and not groggy swamp things.

Secondly, allow yourself to be ministered to. We all carry wounds within us which may hinder our attempts at cheer, which simply need time, mercy and love to heal. Healing requires patience and the medicine often tastes bitter. But prayer, prayer, and prayer is the way to bear a cross, or sometimes, even a blessing. I realize that it probably feels cliché to hear someone say “Pray!” but, I ask you, do we really know of a better way? Jesus often went off on His own to be alone and converse with God. If He needed it, well, good heavens, I’m pretty sure we do also.

Lastly, but not last by any means (you may even want to start with this) – do something for someone else. If you can, why not sacrifice in some way for someone else? St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote that, "To give oneself sincerely to others is so effective that God rewards it with a humility filled with cheerfulness." While I don’t completely comprehend the mystery of why saints actually prayed to suffer crosses, I suspect it has something to do with how suffering potentially stops us from worrying about lesser, worldly concerns, and compels us to submerge ourselves into loving others.

And is there any greater subversion to the devil’s prerogative than by being conformed to Christ through sacrifice? I doubt it.

Following these three suggestions, if it still seems impossibly hard to muster a smile, it may be helpful to consider the following (it is for me, anyway): cheerfulness is probably the best mindset for accomplishing God’s will. In other words, maybe the moment we stop bemoaning all of the world’s imperfections and injustices, we may actually start acting in a way that genuinely brings a sense of Christ’s kingdom to others. As our Holy Father reminds us in Jesus of Nazareth:
The 'Kingdom of God' is not to be found on any map...it is located in man's inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space.
I suppose I've grown more sensitive to cheerfulness as I get older, mostly because I rarely encounter it 'in the world' these days. Think about it - how often do we actually find someone with a carefree, childlike attitude that pays no heed to bad weather, or being cut off in traffic, or stuck in a slow line etc.?

Actually, I'll tell you where I have found it glimmers of it recently: amongst those with Down Syndrome. One high functioning DS group visits my gym and when I've spoken with some of them, I've been absolutely floored by how friendly and un-selfconscious they are! It's made a huge impact on me spiritually and I'm still praying about how I can model their behavior in my life. More posts about this in the future, I am sure!

As Christians, more sanguiness in our witness is never a bad thing. One of my favorite quotes about this comes from Patrick Madrid: "You can't hear the world laughing at you if you are laughing harder than the world is. But if you aren't laughing, man oh man, can you really hear it loud."

By the same token if you are laughing louder, those around you might just wonder what you have that makes you regard your super-Catholic yoke as light and easy. Then they might try this whole Faith thing, because Faith, it would seem, is not that bad after all. Truthfully, in Faith we have the fullness of life, which is not easy but totally worth it. Now that’s a divine marketing plan that we can all get into!

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