Right, it’s the title of the last article CS Lewis penned before he died. I’ll admit his statement consititutes a 180 for me since I have written numerous times about happiness—what I think is entailed to be happy. And more recently, thoughts that achieving happiness have more to do with avoiding unhappiness (the last I don’t think Mr. Lewis would disagree with.)
Lewis begins his last written words this way:
“After all,” said Clare. “they had a right to happiness.”
We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A. had deserted Mrs. A. and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B., who had likewise got her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was certainly no doubt that Mr. A. and Mrs. B. were very much in love with one another. If they continued to be in love, and if nothing went wrong with their health or their income, they might reasonably expect to be very happy.
It was equally clear that they were not happy with their old partners. Mrs. B. had adored her husband at the outset. But then he got smashed up in the war. It was thought he had lost his virility, and it was known that he had lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B. had bargained for. Poor Mrs. A., too. She had lost her looks—and all her liveliness…
What Is a ‘Right to Happiness’?
I went away thinking about the concept of a “right to happiness.”
My friend Mary sent me the Youtube link to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s address, “Joy is the Gigantic Gift of the Christians.” Mary sent the link a few weeks ago. And I’m just now able to process all the points in his talk because Fr. Mike is a challenge to listen to. But always, what I glean from this man makes the work worth it. And in this case, it’s flipping what I’ve always believed about happiness around a bit. Shaking and stirring things up if you will.
Fr. Mike covers a lot of ground. From his mother’s bumper sticker, “There’re not 10 Suggestions but 10 Commandments” to “There are two ways to live in the world: God exists or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t then I can do whatever I want, because nothing matters. if He does, then I cannot do everything I want because everthing matters.”
And on to CS Lewis’s last words, We have no right to happiness.” Fr. Mike doesn’t dwell on them, in fact, it’s just a passing reference. Like the fact that his title is GK Chesterton’s from his book Orthodoxy and is worth repeating: “Joy is the gigantic gift of the Christians.” But his passing references are sufficient to encourage a little research and read the whole piece.
His statement that it’s our “practical atheism” that precludes our ability to live in joy…the joy that penetrates each and every event of our life, including profound grief. He expounded on his statement: “Even in our most incredible moments of grief, we can still choose joy, we just have to let go of our conditions.”
Unaware of that phrase, practical atheist before now, I learned that Pope John Paul ll wrote this in 1989, “Secularism proves particularly ruinous with its indifference to ultimate questions and to faith: it in fact expresses a model of man lacking all reference to the transcendent. “Practical” atheism is thus a bitter and concrete reality. While it is true that it primarily appears in economically and technologically more advanced civilizations, its effects also extend to those situations and cultures which are in the process of development.”
His successor, Pope Bendict, declared practical atheism more desctructive: “While actual atheists often think deeply about God before rejecting belief, practical atheism “is even more destructive … because it leads to indifference towards faith and the question of God.”
Fr. Mike slows his rapid delivery declare that “even in our most incredible moments of grief we can still choose joy, we just have to let go of our conditions.” I wonder if one of his reasons is the catalyst for St. Edith Stein’s conversion. Sr. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) writes this about a meeting with a woman who should have been devastated by grief. “Awestruck by Anne’s courage and loving submission to God’s will, which seemed to manifest the power of Christian faith “it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”
no fear, uncertainty, illness or grief!”
When Fr. Mike made that exhortation over and over using the life and acts of Mary as an examplar, I thought of a beloved movie, The War Room. And my favorite scene when the protagonist wife stomps out to her front yard and shouts, “Satan! No more will you steal my joy!”
If you’ve not yet taken the time to see it, do. It’s a recipe for achieving joy and defeating the devil. It’s my observation not Fr. Mike’s. Instead, his advice near the end of his talk is a read I’ll take him up on. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Fr. Mike had been talking about Mary, our blessed mother. And the message she received from the angel Gabriel.
It’s easy to understand why thinking of Mary would bring Nassim Taleb’s book to mind.
“If there is something in nature you don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in a deeper way that is beyond your understanding. So there is a logic to natural things that is much superior to our own. Just as there is a dichotomy in law: ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as opposed to ‘guilty until proven innocent’, let me express my rule as follows: what Mother Nature does is rigorous until proven otherwise; what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise.”
Fr. Mike points to his audience and says, “You are like that. Antifragile. You’re made to be antifragile. Our Church is like that antifragile…even when it looks like it’s collapsing, we know our Church is antifragile.”
And then he ends his talk with the story of Mel. A teenager Fr. Mike knew well from his work with the summer youth camps. Devout, lover of the Eucharist and adoration, young Mel went for a routine check-up. Then said of her cancer diagnosis,
“My prayer is that if God decides to heal me, it will be for His glory. If He does not heal me, that my death will glorify Him.”
Even if you’re not wondering why these were the last words of CS Lewis, it’s worth pondering. The brief article appeared in the Saturday Evening Post just hours after Lewis’s collapse and death at his home. It was November 22nd 1963, the day John F Kennedy was assassinated.
Lewis was considering the words of a woman who was justifying infidelity and adultery. He called her Clare. Although the piece was published sixty years ago, Clare clearly (was her name tongue-in-cheek eponymous?) speaks for a loud majority of the men and women of the twenty-first-century. “The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is august. In words that are cherished by all civilized men, but especially by Americans…What did the writers of that august declaration mean?…They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.”
Lewis warns us of the consequences of sexual license…far graver for us women.
“A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires may say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality —women don’t really care two cents about our looks—by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.”