Thursday, November 6, 2014

Supernatural Joy and the Folk Music Mass

There are two extremes regarding joy in the spiritual life: one is a forced depression, which St. Teresa of Avila famously warned against. Contrition, while deeply sorrowful, is not overwhelming to the point of despair but rather strengthens the soul to trust more firmly in God, to hope for assistance to rise from sin, and to rejoice in God's love.

The other extreme is an undifferentiated joy, one that lacks discernment. Not every joy is holy, and not every joy is of Christ. A person may smile during Holy Mass for many reasons, and not every reason may be a good one. There are many who are temperamentally excited and happy-go-lucky, and some of these people happen to be Christians. Does that mean that they radiate Christ because they are so constantly joyful? Hardly.

St. John of the Cross distinguishes six kinds of joy: temporal, natural, sensory, moral, supernatural, and spiritual (Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.17.2; trans. K. Kavanaugh).

Temporal joy originates over riches, worldly honor, status, prestige (ibid., 3.18.1).

Natural joy is caused by "beauty, grace, elegance, bodily constitution [i.e. physical looks], and all other corporeal endowments; also, in the soul, good intelligence, discretion, and other talents [....]" (3.21.1).  God grants these latter gifts only so that He may be better known and loved (ibid.). This second joy is the source of lust (cf. 3.22.2).

Sensory joy refers to things of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as well as images in the imagination (3.24.1). The distinction here between natural and sensory goods is subtle and metaphysical since St. John was trained as a philosopher and theologian. Nevertheless, his point is the same.

Moral goods refer to virtues and the practice of mercy and good works (3.27.1). St. John tells us that "though Christians ought to rejoice in the moral goods and works they perform [...] they ought to rejoice [...] that insofar as they perform these works for the love of God, these works procure eternal life for them" (ibid., §4). Thus we ought not stop to look at our good works and congratulate ourselves, but to look to God and thank Him for the grace to serve Him.

Supernatural goods refer to the"gifts and graces of God" (3.30.1) as well as extraordinary graces, such as healing, miracle working, visions, etc.

Finally, spiritual joy derives from all those things "that are an aid and motivating force in turning the soul to divine things and communion with God" (3.33.2). This can occur in several ways: through goods that motivate us, through goods that provoke or persuade us, through those that direct us, and those that perfect us directly. Holy images are an example of motivating goods (3.35.1), and preaching is an example of a provocative good (3.45.1). St. John gives this advice: "On seeing the image [the faithful] should not allow their senses to become absorbed in it [....] They should pay no attention to these accidents; they should not dwell on the image but immediately raise the mind to what is represented. They should prayerfully and devoutly center the satisfaction and joy of their will in God, or the saint being invoked [....]" (3.37.2).

St. John of the Cross warns against turning even the Church's ceremonies into vain objects that prevent our union with God, such as even Holy Mass:
These people attribute so much efficacy to methods of carrying out their devotions and prayers [....] They put more trust in these methods than they do in the living prayer [....] For example, they demand that the Mass be said with a certain number of candles, no more nor less; or that it be celebrated at a particular hour, no sooner nor later; or that it be said after a certain day, not before; [...] and that the person performing the ceremonies have certain endowments and characteristics. (3.43.2)
He says further on, "The manner of saying Mass should be left to the priest who represents the Church at the altar, for he has received directions from her as to how Mass should be said. [...] And regarding other ceremonies in vocal prayers and other devotions, one should not become attached to any ceremonies or modes of prayer other than those Christ taught us" (3.44.3-4).

In other words, St. John's point repeatedly is that our joy must be in God alone; any attachment to joy in anything other than God will hinder our union with God. His great guiding principle is the following:
I should like to offer a norm for discerning when this gratification of the senses is beneficial and when not. Whenever spiritual persons, on hearing music or other things, seeing agreeable objects, smelling sweet fragrance, or feeling the delight of certain tastes and delicate touches, immediately at the first movement direct their thought and the affection of their will to God, receiving more satisfaction in the thought of God than in the sensible object that caused it, and find no delight in the senses save for this motive, it is a sign that they are profiting by the senses and the sensory part is a help to the spirit. [...]  
Thus they are not solicitous about these sensible goods; and when, as I say, these good are offered to them, the will immediately leaves them aside, passing on to God. [...]
Yet anyone who does not feel this freedom of spirit in these objects and sensible delights, but finds that the will pauses in and feeds on them, suffers harm from them and ought to turn from their use. Though according to reason one may want help from them in order to go to God, nonetheless they assuredly prove more a hindrance than a help. [...] 
Every joy unaccompanied by this negation and annihilation of all other joys—even when these concern something apparently very elevated—is vain, without profit, and a hindrance to union of the will with God. (3.24.5-7)
That being said, what kind of joy does the following tend to provoke? For empirical evidence, check the comments. Most of them focus on the song, on the joyful singers, on the performance, on how fun the song is, on how much the singers are enjoying singing. Even at the end, one girl can be seen shaking her arm in sync with the tambourine. Prima facie, such a movement doesn't indicate joy in God but joy in the tambourine. Hardly any comment goes to the point that the song makes the listener want to love and serve God more deeply. What is said is just as important as what is not said.

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