The Church and the brokenhearted

I’m in the habit of tuning out homilies nowadays, especially at daily Mass, but a few weeks ago the homilist — a newly-minted permanent deacon — caught my attention in talking about joy. He said something to the effect that he wanted to punch people who approach the Eucharist with insufficient joyfulness, with too much solemnity and reverence.

Normally I’d tune that out, too, except that it was the third or fourth time I’d heard a homilist express a nearly-identical sentiment in the last two years. Such is the new pastorality: get with the program or eat linoleum.

It occurred to me then that the Church, in its modern zeal to be seen as joyful, has in practice left behind those who are mourning, brokenhearted, clinically depressed, or just plain dour, who have as much a right to be at Mass as anyone else. Looking around I noticed many of the people in attendance at that daily Mass were aging: nearly all of them had gray hair, many had walkers and canes, etc. It would not be unreasonable to think that many of them had reason for great personal sadness, with children outgrowing their need for their parents or falling away from the Christian faith completely, spouses and other family members dying, health failing, finances tightening, etc. I don’t generally pay attention to the communion lines but I wonder how many who were otherwise well-disposed to receive communion took the homilist’s chastising personally and elected to remain in the pews.

Life is filled with joys, and faith, hope, and charity offer many more; but it is filled, too, with sorrows, and those sorrows are not always of a purely natural character. Blessed are those who mourn, Christ tells us from the pages of Scripture. Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears, we cry out to the Blessed Virgin. With tears do I water my couch, bemoans the Psalmist. The Church forgets that to her own detriment, and at the risk of making her ‘joy’ look hollow and alien and inauthentic. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; is it much to ask that his shepherds be, as well?

An ancillary note: we often hear talk about ‘clericalism’ given our new Holy Father’s inclinations. What I described above is a kind of clericalism in that it involves clerics exhibiting an unseemly fixation on external appearances to the exclusion and neglect of more meaningful interior realities. There’s an older and more immediately recognizable word for that kind of clericalism, and it’s ‘Pharisaism.’

14 thoughts on “The Church and the brokenhearted

  1. One feels like saying:

    What enormous trouble for Christendom could have been avoided if we Christians had made sure, when thinking about and discussing this Sacrament, that we never strayed far from our Lord’s few but certain words: that the Sacrament he instituted is His true Body and Blood, given for the forgiveness of sins.

    With those words in mind — what need of denial of both kinds to the laity? what need for the development of a whole tradition in which the Body and Blood of Christ are not given in the Sacrament? what need for some of our debates about who is the right recipient and who should be excluded? The sacrament is for sinners who believe that, in it, they receive the true Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

    With these essential truths in mind, what need for hectoring people for insufficient displays of “joyfulness”? Perhaps they are rightly burdened by the consciousness of their sins. What need for the characteristic mainline custom of “inclusive” invitations to people who have no intention of forsaking their sins?

    But perhaps the Sacrament will be the subject of futile inventions and false traditions, if not till the last day, then at least till we arrive at that narrow time when the great falling away has been effected.

    “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

  2. When I’m at mass I want to quieten my mind so that I’m focused or “turned” the right way. For me it helps if there is a certain quiet solemnity and ritual. That’s the reason I prefer a dignified mass, rather than there being an absence of cheerfulness in my personality.

    • Even this seems to grant a great deal to the Deacon. An absence of cheerfulness in your personality would not be a sin even if it were there, would it? The idea that people should go around smiling all the time seems twisted. It is new. Just look at photographs or painted portraits from before, say, WWII. It’s striking how few people are displaying toothy grins.

      • I believe that toothy grins occurred spontaneously before the mid-twentieth century, but the marmoreal rictus of the present day was unknown. An open-mouthed smile is a natural human reaction to moments of great happiness, such as reuniting with loved ones or enjoyment of glorious fun. One sometimes sees it in old paintings of young women at country dances. But it does not appear that anyone ever made themselves smile, and I do not think this was only due to the prevalence of bad or missing teeth. To adopt a toothy grin in a portrait would have struck these people as absurd, rather like affecting a grimace, a scowl or a rapt expression. I’m not sure what caused the change, but blaming Hollywood is always a safe bet. Movie stars could show off their perfect teeth and make regular folk feel inferior in one more way, and the whole industry was based on our learning to accept fake emotions as real.

  3. Exhortations to feel joy are misplaced because joy cannot be willed. In fact joy, of all emotions, may be the one that most takes us unaware. We receive joy; we don’t make it. The proper emotion to feel when receiving the sacrament is, I would say, gratitude, and this is something I can choose to feel. As you say, for a great many people, life is pain and they properly feel gratitude when the pain is relieved. These same people would welcome any joy that might come their way, but it isn’t really their fault when it doesn’t.

  4. I’m constantly left with the impression that we’re radically disconnected with the attitudes and practices of our ancestors. Even pretty recent ancestors.

      • This raises a question that is actually fairly interesting. Has anyone done a study of the Meyers-Briggs complexion of various denominations, or for that matter of various religious orders? Who wants to bet that Capuchins and Trappists score way, way out on the INTP dimensions?

  5. Farcical, though not amusing. Given that we just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, allow me a Whovian reference. Does anyone remember “The Happiness Patrol”? It was poorly executed (Sylvester McCoy era), but the idea is a gem. Basically, a group of harpies runs a totalitarian society wherein they demand that everyone be “happy.” And they kill anyone who fails to get with their program. Matriarchy’s brave new world . . .

    Kristor, I’m a very strong INTJ — perhaps an OCD OFM according to your take on MB.

    • Aha! A strong J, eh? No wonder you have no patience for the notion that we Fell on account of ignorance …

      See, here’s the thing: people like me who have a high P score are prone to sins of omission, while those with high J scores are prone to sins of commission. The former are waiting for their ignorance to abate, while the latter are plunging recklessly ahead … 😉

  6. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2013/12/04 | Free Northerner

  7. “Clothe yourself then in joy where God delights to be. Make it your delight. For every joyful person acts well, thinks rightly, and tramples sadness underfoot. The gloomy person on the other hand always acts badly. In the first place such a one does wrong by grieving the Holy Spirit who is given to us as joy. Then … the gloomy person is guilty of impiety in not praying to the Lord … for prayer offered in sadness lacks the strength to ascend to the altar of God . . . Sadness mingled with prayer prevents it from rising, just as vinegar mingled with wine robs it of its flavour . . . Purify your heart then of the sadness that is evil, and you will be living for God. And all those who have stripped themselves of sadness in order to put on joy will likewise be living for God.” (The Shepherd of Hermas)

    If the Mass is the foretaste of heaven, then it is also the source of a proper joy. Not the ‘marmoreal rictus’ but the place of wholly loving acceptance. I’ve written a bit more about this here:


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