Sundry Reasons Why It Befits Us to Serve God Cheerfully

by admin on December 31, 2010

REJOICE in the Lord always, again I say unto you rejoice, says the Apostle St. Paul (Phil. iv. 4). The same is repeated many times in the Psalms of the Prophet David. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, ye just, and glory all ye right of heart (Psalm xxxi. 11). Let them leap for joy and be glad in thee, 0 Lord, all them that seek thee (Psalm Ixix. 5). Sing ye to the Lord exultingly; all ye dwellers on the earth, serve the Lord in gladness f come with merry hearts into his presence (Psalm xcix. 2), Let their hearts be glad who seek the Lord (Psalm civ. 3). And in many other places he exhorts us again and again to serve God cheerfully. And this was the greeting of the angel to Toby: God give thee ever much joy and cheerfulness (Tob. v. 11). The blessed St. Francis used to say: “To the devil and his members it belongs to be sad, but to us ever to rejoice in the Lord.” In the dwellings of the just there should ever be heard the cry of cheerfulness and salvation (Psalm cxvii. 15). Has not the Lord brought us to His house and chosen us from among thousands? How, then, can we be sad?

To understand this to be a thing of great importance, it were enough to see how many times Holy Writ recom­mends and insists on it, and to see on the other hand the great losses that we sustain, as we have said, in conse­quence of sadness. But to make the case superabundantly clear, and that in the light of ocular evidence of the advan­tage thence ensuing, we will mention some reasons showing how proper it is to walk always in the service of God with this cheerfulness of heart. Let the first be the fact that the Lord so requires it. God loveth a cheerful giver, says St. Paul (II Cor. ix. 7), according to that saying of the Wise Man: All that thou givest, give with a cheerful countenance (Ecclus. xxxv. 11). Here in the world we see that every master of a house looks to his servants to serve him cheer­fully and is displeased when he sees them in the sulks and serving him with a bad grace and a downcast air; such service is not pleasing to him, but rather vexes him. So God our Lord takes delight in our serving Him with a hearty good will and cheerfulness, and not with gloom or sadness.

Holy Scripture notes that the people of Israel offered vast store of gold and silver and precious stones for the building of the Temple with hearty good will and cheerfulness (I Chron. xxix. 9-17) ; and King David rendered God thanks at seeing the people offer their gifts with so great joy. That is what God sets great store by. He does not reckon so much of the work done as of the will with which it is done. Even here among men we are wont to say, the will wherewith the deed is done goes for more than the deed itself; and we set great store by that will, even though the thing done be in itself small. And, contrariwise, however great the thing done, if there is no heart or cheerfulness in the doing of it, it calls forth neither our esteem nor our gratitude, but rather our displeasure. They say very well that to serve a good dish with nasty sauce renders the whole service disagreeable.

Cheerfulness Gives God Glory

The second reason is that it redounds much to the glory and honor of God to serve Him cheerfully, for in that way the doer of the service shows that he does it with all his heart and thinks it all too little in comparison with what he desires to do. They who serve God in sadness seem to wish to convey the impression that they are doing a great deal and that they are ready to burst with the effort, that they can scarcely bear the burden for its being so great and heavy; and this attitude is thankless and offends. That was one of the reasons why the blessed St. Francis liked not to see sadness on the face of his friars, inasmuch as it gives the impression of reluctance in the will and sloth in the body for doing good; whereas others, who go about the work cheerfully and gaily, seem to say that what they do is nothing in comparison with what they desire and would like to do.   So St. Bernard says: “Lord, what I do for Thee is scarce the labor of an hour; and if it be more, for love I feel it not”—Opus meum vix unius est horae; et si plus, prae amore non sentio. This gives great satisfaction to the Lord. So He says in the Gospel: When thou fastest., anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that men may not see thee fasting; which means to say, put yourself in festal garb and look cheerful, that it may seem that you are not fasting or doing anything particular.   Be not as hypocrites (Matt. vi. 16), who seek to let all know that they are fasting, and attract attention to their doing something out of the com­mon.   By the way, it may be well observed here that there are some who, to practise modesty and recollection, think it necessary to go about with heads down and a rueful countenance—and they are mistaken.   Pope St. Leo says: “Religious modesty should never be sad, but saintly”—non moesta, sed sancta. A religious should ever wear an air of cheerful modesty and modest cheerfulness.   And to know how to combine these two things is a great grace and orna­ment to a religious.

