By Thomas Gilbcy, O.P.
(Continued from page 5)
the goodness of God less because other things are good? And is He loved less because we love them? And is happiness now a scandal? And is human play now like Nero fiddling while Rome is burning? Did not St. Thomas More jest on his way tb death? And why should we fear enjoyment? For St. Thomas Aquinas it is a sign that our actions are not inchoate, halfperformed, but complete, well-done, the follow-through of virtue.
Joy itself he treats as part of the virtue of charity. We know the happiness on the face of an old lay-sister, the whimsies of a holy old priest, the delicate unwearying humour of a good, religious community, the infectious confidence of holiness. Is all this unearthly? Why no, but geniality and good-humour taken by grace well beyond the range of bonhomie.
Let this be a test, whether religion makes us happy, and bearers of happiness in a world which, God knows, needs it. That, at least, is as necessary as that religion should stand a perpetual warning and reproach. Why should enjoyment mean soft and easy pleasures, or why should we think that it needs to be rehabilitated out of countenance, locked up and set to work in the laundry.
I think we need more enjoyment and less distraction, more play and less amusement; for conscious pleasure seeking as a general attitude is the negation of its very object. Like being health-conscious. For joy, like health, is not a thing in itself, but the completion of a thing in its appropriate state, as Aristotle says.
The Virtue of Playing These general reflections are applied by St. Thomas to the subject of playing and sport, which he takes as integral parts of the full Christian life, governed by a special virtue of liveliness which falls under the cardinal virtue of temperance. Now temperance is the happy medium between overindulgence and complete abstinence, a temper and a strength in our feelings, so that they are neither unbridled nor yet dull.
Animals play together, and so do children, and grown-ups have their more solemn games. Sometimes solemnity is part of the enjoyment as with the ordered dignity of cricket, and sometimes it verges on the hysterical and boos the referee or glares across the bridge-table, and so destroys the very nature of a game. Apart some to others, never showing fun, or obstructing the mirth of others, Those who will not play, who never even say anything humorous, and who will not stand a joke, are vicious, and fairly to be described as boorish and rude."
We cannot all be hearty, or quick, but fortunately there are more ways of playing than those. Just as there are all sorts of ways of being rude.
Play in the Home The matter is of importance, and has justly been included in this series of articles on the sanctification of the home. For you will have noticed there are at least two sides of rest and recreation, the personal need to relax, and the social need to play. One of the contributory causes of the break-up of family life is that often the home has ceased to be a place where boys and girls can play, and their parents, too. In many cases, social conditions have done their worst, there is no room, or no inclination left; in some cases there is a
repressive and austere convention. The small boy anticipated medical psychology when asked if he believed in the devil. "Nowh, silly, 'e's like Farver Christmas, 'e's yer farver."
Yet there are few sights more lovely than a mother playing with her baby, a father playing with his children, and enjoying it. The B.B.C, whatever the criticisms on other scores, has this merit at least, of bringing the family together in enjoyment. But the ease should be more
personal and united than this. There should be real rest and enjoyment at home. As the Nazis know, there is strength through joy, and as the physiologists know, only palatable food is fully nourishing, a principle also theologically true.
I suppose this is in the nature of a sermon. Let it end, therefore, with two questions: the first, whether we have the courage and temper to take joy in our life, and secondly, whether with our neighbour, our community, our family, we have the virtue of playing, without apology or excuse. No one would pretend that it is a theological or cardinal virtue. yet it is a pretty good sign of health. You are the salt of the earth. Are you?—if only to the humble extent of savour and wit. Sportive and larking and merry, is not this virtue, this temper the very enemy of the tedium of life and the scrupulosity of religion which between them make up one of our prevalent diseases of the spirit?
Dieting means being finicky about food, but eating and drinking are natural and
right and friendly. Living as a good Catholic is not mainly a matter of being on a spiritual diet, it centres round the table of fellowship, and invites us to a wedding feast.