Converging and Convincing Proof of God: The Joy of Being
for grace--charis--and the Greek word for giving thanks--eucharisto.
In his biography of St. Francis of Assisi, Chesterton links joy with the mystic's awareness that being was not something that could be taken for granted, but that being is a gift that God brought out of nothing. A mystic like St. Francis beholds, as he sees God and nothing else, the "the beginningless beginnings in which there was really nothing else" but God. He then appreciates not only "everything," but also the "nothing of which everything was made."
Everything is a gift brought out from nothing, ex nihilo, by God the Creator of all things. The mystic is, as it were, brought to the time "when the foundations of the world are laid," and there he joins "with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy" and expresses a spiritual joie d'Ítre. Thank God--He that is--that He included us in his to be!
In Chesterton's book Orthodoxy, one encounters a fully-developed philosophy of joy which is capped with a theology of joy.
For Chesterton, the modern philosophies were absolutely wrong because of their sorrow. "The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I still felt depressed even in acquiescence."
Certainly one of those modern philosophers was Nietzsche who had a horrible fault, Chesterton thought. And that was his inability to laugh. The best he could do was sneer. This, certainly Chesterton must have believed, arose from Nietzsche's inability to appreciate the common things of life, in particular that most common thing we share with all creation: being. No wonder Nietzsche thought God was dead! Nietzsche had no joie d'Ítre, and it drove him to philosophical insanity.
Chesterton would not let the modern philosophers get him down. He had heard another report. "But I had heard that I was in the wrong place," he says in Orthodoxy, "and my soul sang for joy like a bird in spring."
Wrong place? What did Chesterton mean?
What Chesterton meant is that for all the joie de vivre we find on earth, in the temporal life, the earth is not the right place to look for the joie d'Ítre. Every thing was the "wrong place," as the right place was where there was no thing from which every thing came to be. It is at the interstice between Creator and created where we get our joie d'Ítre. If there is no Creator, then being is not a gift, and there is no joy in it, and there is no possible One to whom we can give thanks.
Chesterton saw that the experience of joy at the very thought that there was being rather than nothing, found its perfect answer, its supernatural companion in the Christian faith and in the Gospels.
Grace--supernatural joy--built on nature--natural joy. Joie de la gr‚ce built on joie d'Ítre. It was a perfect fit.
"Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial . . . . . praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. . . . . Joy ought to be expansive . . . . Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. . . . . Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
In the book Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch, the morose Kafka commented on reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy and The Man who was Thursday: "Er ist so lustig, dass man fast glauben kŲnnte, er habe Gott gefunden." "He is so joyful, that one might almost believe that he had found God."
Yes, Kafka was right. Chesterton had found God, and then he had found Jesus and His Church, and all this through joy, an inerrant guide. He found Him first naturally in the joie d'Ítre which seemed to escape the melancholy Kafka. He found Him yet again, in a higher key, in the joie de la gr‚ce of the Gospels and the Catholic Faith.
As Cardinal Ratzinger--himself a fan of Chesterton--put it in his book Light of the World, "My life has always been traversed by this conviction: it is Christianity that gives joy and makes it grow." Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his most recent book that the Gospel story begins with the angel Gabriel's salutation to Mary (often translated as "Hail"), but which is better rendered as: Rejoice! (Luke 1:28: chaire)
Chesterton's life was nothing but an incarnation of one phrase in St. Paul's epistle to the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4)
Gift. Joy. Thanks. What a way to live!
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: existence of God, proofs of God, joy, Chesterton, Andrew M. Greenwell, joie de vivre, joie d'etre
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