Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Christian Optimism (August 12)

1. There are two kinds of optimism. The first is the optimism of worldlings who expect nothing but pleasure from life. They run away from anything which smacks of sacrifice or self-control, and as a result virtue is completely outside their grasp. Their motto is the "carpe diem" of the poet Horace. (Horace, Carm. I, 2:8) Living for the day in this fashion, they seem to uphold the philosophy which the Book of Wisdom puts on the lips of the foolish: Come, let us enjoy the good things that are real, and use the freshness of creation avidly. Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no springtime blossom pass us by. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds ere they wither; let no meadow be free from our wantonness. (Wisdom 2:6-8)

This kind of optimism is an inversion of true human values. It is the result of the domination which man's lower instincts can sometimes acquire over his reason. But because our natural longing for what is good can never be completely stifled, this pleasant epicurean approach always leaves in its wake a sense of disillusionment.

Sooner or later this optimism is converted into pessimism. Human pleasure must always turn to sorrow, and at this stage, unless some miracle of divine grace intervenes, the spirit rebels and falls prey to despair. It is true that most of us will have avoided the worst excesses of the epicurean outlook, but we may have developed a distortedly comfortable and selfish approach to life. If this is so, we should remember that our lives are in conflict with Christian principles.

Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, Jesus said, t remains alone. But fit dies, it brings forth much fruit. (Cf. John 12:44) Unless you repent, you will all perish. (Luke 13:5) The kingdom o f heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force. (Mt. 11:12) If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

Let us consider whether our lives are in accordance with this teaching.

2. There is also a Christian optimism, for Christianity is essentially optimistic. The Jansenist conception of Christianity as a gloomy and fearfully exacting creed is quite erroneous. Jesus has told us that His yoke is easy and His burden light, and St. Paul speaks of the arrival of the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour. (Titus 3:4) We have only to recall the parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep, and Christ's encounters with Mary Magdalen and the repentant adulteress.

Christianity, then, is not opposed to the principles of natural goodness; it does not frown upon the blessings of life, on normal human affections, and on the love of beauty. Whatever things are true, says St. Paul, whatever honourable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things. (Cf. Phil. 4:8) Christian teaching does not hold that our natural inclinations are evil, for they are forces which can be channelled to lead us towards holiness.

3. Sin alone is essentially evil, because it offends God, our Supreme Good, and separates us from Him. Even sin is only a evil in so far as it is a deliberate act in which we find pleasure
mid continued satisfaction. But if it is washed away by tears of repentance and by sacramental Confession, even sin becomes a source of goodness, for it leads us back to God.

Christianity makes everything good and meritorious, even suffering. Only Christianity can give us an explanation of suffering, which can be employed by our acceptance of it as a valuable means of expiation and sanctification.

Only in Christianity can the human heart find satisfaction and peace. Christian optimism abhors the malice of sin, lightens our, sufferings, and moderates our pleasures. It helps us to see God's image in all creatures, gives us joy in life and hope in the hour' of death. In this sense, let us be optimists.

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