Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Easter Monday being God's Laughter Day, I am fond of this curious, funny and mirthful poem by George Herbert written in 1633:
Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth;
Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns:
Thy Saviour comes, and with him mirth:
And with a thankfull heart his comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and crie;
And feel his death, but not his victorie.
Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,
Christs resurrection thine may be:
Do not by hanging down break from the hand,
Which as it riseth, raiseth thee:
And with his buriall-linen drie thine eyes:
Christ left his grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears, or bloud, not want an handkerchief.
It is, in a funny way, easier to be sad than to be happy and this poem makes note of that. Hope requires courage. Gloom is a form of sinful laziness, which is why the sin of sloth is not laziness (slothful people can often be in a whirl of frenzied--and empty--activity) but boredom with and sadness at the things of God. Hope requires a kind of daring and a certain (pardon the pun) devil may care laughter at the darkness of the world and the possibility of sadness. The sheer cheekiness of Christ offering us his burial shroud as a handerkerchief to dab our tears or blood is at once tender and, well, a bit funny. It's as if the Risen Christ says, "Hey! It's just a little death. I've got that beat. Chin up!"
The Christian call to joy is one of the sunniest aspects of the faith. But it is, no mistake, a hard call when life presents us with circumstances that are far from joyful C.S. Lewis says it's one thing to reflect on "God is love" in an April wood. It's another to say it as you sit next to a loved one in a cancer ward. The shock of Good Friday echoes down the ages in every sin and tragedy right to the latest news bulletin announcing some fresh outrage from the hand of man. It is the easiest thing in the world--and the most sinfully slothful--to just give in to sadness and anger and despair over that: to "still lament, and pine, and crie;/And feel his death, but not his victorie." But the Resurrection calls us to see the truth at the core of the world: that death and sin and grief, though real, do not get the last word. We are to not "feed on earth", nor become so grave that we remain in the grave. We fly with him up to heaven because, as Chesterton said, we take ourselves lightly. The ultimate April Fool prank has been played on sin, hell and death. Christ is risen! What can this world do to stop him now? Rejoice and lift up your heart! We have every reason to laugh!