In the play “The Crucible,” author Arthur Miller writes, “And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathens in the forest?!”
This quote strikes a pertinent difference between Catholicism and the Puritan branch of post-reformation Christianity in the play: happiness.
The character who speaks this line is Reverend Samuel Parris, who in accordance with the Puritan faith he practices, believes he must hang his niece and her friends, all because they expressed joy.
From a 21st century standpoint this seems insane. Joy is an important part of our faith, defining the reasons why we practice it. But post-reformation Christianity seemed to push for something else: a separation of joy from religion.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that many Catholics take this same standpoint, the separation of joy and Church.
Grace Sandra, a self-proclaimed “progressive Christian” writes in a blog post — titled “Advent explained. Time to get sad y’all.” — that, “Advent activities are supposed to help us recognize how fallen we really are, how broken every human is, how discombobulated every country is and even how restless the earth itself is with its increasing numbers of tsunami’s and earthquakes.”
In her typo-filled critique on patheos.com, Sandra argues that Christians shouldn’t be joyful throughout the four weeks leading up to the birth of our Lord and Savior.
While Sandra claims to be progressive, her beliefs clearly lie squarely between regression and Calvinism.
The Catholic Church has experienced this issue before.
Jansenism spread like wildfire throughout the church in the early 17th century, aiming to propone semi-Calvinist theology within the Catholic Church.
Cornelius Jansen, a Dutch bishop and namesake of Jansenism, believed that happiness was not a part of the Catholic faith, choosing instead to follow the ideas of predetermination and push this within the Church.
As Jansenism spread, it caused great rifts in the Catholic Church, rifts that would soon be further exposed while the Protestant reformation continued across Europe.
Future Calvinist leaders even touted Jansen as the “founder” of their religion.
In the end, Jansenism was declared a heresy and Jansenist leaders and followers alike left the Catholic Church to join the Calvinists and other similar Protestant churches.
This era of our Catholic heritage was one fraught with confusion, and Jansenism only added to it. Modern-day “progressive Christians,” such as Sandra, might be leading towards the same.
In the Old Testament we see King David dance and sing at just the thought of God, countless Psalms ask God to help us stay joyful, even through times of demise. In the New Testament, the three kings “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” upon seeing the star that would lead them to Christ.
Should we treat Advent any differently? It is clear that Advent is indeed a time of joy, and that Christmas and its celebratory period do indeed deserve to be a part of our celebration. So why did Jansenists and now modern-day “progressive Christians” push for such an absence of joy?
In reality, there is a level of solemnity to Advent. The season, as part of our faith, should also be used in preparation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”
There is definitely a need as Catholics to use Advent as a time for preparation, to reflect and find out how we can better prepare ourselves for the coming Christ. Christmas will always be the big event, the source of our Advent joy.
There is also a concern with keeping that joy throughout the full Christmas season. This season, or Christmastide, runs from the birth of our Lord till Epiphany, 12 days later. However, we may often neglect to celebrate the entire season due to burnout from Christmas festivities and anticipation for New Year’s Day.
Does this serve as evidence that we are supposed to treat the season with nothing but solemnity? Should this serve to disparage the idea of joy through our faith?
Job says, “I would leap for joy in unrelenting pain that I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”
The entire book of Job pushes this idea even further. It tells the story of a man who even when all the pain on this planet pushes against him chooses to act in joy.
Even in times of anguish, the Bible constantly challenges us to be joyful. In Advent, as we anticipate the birth of our Lord, there is no reason not to get caught up in Christmas celebrations.