The joy of the saint


There is that guileless definition of saint by a little girl who was thinking of the stained-glass figures: "A saint is somebody the light shines through."

Saints do radiate the light of truth, which comes from God. The "Light from Light" was actually seen in the Transfiguration of Christ, much to the bewilderment of the apostles, whose impressions of heavenly bliss up to then had been only metaphorical. Divine light shines as joy. Christ astonished multitudes and angered others, he inspired many and perplexed many more, but he never made anyone sad. Even his mother's sorrows were descants on her canticles of joy.

Saints suffer much, like a man with perfect pitch hearing noise, but they have a joy that "no one will take away" (John 16:22). The theologian Baron von Hügel (1852-1925) thought Blessed John Henry Newman a "sad and somber character." The Baron, who was born to Austrian and Scottish parents in Italy and lived most of his life in England, was a lugubrious man himself, and when he wrote ponderously in one language he seemed to be thinking in another. It has been remarked that the only times Newman is said to have been depressed were the times he was visited by Baron von Hügel. Newman was not a man of levity, but joy is not always evident to the superficial eye. Chesterton said that the one thing our Lord concealed was his mirth.

Christ's prescription for joy is written in his Beatitudes. Blessedness is happiness deeper than the sensory happiness known as "hilaritas" or the moral contentment called "felicitas." Blessedness is contact with the Source of all joy. It is a mistake to analyze the Beatitudes as didactic instructions in moral behavior. Nietzsche made that mistake and concluded: "In Christianity neither morality nor religion comes into contact with reality at any point." Theodore Dreiser, the radical social reformer, was greatly impatient with the "idealistic maxims of Christ" precisely because he read them as idealistic maxims. Both of these men seem to have been very sad people, but it was not Christ who saddened them. Neither could admit that blessedness is possible. Nietzsche said "Egoism is the very essence of a noble soul." But the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is that the essence of a soul comes from outside the soul. The self that lives only for itself is saddened by itself.

The moral life lived apart from the Lord of Life becomes burdensome and arbitrary. To understand the joy of the Sermon on the Mount, one has to look to the other mounts: Tabor where the Light of Christ shone; and Calvary where that Light shone in the darkness and "the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).




Father George William Rutler. "The joy of the saint." From the Pastor (February 5, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.