My wife says that I can have a conversation with anyone, anywhere. To be honest, she’s right. What can I say? I’m an extrovert! Still, I have had religious conversations in some pretty odd situations.
One time I was in an interview for a job. The guy interviewing me wanted to know why I was unavailable on Wednesday evenings. At the time, I was coordinator of my parish’s Mystagogy program. Naturally, the guy wanted to know what Mystagogy was. When I described it to him the guy asks, “Oh, you’re Catholic?”
“Yes, sir, I am,” I responded, expecting a barrage of challenges to my faith. To my surprise, however, the guy says, “You know, I have always liked and respected the Catholic Church. I’m actually Episcopalian. However, I have one problem with Catholicism.”
“What is that,” I asked curiously.
“Catholics are always so serious and sulky. You guys always seem so sad and scared when it comes to religion. You seem to focus more on God’s wrath and judgement, and not enough on the joy we should have as Christians.”
You know what? Dude had a point. In fact, I acknowledged that there tends to be a bit more solemnity in Catholicism than there is in Protestantism. Yet, I believe to attribute a lack of joy to Catholicism, or Catholics in general, misses the point.
Catholics are very joyous. Why shouldn’t we be? We have the greatest gift given to man. We have Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist! No one has more claim to joy than Catholics.
We tend not to focus enough on God’s wrath and judgement. Actually, I think Catholics have a greater tendency to forget this aspect. I mean, we have confession and a penitential system that is based entirely on God’s love and mercy. Protestants tend to view all sins as equal. Hence, according to this belief, we should all be burning in Hell. Catholicism, on the other hand, differentiates between mortal and venal sins. One deserves Hell, the other does not. Even with mortal sin, however, one may repent. So Catholicism is all about God’s love and mercy!
The seriousness, or solemnity, comes in with a certain realization. We realize that Jesus is literally present in the Most Holy Eucharist. We also realize the seriousness of sin. So with these realizations comes a certain sense of responsibility, and, with it, a certain amount of reverence/solemnity.
This solemnity, however, is not without joy. Indeed, can solemnity really be solemn without joy? I don’t think so. Now, is there a certain amount of sadness that comes with this solemnity/reverence? Yes, but that doesn’t exclude joy.
We realize our sinfulness and unworthiness. We know we deserve neither God’s forgiveness, nor His gift of the Eucharist. Yet, we take joy and feel awe at the fact that our God loves us enough to bestow these gifts on us anyway. So, although there is solemnity in Catholicism which can make us appear sulky, Catholicism is actually full of great joy. Let us spread it throughout the Earth!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity