Jubilate Sunday

“Happiness is a feeling, joy is a fact,” it says here, in this (usus antiquior) pamphlet for the Third Sunday After Easter. I would go farther than that, in extension of something I said yesterday in passing (and often say). I would say happiness is a theory. A modern theory.

Check out your Psalms (4, 15, 42, 50, 67, 93, 96, &c, always Catholic numbering on this Idlesite) and it will be seen that there, as elsewhere through the Old Testament, and also the New Testament, joy is a gift of God, not dependent upon external happenstance, or passing events. It is the gift that gives, for it is likewise directed back to God, in glorification (9, 63, &c). Joy, in the heart of human being, is thus, in comparison to our transient “nice feelings” — inexplicable, inscrutable, impenetrable, enigmatic, unaccountable, undefinable, unfathomable, and astonishing — like any fact that does not fit a theory, and cannot be made to. Or in the last earthly analysis, joy is inexcusable.

Whereas, happiness always has its reasons. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad.

I could imagine, only for the sake of argument I assure you, being made quite happy by the death of my worst enemy and oppressor. The feeling would be perfectly sincere, it would not have to be faked. To make this familiarly modern, and thus especially sordid, let us think of a divorced spouse, for instance, or some other person who has cost us a lot of money, and promises to cost us a lot more, but who, suddenly, won’t be bothering us any more. Please don’t tell me this isn’t genuine happiness.

But I would not call it joy.

Or a modern thinks, winning the lottery. I have never bought a ticket, and thus cannot reasonably expect to win, but if I had, and my numbers came in, I can plausibly imagine being happy about it. This, anyway, is my theory. But such is the paradox of life, that winning the lottery is, practically speaking, the worst thing that can happen in most human lives. Again and again I hear stories of people utterly destroyed by wealth for which they were not prepared, as much as they would have been by some semi-natural disaster for which they were equally not prepared. Governed, like typical moderns, by theory, they set out to spend it on what will make them happy: extravagant luxuries and pleasurable indulgences of every kind. Bad move. Very bad move.

There are rich people who are reasonably happy. I’ve noticed most of those inherited their wealth, which is a different thing from winning the lottery, there being no “before” and “after.” They are simply contented in a way of life. There are poor people equally happy; I have met quite a few. The contentment itself is an augury of joy: a fact not a theory.

Money is what we usually count in, but currencies are in many forms. I am thinking now of a right fool who, for his sins, managed to attract the attention of a ridiculously beautiful society girl: “eye candy,” as they say, with whom to inspire envy in one’s fellow males, and awe in some of the females. … Hooo, what an unhappy man he is today. Had he been my son I might have counselled him to avoid “high maintenance women.”

Now, square this, and imagine the lives of “beautiful people,” which is to say, stunning on both sides, and well-paid for our pleasure in looking at them. It is not, however, happiness we are looking at, here. Not if we read the Daily Mail. We are only looking at happiness “in theory.” In practice all the beautiful people grow old and wrinkly. And then they die.

Joy is what I associated with the (gorgeously wrinkly) Mother Teresa: the one who said she wouldn’t touch a leper for a million dollars. Only for the love of Christ. As we now know from her diaries she had very little happiness to run on. And her supply of joy was from a moment in adolescence, when she received her calling; it was never once renewed. But it was enough to see her through to sanctity.

For joy is something that just happens; a surprise. It is not from this world, and so, it cannot be ordered from a catalogue. It cannot be earned, and in its absence, it cannot even be imagined. One has it, or has it not. It is a fact, bestowed by God, like every other thing He has bestowed, a list which incidentally includes oneself, and the universe. So if you don’t have it, but want it, how do you get it?

One possible answer is, I don’t know.

Perhaps a better answer is to ask politely, and more to the point, humbly and prayerfully out of a flowering of good works, of Him who bestows all unwithering gifts. In doing which we might discover that this was offered from the start, that it never was denied to anyone who asked. (Psalms 33, 36, &c. … Matthew 7, Luke 11, &c. …)

But they didn’t ask. It may not even have occurred to them. For they were too busy pursuing a theory of happiness.