It Strengthens Our Neighbors

The third reason: Not only does it greatly redound to the honor of God, but also to the profit and edification of our neighbor, and stands surety for virtue.   For they who serve God in this way persuade many men by their example that there is not that heaviness of heart and difficulty in the way of virtue which the wicked imagine, since they see them taking that way with all good humor and cheerfulness. Thereby men, who naturally love a cheerful and contented life, are greatly encouraged to give themselves to virtue. For this reason particularly it greatly behooves us to show a cheerful face in our ministries, since it is our business to have so much to do with our neighbor, our end and institute being to gain souls to God. In this way many are gained and brought over, not only to virtue, but to perfec­tion and religious life. We know cases of persons having left the world and entered religion for seeing the cheerful­ness and satisfaction in which religious live. What men desire is a happy life; and if they knew the happiness and contentment of a good religious, the world would be unpeo­pled and all would flock into religion; but this is a hidden manna, which God has hidden away and kept for those whom He has been pleased to choose. To you the Lord has discovered this hidden treasure, and has not discov­ered it to your brother; and so he stays where he is there outside, while God has brought you in here, for which you owe Him infinite thanks.

Cheerfulness Creates Energy

The fourth reason why it befits us to live in cheerfulness is because a work commonly is of greater merit and value when it is done with this cheerfulness and alacrity, which secures the work’s being done in better style and greater perfection. Even in the world of philosophy Aristotle said: The cheerfulness and relish with which a work is done gets it done to perfection, while sadness spells bad work. So we see by experience the vast difference between what is done heartily and what is done reluctantly: in the latter the worker does not seem to care for anything beyond saying that he has done it; while in the former he takes pains to do well what he does, and tries to do it to the best of his power. Add to this what St. Chrysostom says, that cheer­fulness and satisfaction of soul gives strength and suste­nance to work. And so says the Prophet David: / ran in the way of thy commandments when thou didst enlarge my heart (Psalm exviii. 32). Cheerfulness widens and dilates the heart; so the prophet says: Lord, when thou didst give me this cheerfulness wherewith my heart was enlarged, I ran with great activity in the way of thy commandments. Then labor is not felt: They shall run, and not “be fatigued; they shall walk and not faint (Isaias xl. 31).

Sadness Destroys It

On the contrary, sadness narrows, compresses, and con­fines the heart; it not only takes away all desire of doing anything, but also takes away the strength to do it, and makes the doing of that tedious which before was done with facility. Thus the priest Aaron confessed his weak­ness when, God having slain his two sons at one blow, and then his brother Moses reprehending him for not having offered sacrifice to the Lord, he replied: How could I please the Lord in sacrifice, with a mournful and sad soul? (Levit. x. 19). And the children of Israel in their exile at Babylon said: How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? (Psalm cxxxvi. 4). And we see by daily experience that, when we are in sadness, not only our spiritual strength is diminished, according to that text of the Wise Man: The spirit is cast down in grief of soul (Prov. xv. 13), but our bodily strength also, every arm and every leg feeling as though it had a hundred-weight attached to it. For this reason saints advise us not to go sad under temptation, since sadness takes away the vigor of the will and makes a man cowardly and faint-hearted.

Another reason may be gathered from those already men­tioned, showing how desirable it is for a servant of God, and especially a religious, to keep cheerful. It is that, when anyone is seen to go cheerfully about the business of reli­gion and virtue, he gives great satisfaction and affords good hope that he will persevere and go on as he has begun; whereas, when we see anyone sad, he occasions surmises and fears about his perseverance. As when you see a man carrying uphill a great load of wood, treading heavily, puf­fing and groaning and stopping, and here one stick falls and there another, you say at once: “The load is too much for that man; I reckon he will have to drop it halfway;” but when you see another tripping lightly under his burden, singing cheerfully as he goes along, you say thereupon: “That man could carry even more than he has got.” In the same way, when a man does the exercises of virtue and religious life sadly and gloomily, sighing like a drudge under the burden, he gives you the idea that he cannot last; for to go ever rowing and forcing your way upstream is the life of a galley slave, a very violent thing and unnatural. But when one goes cheerfully about humble offices and other exercises of religion, as well corporal as spiritual, and does everything readily and nimbly, he gives good hope of going on and persevering.

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