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.’