The world is bored, or you would think it was since we spend so much time looking at screens. But on my porch last night I saw something that I think has the power to change the joyless, bored heart into a grateful, festive one. It was a Catholic party. More accurately, it was a feast.
There was live music, singing, dancing, drinking, eating, laughter, friendship, play, and prayer. It was All Saints Day and two babies in our community had just been baptized. It was not contrived amusement to pass a night, nor a drunken escape from troubles as worldly parties are. Our eyes were not glazed over with insobriety but wide open in joy at the goodness of life.
Josef Pieper says in In Tune with the World that when we really learn to see and contemplate reality in love (and since it was made in love this is the fullest “seeing”), that the inevitable outcome is festivity. The book itself is about Catholic festivity – the “tune” of which is in “in tune” with the truth of creation as seen by its Creator, in tune with reality – a reality where the seasons of the earth and the Church bring sacred order to our time here.
Pieper sums this idea up with a quote from St. John Chrysostom: “Where love rejoices, there is festivity.” In this great work Pieper also exposes both the false festivities of a secular society (Labor Day is a great day off, but is it festive?) and the empty commercialism that we know more of here in the U.S. – days increasingly hollowed with commerce instead of hallowed with festivity.
It is imperative that Catholics give room for their faith to overflow into festivity naturally and joyfully. This will require open eyes that see further and deeper because of the light of faith. When we see things as they are and love like God, we will rejoice, and our festivity will flow from there.
But we live in a fast age where we rarely stop in a stroll and smell the roses. We don’t stroll like old people we did – we scroll through life! All media, but social media especially, with its endless feeds is not really a seeing of things but just looking at stuff. We don’t use the noun “food”, but the verb “feed”, an apt word since it’s an endless consuming, a hunger never satiated. And that form of looking (scrolling) becomes a habit, and we become numb to life and unable to sit and contemplate, to stroll, to have true leisure – physical and interior silence itself becomes nearly impossible. We simply can’t see deeply in life when we are trained to interact with it through media. This limits our joy and delight in the real substance of things.
There’s lot’s of other examples of moments wasted in amusement, it just seems in our day that media is the overarching one. And I think because so much of what we encounter in the day is media (screen time, radio, TV, etc.) that it literally keeps our eyes away from the reality of the world which is “charged with the grandeur of God,” as the priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. The mass media age is the age of mass distraction from reality, which I think makes us less likely to rejoice in life, to be truly festive, because we don’t have eyes to see, but only eyes to scan superficially. We bounce between world’s of calculating profit and utility at work to banal amusement during “off time” – neither of which is humanity at its fullest.
I agree with authors like Abbot Nault, OSB and R.J. Snell that the sin and temptation of today is loveless sloth, but not just a form of laziness, but a snide distaste and even hatred of reality – a reality we defy through sin and untethered freedom. We untether from reality because reality is God’s and we want no such Lord over us.
“Unable to love the world,” explains Snell, “the slothful are bored and nihilistic, seeing nothing compelling or delightful in reality or their own selves… We need to dwell differently, and this requires cultural forms and practices, not merely lectures and ideas – the ‘charge’ at the heart of things needs attention.” The world uses and amuses, but it cannot delight in it the way a loving eye of faith can. But in its absence the world craves that sort of seeing. “Seeing with the eyes of Christ,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “I can give to others… the look of love they crave.”
So often our response to the boredom and lies of the world is to create programs* or bring in lecturers. But a great way to counter the world’s joyless boredom, a great “cultural form and practice”, is to take the feast days and sacramental occasions of the Church seriously and to, well, have Catholic parties! No, we don’t need keggers with a Catholic veneer, but festive gatherings that spring out of a faith that contemplates the truth. “[Festivity] is inconceivable without an element of contemplation” (Pieper).
I think this might be easier than we think, so simple we want other answers and solutions. Can we really be doing that much good for the world with a party dolled up in piety? Well, yes, we can. It is actually just the natural outcome of that beautiful and true Faith which alone sees the world, flaws and all, as it really is – and the nature and response of that Faith is joy.
“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Liven up this bored world, and let the Catholic sun shine!
*I, in fact, work for a Catholic “program” called Fraternus, but Fraternus when lived out at its best is simply the joyful brotherhood shared between generations – its not just a “program for boys coordinated for men”, but a space set apart in which to cultivate friendship. And healthy Fraternus Chapters are places of festive joy.