For all of the iPhones, iPads and modern comforts and conveniences, we all still seem to want the basics. We want something real. A good hot cup of coffee brewed on a frosty Minnesota winter morning is one of the great gifts of the earth and its Creator (couple it with bacon and eggs, and you have heaven on earth!); so too is a conversation with friends before a roaring fire that begins early in the evening and lasts deep into the early hours of morning, feeling like only a few minutes have passed. Listening to Mozart or seeing the stars of the clear night sky create in us a pensiveness and awe that oftentimes can only be expressed by the simple words of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
I suspect that people throughout all of history have experienced these things and have had similar reactions. These are the simple things of life and—though I have only mentioned a few—they are the good things. In their simplicity, lies their profundity—for that is where the really real may be found: comfort, friendship, goodness, beauty and truth. These are desires that we all share and they point to the fact that there may be something to this notion of a “common humanity.” We can identify these common and simple desires of human persons with another simple term: happiness.
Happiness has been a preoccupation of human persons since their creation upon this earth. Life seems to be a constant battle for that goal. And as Genesis says that we were made from the earth, so too is life a gritty and dirty business. Along with the simple joys just mentioned, there are profound sorrows and sufferings that rack us to the depths of our soul—addictions, neglect, poverty, sickness, abuse, death. But in the midst of these sufferings and tragedies, stands tall the God who knows suffering; Whose light dispels the darkness; and Who built an edifice—the Church—to bring a suffering humanity comfort, friendship, goodness, beauty, and truth. An edifice that may be old and beaten—even deplorable—on the outside, but within is the longed-for happiness of every human heart. This is nothing less than the answer to the poetry and mystery of human life. Perhaps the mystery was best put by a poetic soul:
[A] small red flame—a beaten copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been built but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it lit this morning, burning anew among the old stones. (Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited)
This is the flame which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This article was originally published in The Heart of the Matter (Vol. II, Issue 12), a local publication of 20-something Catholics in the Twin Cities. The publication is an evangelization tool targeted for those in the most unlikely of places: hipster coffee shops.