Column: Joy is ‘fun-damental’ to our faith

by Father Mark Goldasich

February 22. Now that’s a fathers’ day. There’s something for everyone to celebrate.

Many will readily recognize that date as George Washington’s birthday,
the founding father of our country. On Feb. 22, Catholics celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, originally commemorated by the Christians of Rome to honor their “founding father,” or first bishop. Today, the “chair” is a symbol of the pope’s role as pastor of the whole church.

There is, however, one more celebration on Feb. 22 that, sadly, many seemingly observe by their attitude and outlook on life and the world: It’s the birthday of Albert Schopenhauer, the “founding father” of pessimism. Schopenhauer was a philosopher, born in Danzig in 1788. It’s entirely possible that his personal life was the source of his pessimism. It’s said that he had no friends, never married and didn’t speak to his mother for about the last 20 years of her life. Gee, it’s depressing just reading that last sentence.

To combat falling into such a grim assessment of life, I’ve been starting every morning with a tune by Pharrell Williams, which I first heard in the movie, “Despicable Me 2.” It’s bouncy and hypnotic. I not only give in to the song’s invitation to “clap along” but can’t help but get up and dance. The song is fittingly called “Happy” and has over 65 million hits on YouTube.

The video is great. Instead of the usual svelte professional dancers, the song features regular people — young and old, men and women, fit and not so
fit — dancing with abandon, letting the music move them.

Williams sings, “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth… Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.” What’s  neat, too, is that many places throughout the world — Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong, Tunisia and even Cakovec, Croatia — have posted videos of their citizens rocking out to “Happy.” It gives a whole, new, positive perspective on the world!

In fact, it would not surprise me at all to hear someday that Pope Francis has invited Pharrell Williams to a private audience at the Vatican. From the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has reminded Christians that we cannot give in to pessimism. The day after his election, he reminded the cardinals that “a capacity to radiate hope is part of the Gospel mandate for followers of Christ,” according to John Allen Jr., in “10 Things Pope Francis Wants You to Know.”

It’s significant, too, that the pope’s recent apostolic exhortation was entitled “The Joy of the Gospel.” Our faith should not be seen as a burden, a bore, a duty or a chore. In one of my favorite passages in the document, Pope Francis writes: “One
of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses'” (85). And who in their right mind wants to follow, let alone listen to, a sourpuss?

As this is still Catholic Press Month, why not pick up a copy of “The Joy of
the Gospel” and read it for yourself? Although you can find an electronic version at: www.vatican.va, I still believe the best way to savor it is in print. You can get a copy on the U.S. bishops’ website at: ww.usccbpublishing.org or at a Catholic bookstore. It’s 152 pages long, so you might want to save it for Lenten reading and savoring.

Just for fun, imagine what it would be like for sessions of Congress or meetings at the United Nations to open with “Happy.” Wouldn’t it maybe change the tone of our discussions if we all felt free to clap and dance without embarrassment before getting down to business?

Heck, maybe even the bishops of the United States could consider opening their next big meeting with the song. That would be something to see. You know, I bet Pope Francis would be pretty “Happy” with that.

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