Err on the Side of Joy

Last week, the Catholic blogosphere was all alight with the great good news that actress Katie Holmes is escaping Scientology and rejoining the Catholic Church.  This meme

was passed around faster than an amusing but accurate commentary on the nature of Mondays by Maxine.  The typical comment from my Catholic friends was, "Praise God!"  "How wonderful - prayers for Katie!"

Okay, but you see the little curved line at the bottom of the picture?  That's from the original, uncropped version (origin here; don't bother clicking.  A more dismal stew of blasphemy and foolishness you'll never find).  The original Katie Holmes photo from that page looks like this:

And I can't find the quote by Holmes anywhere except in this internet meme.  So it's fairly obvious that this "quote" was fabricated as a dig against the Church:  it's supposed to be an "out of the frying pan, into the fire" commentary, like if an actor is tired of the phoniness, corruption, and greed of show biz, so he decides to run for Congress.  Ba-dum CHING.

I can't find any compelling public evidence that Katie Holmes is returning to the Church.  Apparently the rumor, true or false, was started by an anonymous source from the choir of the church in question.  Not exactly impeccable sourcing.

But I still love this whole episode, and here's why:  because Catholics were so happy about it.  In the dozens and dozens of responses I saw among my Catholic friends, there was not a speck of nastiness -- no digs at Holmes, even from women whose lives are entirely and emphatically different from a wealthy, worldly starlet -- and even very few digs at the eminently digworthy Tom Cruise or Scientology.  There was just a  simple and sincere rejoicing over the good news that a lost sheep had returned to the fold.

This weekend, my sister's little baby was baptized, along with another baby. It was hot, I was distracted, and my kids were being rotten, so I missed most of the ceremony -- but I did crane my neck to see the actual moment of baptism.  And I craned my neck to see the other baby baptized, too.  It occurred to me that that was odd:  after all, I don't even know this kid -- wasn't even sure if it was a girl or a boy.  Maybe this child will never see the inside of a Catholic church again.  Maybe the parents only brought the baby there to please their own parents -- who knows?  But the water flowed, and a child was reborn.  The angels rejoiced, and I craned my neck, soaking in the joy as eagerly as when it was my sister's baby's turn.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to rejoice at a baptism -- not to have hope.  It's like taking a drink of water when you're thirsty:  no matter what else is going on in your life, that moment is a good one. Thirst quenched; problem solved; relief won.  Score one for a shot at eternal life! Who cares who it is, or whether anything more will come of it?  The point is, it might.  Take a look, and be happy!

The same was true for the possibly naive rejoicing over Katie Holmes.  We gave into the same impulse.  There were so many people ready to hear good news -- so many hearts are open to rejoicing.  People who've never heard of Katie Holmes before cared about her soul. 

And I don't think anyone who was taken in by the fake quote should feel embarrassed.  It's easy to be cynical; much harder, and more courageous, to be open to good news, to be always ready to hope.

We are supposed to be wise as serpents --  lithe and flexible enough to understand the ways of the world.  But we are also supposed to be innocent as doves.  We are creatures with wings.  We are not designed to spend all of our time firmly on the ground.  We are not supposed to be afraid to rejoice.

Let's not be stingy with our ability to believe in good news.  Even if the only true thing about the Katie Holmes story is that she's changing her home address, then surely all that spontaneous joy let loose into the spiritual atmosphere is a net positive for humanity!  If she hasn't rejoined the Church (or if she's joined some loosey-goosey liberal barely-Catholic Catholic church), then it's not the end of the story.  There is always hope;  there is always hope.

I'm not saying that we should be suckers.  But we're not meant to be perfectly calibrated robots that deal out little rations of good cheer when news has been analyzed and deemed sufficiently airtight.   It's worthwhile to prod our interior scales every once in a while.  Let's give our hearts a little poke, and see which way they tip.  Do we tend always toward cynicism, bitterness, and doubt?  Or are we ready and willing to rejoice?  Do we even want to hope?

If we must err, let's err on the side of joy.