Our culture is thirsting for joy.
These opening words laid out the groundwork for a talk brought to the Diocese of Fargo this week, through the person of Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute.
Donaghy said we've often missed the mark as Catholics when it comes to exuding joy, but there's no excuse for this, because we're living in the middle of the greatest love story of all time.
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And yet, sometimes we forget that. And it leads to things like this Simpsons episode, which had a nun playing a guitar, belting out the words, "If you're happy and you know it, it's a sin!" (hee-hee)
He said we forget that, as Pope Francis has so aptly reminded us, "The entire planet is a sacramental sign of God's love for us."
"There are two different ways to wake up," Donaghy said, quoting the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. "We can wake up and say, 'Good morning, God!' or, 'Good God! Morning.'"
But do we really want to, in Pope Francis' words, walk around looking like we've just come from a funeral, he asked? Do we really want to look like "sourpusses?" (First time that word's been used in a papal document by the way, Donaghy noted with a smile.)
He used another cartoon to create a visual of what our approach to the Church should be, sharing an old Gary Larson drawing of two kids with googly eyes hiding from an oncoming food truck with the words "liver and onions" on the side of it.
"The Church," Donaghy said, "is supposed to be the spiritual ice-cream truck" -- something we anticipate and run to greet with great joy and anticipation!
"So why was there a sexual revolution in the 1960s?" he asked. "Because we stopped singing the Song of Psalms." In other words, we forgot who we were, he said. We lost sight of the fact that the human body is an icon to get to know God.
"Scripture is a love story - a romance," he said, showing a slide of Jacob wooing Rachel at the well. "God is trying to woo us out of the desert."
So what's gone wrong? For one, Donaghy said, this reality: "Today, the thing we touch more than anything else is a screen." We're distracting ourselves with technology, when what we want more than anything is intimacy -- human connection.
Donaghy calls it "the Facebook Flick," when, instead of interacting, we search for something exciting to view in our notifications and news feeds. We are, in that sense, "desacralizing humanity," he said, calling it, in tech terms, #digitalcontraception.
To bring us back to what we really long for, he introduced us to this short film by former Disney animator Glen Keane. Beautiful, right?
"We find joy through contact with the REAL," Donaghy said, echoing the thoughts of Pope Francis. "The Church grows not through proselytizing, but attraction."
So how do we access this joy? Well, as it turns out (yes, here's the good news), it's not as hard as one might think. Borrowing a quote from Fr. Thomas Dubay, Donaghy explained it thus: "Wonder at reality demands the humility to sit at the foot of a dandelion."
In other words, as G.K. Chesterton once said, "Alice must grow small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland."
We must be become as children, or surround ourselves with children to remind ourselves who we are. We must grow little in order to receive the gifts God is presenting us every single day.
Or, as Donaghy put it, "God gives us kids so we can get back down to becoming a hobbit."
Joy, he said, comes from feeling like you belong to a community, noting that "America has never been so divided as we have been in the last week and a half (due to politics)."
But he had a suggestion for moving past this. Are you ready?
"We need to shut these machines down," (technology) and look at what is right in front of us. "There are entrances to holiness everywhere," he said. "There are opportunities for joy everywhere."
But we've got to be looking up in order to see it.
Q4U: Where did you find joy today?
Copyright 2016 Roxane Salonen
About the Author
Roxane B. Salonen, a wife and mother of five from Fargo, North Dakota, is an award-winning children’s author and freelance writer, Catholic radio host, and speaker. Roxane co-authored several spiritual works, including “What Would Monica Do?” (Ascension Press, September 2022) and writes a regular diocesan column, “Sidewalk Stories,” about her encounters at an abortion facility near her city. Her work can be found at RoxaneSalonen.com