Recently, I received a note from a reader that said, “I don't understand your ‘Merry Catholic’ email address. Being raised Catholic, it seems to me that Merry and Catholic never fit together.”
Oh my, where to begin?
It’s certainly true that there is a pervasive stereotype about Catholicism as being strict and stern and guilt-ridden and joyless. In other words, the exact opposite of “merry.” And this is because — well, let’s be honest — many Catholics throughout history have been strict and stern and guilt-ridden and joyless.
The important thing to understand is that “non-merry” behavior by so many people is proof of a key Catholic teaching: the reality of original sin. Catholics are not grumpy and stern because they’re Catholic; it’s because they are human, and therefore, prone to sin.
True Catholicism is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is liberating and joyful. Knowing that God really loves us and that He passionately desires to forgive our sins and offer us the gift of eternal life should make us laugh and sing and dance. (Even though the Gospel message SHOULD make us react this way, I’d suggest not doing that during the middle of Mass, as your pastor might not understand.)
There are many things in this world that are entertaining and give us pleasure. Some of these things make us smile for a while but have nasty aftereffects, like hangovers, empty bank accounts, paternity suits, and seven-to-twelve years in a federal penitentiary. So, it’s not surprising that someone in a position of authority — parent, teacher, coach, nun, priest — might offer stern lectures about avoiding certain pleasurable things. And these stern lectures may come across as being the opposite of “merry.”
Our main focus needs to be on the one and only reason Catholicism exists: to get people into Heaven. This is a most joyful and merry goal.
Wait, you thought the main reasons the Catholic Church exists was to collect priceless artwork in Rome and have regular Saturday night potluck suppers at the parish social center?
Nope, the Church exists because Jesus Himself founded it; and He founded it because human beings have eternal souls and He desperately longs for each of us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him. That’s why Catholicism exists.
Over the years many Catholics, laypeople and leaders alike, have displayed very un-merry behavior. These sinful attitudes and actions have made it easy for people to stereotype the Church as sour and dour, to the point a reader asks in all sincerity how I can claim that “merry” and “Catholic” fit together.
However, as I mentioned earlier, when you understand that the main purpose of Catholicism is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ — specifically the fact that He wants to forgive our sins, fill us with His love, and bring us into Paradise for all eternity — then Catholicism really ought to make us laugh and sing and dance for joy.