Wednesday, January 18, 2017
The asceticism of joy
Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,
Your patron, Philip, knew well how sadness can cling to the soul. It is for this reason that he counseled the practice of the Asceticism of Joy. The fundamental attitude that flows from the virtue of faith is joy in the Lord; being able to see through the tears to the promise of life and love. However, almost as a defensive measure our minds can begin to cling to our sadness and make the feeling of melancholy a pillow upon which we lay our heads and hearts. We find that the melancholy that suffering can produce in the soul can be made into a shell - protecting us from life. It allows us to remain static while at the same time giving a certain liberty to our angry and aggression toward the world, others, and ultimately God. There is even a certain power in being a "kill joy"; a satisfaction when there is no joy in the world around us any longer. Only then will world conform to our internal state and our suffering will be confirmed. Such a melancholic spirit in the end gives way to despair; but not before having given us long service.
For such a soul there is no worse detachment, no greater mortification than joy. Yet without this asceticism, without this practice of true faith, the heart will remain shrouded in darkness.
We must know how to detach ourselves even from suffering. We must learn to be happy even when we are unhappy. We must, in a word, work loose from ourselves. A Father of the Church used to say to himself, "There is only one way of being cured of sadness, and that is to dislike being sad." It is hard to believe this when we are suffering. As if we had chosen to be hurt! Of course not, but what is terrible is that we often choose to keep on suffering, to fan the flames of our pain, to inflame our wounds, to find our only comfort in our very discomfort. For if we keep our pain, then we also keep our right to complain, our right to withdraw into our shell, our right to hurt others and to kill their joy. And when there is no joy in the world any longer, then we will be confirmed in our pain. We have, in the meantime, only one stone to rest our head on, and it is called despair. This hard pillow will give us long service.
Indeed, nothing would be harder than to stop being unhappy. There is no worse detachment than joy.