In his most important book, Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, the great nineteenth-century Spanish Catholic political thinker Juan Donoso Cortes wrote: “Man cannot aspire to an impossible felicity in this obscure valley of our dark pilgrimage without losing the little happiness he already possesses.” He wrote that in the context of a discussion of the political left’s false promise of the earth being converted into a paradise provided society freed itself from the “oppression” of the Christian religion and of governance rooted in Christian ethics and morals. However, he could as well have been writing of an individual.
Society bought the false promise. It is what the ongoing Revolution has been about since it began to unroll with the overthrow of Christian government in France in 1789, which was spreading by the time of Donoso, and now holds sway in the form of secular-liberal democratism everywhere in what was once the Christian West.
Americans see the result with an average of 4,000 preborn babies murdered every day since abortion was made legal in 1973, a fifty-percent divorce rate, the practice of sodomy recognized as a basis for legal “marriage,” a forty-percent illegitimacy rate, and a gap between the rich and everybody else that has become a gulf. It is what happens when a people live according to their own will instead of God’s, which is to say according to presidential executive orders, Congressional mandate and Supreme Court decisions, none of which can take into account the will of Him who is the judge of the living and dead because that would breach the “wall” of separation between Church and state and therefore be in violation of a Constitution that begins “We the people” and has nothing to say about God and His rights.
Of course society — “the people” — could buy the false promise only because it was bought by the majority of the individuals who are its members.
The majority? Bishop Bossuet once wrote: “Since the day a popular assembly condemned Jesus Christ to death, the Church has known that the rule of the majority can lead to any crime.”
Americans and other peoples of ex-Christendom chose and choose to live according to their own will because they believe that living free of the restraints of religion and God’s commandments is the way to attain happiness. That was what the political left, liberalism and its more extreme expression socialism, promised. Therein lay the falsity of the promise. Oh, some measure of happiness may be attained even in this “valley of our dark pilgrimage,” at least until the appetite for it requires seeking a greater measure in the same way an addict will be compelled to move on to more potent drugs or heavier doses in order to get his high. However, it will never bring joy.
Happiness depends on the world outside ourselves, which is to say it depends on circumstances. Joy arises from within. This is why the poor can often be joyful in circumstances a materialist would find intolerable. It is why a Christian walking in the path of righteousness can be so full of joy that the radiance of it will brighten the lives of others in his orbit even when the power of the state and weight of society are against him. Yet Christian joy always has standing behind it the Cross. This in the same way the Cross always lies behind Holy Mass, try though liberals within Catholicism have striven for fifty years to reduce it to a mere “celebration”.
To the person who would be Christian because he thinks mistakenly it is a path to happiness, Our Lord tells him to forget it. In the Catholic Douai-Rheims translation of Mark 8:34 He says, “If any man would follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Every man carries a cross. Most nowadays try to shirk theirs. They seek to be happy instead. The Christian shoulders his cross. This is a way of saying that life is full of trials and trouble. Christians know this, and know that finally we run into trouble bad enough that it kills us. Bearing all of it without complaint, but with the courage, fortitude, dignity, grace and, yes, humor which taken together are called gallantry becomes any man. Indeed no quality is more becoming to him.
Gallantry is a hallmark of authentic Christian living, which is why little of it is seen nowadays. It is also why it is inspirational when we do encounter it, as with the article “Gladtrad” that my friend and colleague Charles Coulombe recently posted on this website.
Persons reached by the present lines who have not read Charles’s article ought to do so. It will make them, well, happy if they do.