Monday, 15 March 2010

In sickness and in mirth

A slow week last week on the blog, due in part to living a fast life, no doubt. The result: I'm struck down with a man cold. Death could be only hours away. I'm not sure I'm ready to go quite yet. Aching limbs, sore head and blocked air passages, not to mention a general lack of wellbeing. And the plastering man is coming soon so I cannot stay in bed. I think I want to trade this week in for next.

We had a pretty imposing mid-Lent sermon yesterday for Laetare Sunday. 'How is the Army?' the padre asked ... And, like an army, I think we all shuffled our feet and mentally answered the same thing: we're dodging and ducking as best we can! Time to examine our Lenten irresolutions, me thinks. I don't suppose it would have done any good to plead the Fifth, especially since we're in the UK and (pace, dear American readers) the Fifth has no standing whatsoever in canonical or divine law. It actually looks like we might be forced to take the rest of Lent with a degree of seriousness. And we, but a band of Shakespearean Dogberries.

I tell you nought for your comfort,
Yea, nought for your desire.

It couldn't be worse actually, given that today is the Ides of March to boot. And we learn this morning that David Beckham has ruptured his achilles tendon and is off the catwalk for four months. Whose idea WAS the 15th March?


Well, this won't do. I'm not going to inflict any enforced mirth on the proceedings. But as GKC says, it is easy to be serious; the really difficult thing, the thing that is worthwhile attempting, is to be frivolous. I wonder if this thought for GKC began with the philosophy of Mark Tapley, who befriends young Mr Martin Chuzzlewit when the latter is down on his uppers. Mark could have been happy in the idyll of the Green Dragon whose widowed landlady, Mrs Lupin, he wanted to marry. But instead, he decided to test his resolution to be jolly by setting out on his adventures. Jollines isn't jolliness, he argued, except when it is sustained under circumstances of great difficulty. Which he naturally achieves.

Well, the philosophy of jolliness is one thing; the practice of jolliness quite another. But I suppose if one is looking for jolliness in sanctity, you need look no further than St Philip Neri or St John Bosco. Where are their like today? I wonder if the logic holds here: it is easy to be a serious saint, but for a real trier, give me a jolly one instead. Who was it said, 'Lord save us from solemn saints?' St Teresa of Avila? Could it be that seriousness is a diguised form of self reliance? Or am I just finding a stick to beat my conscience prickers? The human heart! It should be called the myth generator.

Well, let's not take that too seriously. In fact let's not take it seriously at all. Another Chesterton thought: human life is unexpected just at the point where we think we've worked out the logic. So, if an alien visited earth, he might speculate: a man has two legs, two arms and two eyes, therefore, he will also have two noses and two mouths. Except that he doesn't.

Thus religion. Religion involves solemn mysteries, solemn liturgies and solemn responsibilities: therefore it should involve solemn moods ...? Arguably not. As I say, Neri and Bosco thought not. Avila didn't agree. And neither do I (though that's of no consequence to anyone but me).

One last step in this argument: why the mirth? All kinds of reasons, but how about this: because mirth is one of the conditions of self forgetfulness. GKC one more time:

There remains always this great boast, perhaps the greatest boast that is possible to human nature. I mean the great boast that the most unhappy part of our population is also the most hilarious part. The poor can forget that social problem which we (the moderately rich) ought never to forget. Blessed are the poor; for they alone have not the poor always with them. The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never forget it.

And there you have it. Grace means self forgetting, and so, arguably, does religion. I'm reminded of the words of an old Abbot to a young monk who had just taken his vows:

Now, Joe, there are two things you need to remember. First, you have just taken vows in monastic life and you must take it very, very seriously. Second, don't take it too seriously.

That would make a Puritan scream hypocrisy, and might make a few serious Catholics wince. But it has the sense of the saints.

1 comment: