Digby Anderson explains the nature of true Christian happiness and offers some suggestions on our duty to feast during Eastertide
Social policy experts have invented a new, fraudulent industry to fleece us, the science of happiness.
They are busy rediscovering the nonsense of Bentham’s felicific calculus, arguing that we have rights to happiness (and that they know how to satisfy them) and measuring the quality our lives, so as, inter alia, to ration NHS treatments.
The Church pretends to no science of happiness, but she has a certain wisdom about it. And it is much more perceptive than the new bogus science. She understands that happiness is a by-product. You do not achieve it by aiming at it, but by aiming at quite other things: truth, a right relationship with God, a scepticism about worldly preoccupations, and an assured hope in life eternal.
Priests do not look much at their congregations. At least they should not. The rubrics tell them to look variously at the missal, the paten, the crucifix, up to heaven, and otherwise to cast their eyes down.
A priest was delivering a sermon. He had it written out (rightly, for spontaneity is the mother of error). Foolishly he raised his eyes to stare at the people of God. And he was so alarmed by what he saw, this most gentle and conservative of priests, that he broke into an unrehearsed rant: ‘Look at you, what a miserable lot, don’t you realize you are already in life eternal, from your baptisms you have had one foot in life with God, you are a people who have been promised life with God, indeed are sons of God, to-be-inheritors of bliss, you are, in one expression to be gods, to be one with the Godhead, and look at you.’
Had it been Eastertide, as it is now, he could have ranted on further about the price paid to free us from sin, the freedom of the sons of God, the legacy of Maundy Thursday, the victory over death, the ascension ‘thither where we also shall ascend’.
Calm from within
Monsignor Knox said much the same in a sermon on St George, explaining that England will never be Merry again until it is Catholic. ‘Merry’ does not mean drunk or uproarious or frivolous. It means lighthearted, the mind at ease with a calm that comes from within. Neither Knox nor the ranter priest wanted Christians to be inanely jocular.
I was once on a beach, sleeping. I awoke to find four evangelicals had made camp close by. They were smiling. They kept on smiling. They smiled as they spoke, contorting their features. They smiled, with difficulty, as they ate their dull but worthy sandwiches, they – rather dangerously – smiled as they swam.
They smiled as they ponged their shuttlecocks. They smiled especially broadly when it rained. They smiled all day. That is not what Fr Rant or Fr Knox meant.
On another occasion, the priest was preaching on Cana. He explained that when Our Lord arrived the party was well advanced. It may have been going on up to a week. Much had already been drunk. Yet Our Lord blessed it with a further 900 bottles (or 7,200 units as we must now say) of first-rate wine. His first miracle was deployed not to help the sick or possessed but to help a party continue, to bless a festivity.
And that is another key Christian understanding, that happiness comes on festivals, that is, occasions. Thus, as we abstain in Advent and Lent, we should feast throughout Christmastide (or that truncated remainder of it that the modern miserly church has left us) and Eastertide. The festivity is not just Christmas Day or Easter Day but all the tide.
The happiness of festivals
The Church has also understood that the happiness of festivals, like that of Cana, is closely tied to good food and wine, properly prepared, and taken together.
So to celebrate the Passion and Resurrection we should feast throughout Eastertide. I have not space to list all the festival dishes we must, as faithful Christians, eat.
But I do here suggest one thing you could do during these last precious weeks of Eastertide; the glorious re-instatement of breakfast. Duck eggs and home salted pork belly fried in goose fat with sauté potatoes, pork sausages, bubble and squeak, smoked haddock and poached eggs, kippers, cold fish spread, smoked salmon, rollmops, anchovies, crab and lobster, fishcakes, homemade baked beans, devilled kidneys and homemade hamburgers.
Again, widening our horizons, Chinese congee or noodles with various flavourings, Indian dhal, dosas, vadai, kebabs, or an authentic Spanish breakfast of pork paté, anchovy paté or pork fat on toast with brandy and a Marlborough.
It is to be eaten, dressed, feet shod and en famiUe. For it is the Lord’s festivity and we have a duty to be happy. ND