by Fr. Vincent Ferrer Kienberger, OP
Cheerfulness is a royal virtue. But it is more often found in cabins than in palaces. Cheerfulness is not necessarily founded on prosperity. It is too often the only gift which the blessed poor of God can share with one another.
Just now there are sorely needed those happy faces whose cheerful expression is the symbol of a happy heart filled with God’s love. We are living in a sad age. This is not a truism. Much less is it fantasy. Only a handful of the faithful have accepted the Master’s dictum: It is a more blessed thing to give rather than to receive. (Acts 20: 35) Conscious of this axiom, those few have gone out into the world with a smile on lips :whose conversation is in Heaven. (Philip. 3:20) As heralds of God have these bruiters of cheerfulness come and by example have they dispensed His sustaining message of help and comfort.
Cheerfulness must be inspired by religion. Without a religious motive this virtue is inadequate to bring lasting good into the lives of individuals. In the dark night of paganism there were a few rifts in the cloud that enshrouded the world. With the coming of the Lord of Light a new era was established. The Son of Man frowned upon the professional melancholy of the Pharisee, and the drawn expression of the Sadducee. He commanded those who fasted to do so cheerfully: And when you fast be not as the hypocrites, sad. (Luke 6:16) He condemned the long face as the measure-stick of piety. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.(Matt. 6:2)
The holy patriarch Job has an inspired message which has helped mankind for over three thousand years. It is like unto this: Behold, the short years pass away, and I am walking in a path by which I shall not return. (Job 16:23). It is a summons to travelers on this journey of life to be Apostles of Cheerfulness. Short are the years of life and our duty is to fulfill to the utmost endeavor our high mission of carrying to the ends of the earth sweet cheerfulness, fresh from the well-spring of religion. Though we be commissioned to preach the gospel of cheer to a sad, distracted world, it is a terrifying thought to dwell on the number of defections from our ranks. But after all, we are creatures of nature, and it is only human to be moody and morose at times. Our remedy is a will power by which we can marshal the forces of cheerfulness against the baser emotions and thus conquer. Unless a man’s heart be a fountain of cheerfulness quickening his whole being, he cannot hope to make others feel what he himself does not experience.
Of course cheerfulness does not preclude sorrow. The poet has said that into each heart some rain must fall. This is the law of life. Often the heart upon which the rain clouds of sorrow hang heaviest are the most cheerful. Sorrow chastens. Sadness comes as a consecrated and consecrating symbol of God’s love. In suffering the brave smile in spite of tears, for they recognize that God has placed upon them the sign of His predilection. Loss for these is gain. Out of death comes life, out of the darkness, day, out of sorrow, cheerfulness.
In the life of Saint Madeleine Sophie we read that in her youth she was as bright as a sunbeam sprightly and full of fun. What a reservoir of cheerfulness upon which to draw when cares of later life parched her soul. How pleasant and encouraging to think that the Saints knew how to be merry! St. Francis of Assisi bade his friar companions remember that they were minstrels of God. Well did they renew the cheerfulness of the Master in a world that viewed it, not as prayer, but rather as hilarity.
As we walk in the path on which we shall return no more, let us consecrate the remainder of life to God’s own cause of making the world better through cheerfulness. They have learned best how to dispense cheerfulness who have studied longest in the school of the Crucified. The crucifixion of spirit makes for gentleness and cordiality. The martyrs died gladly. The King of Martyrs was the most cheerful, the kindest, the most compassionate. No disciple in the school of Christ will lack these very marks of royalty by which pauper and peasant rise to the level of princes and potentates.
Blessed is the cheerful heart. The cheerful heart sees cheerful things. But let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). Performing cheerful deeds ourselves, we inspire others unto cheerfulness. Blessed, too, is the cheerful face. How often has a smile averted wrath. How often has this symbol of God’s cheer transmuted misfortune into blessing. Blessed is the merry heart, filled with wholesome humor. What a tonic to sad hearts is laughter. A philosopher has remarked that laughter is God’s medicine. How skillfully it heals wounds of the soul. How rarely does depression fail to respond to the merriment of consecrated laughter. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy; Thou has cut my sackcloth and has compassed me with gladness. (Ps. 29:12)
Thrice blest the singer who “makes melody in his heart” and dispenses it to mankind. May all worldlings caught in the withering influences of material gain and self-interest listen to the canticle of cheerfulness sung by the poets of God. May the world feel the almost sacramental influence of their smile and their laughter. The innocent merriment has made us forget the “burden of the day and the heat thereof.” In them the prophecy shall be fulfilled: “They shall come and shall give praise in Mount Sion and their souls shall be as a watered garden and they shall be hungry no more. (Jer. 31:12)