SummaryJohn Clark debunks the myth that the Catholic Faith is no fun. In fact, it’s infinitely more than fun—and our children need to know this.
All my life, I have heard people make the claim that the Catholic Church does not let its members “have any fun.”
They seem to view—or at least claim to view—the Catholic Church as an institution that exists for the purpose of making sure that no one is happy. Hearing this nonsense, even our own children may begin listening to it. However, for a serious student of the Catholic
Faith, the irony of this “no fun” position is immediately obvious; the truth is that we Catholics are unapologetically focused on happiness.
Begging the question with a phony interrogative, they ask, “Why is it that all you Catholics talk about is the sixth and ninth commandments?”
But this query is normally posed either by a guilty conscience or by one who has never been formally introduced to the Catholic Faith.
The truth is that if one looked at the totality of two millennia of Catholic literature, it is the subject of happiness that keeps appearing and appearing. It is the first chapter and the last chapter of the Catholic canon.
The Real Question
What the student of the Catholic Faith would be more appropriate to ask is: “Why is it that all you Catholics talk about is happiness?” That would be a real question. Of course, there is an answer, and it’s a pithy one at that.
The answer is that there is no happiness apart from God.
More positively phrased, we could answer that with God in Heaven, there is only happiness: an unblemished, unmistakable, and unwavering sort of fulfilling happiness that the greatest philosophers cannot come close to conceiving in their finest flashes of brilliance.
Of course, moderns are often so focused on “fun” that they cast aside the aspiration of true happiness.
As C. S. Lewis put it,
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Criticize us if you will, but we Catholics are not easily pleased. We want something more. Infinitely more. We want the happiness that only God’s love can bring. We want the love that only brings happiness. Forgive us if we want to share that love with others because we are so excited about it.
Forgive us if, when we see someone limiting his happiness to making mud pies in a slum, we want to tell him that one day, when all transient things have passed and only the transcendent remains, we will meet again in a place where the absence of time meets the presence of the loving caress of our Creator.
Happiness is Our Destiny
Our mission is to recognize that happiness is our final goal, our destiny, or as the scholastic theologians put it, our “end.” If you read the writings of the great theologians of the middle ages, you notice that this is a consistent theme.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this a few years ago in relation to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure:
“Consequently St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure define the human being’s final goal, his complete happiness in different ways. For St. Thomas the supreme end, to which our desire is directed is: to see God. In this simple act of seeing God all problems are solved: we are happy, nothing else is necessary.
Instead, for St. Bonaventure the ultimate destiny of the human being is to love God, to encounter him and to be united in his and our love. For him this is the most satisfactory definition of our happiness.”
While Thomas and Bonaventure differed on a point of emphasis, they agreed upon the eschatology of happiness—that the complete fulfillment of happiness is found in God. Though for a variety of reasons, happiness often eludes us in this life, it will be eternally ours in the next.
Teaching the Truth
As Christian parents, what does this mean to us? What is the practical application of this teaching about happiness to our children? Very simply, it means that we cannot broadly teach our children about Christianity without illustrating a direct and unmistakable link to eternal happiness.
Happiness is no mere footnote to our faith; indeed, Christianity is about happiness. Too often, we Catholic parents have forgotten this truth. We neglect to teach our children that happiness awaits us at the end of the journey, then wonder why our children take detours along the way.
Many years ago, St. Augustine wrote: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” Make no mistake: the corollary is that to fall out of love with God is the worst divorce; the refusal to seek Him the worst nightmare; to lose Him, the greatest tragedy.
Every one of us takes a different journey, but in the end, there are only two destinations.
Our children need to be—deserve to be—taught the truth about happiness.
May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace to unapologetically teach the apologetic of happiness to our children. And to everyone else.