I need your opinion: Is Catholicism a “joyless slog” or a Joyful Journey?

I would love to get your opinion on something. Do you think Catholicism makes people joyful and full of life or depressed and lacking in energy? I recently got this really discouraging comment from a reader:

Lifelong Catholic here (40 years). I have a hard time finding ANY impulse to share the faith. I can defend it, sure. But evangelize? Why? It’s intellectually consistent and defensible, but when the rubber meets the road, its a grueling, joyless slog. Much better to let people take their chances with invincible ignorance.”

I’ll leave this comment as anonymous. This kind of comment makes my heart slump. So sad.

What about you?

I put together an anonymous survey and I want to hear from you on 3 related questions relating to your mental attitude about being Catholic. It will take less than 10 seconds to take. When you finish it, you’ll see how other people answered (no names – it’s all anonymous):

Click here to take the survey and see how other people answered:

Take our Survey: Catholic “Joy or Joyless?” Survey (100% anonymous)

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  • Roman

    Faith is a gift after all. When we get a gift we
    don’t have to work for …. we tend to not cherish it as much as we
    would have to fight for it risking our lives or seeing others we know losing their
    lives – too far to the martyrs. We tend to not water that flower or care for it
    so it grows as much as it can. We are going through the “Letter and Spirit”
    book by Scott Hahn – awesome resource on Liturgy of the Word, history,
    theology, explanations, etc. – with the DVD it is all done in very engaging,
    lively, interesting, uplifting way …. But how much interest does it generate?
    If we’ll take God seriously, we would have to change quite a bit in our lives
    which would make our friends … at least laugh at us … the most common answer: “it’s
    not my thing…” So, it’s better to be lukewarm and keep all the channels open
    (including the one with the devil and the world) rather than be perceived as a “radical”
    person by everyone around. We do not feed our faith intellectually, we do not
    pray for an increase of it, we do not ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we
    do not give God power to run our lives, we do not trust enough, we do not learn
    about the past, we do not hear a lot of homilies that are on fire, we do not
    practice our faith (action for the poor …), we do not teach, so there is not
    much to share if we are not on fire. We have to make an effort to look for
    places and people that would make this “fire” grow, exciting, but we are too
    busy with everything else, so we miss how all these other things are made to
    look good but the real truth is hidden – anything to take us away from God.
    Heroism of the saints is that they put those extra efforts to make it grow in
    them and more efforts to give it to others, but it is work!

  • Paul

    “33 Day to Morning Glory”.
    Then “Consoling the Heart of Jesus”.

    Both of these along with their weekly videos and group discussion (even if you just sit there and listen)… WILL FIX ALL OF THAT.

    • Barb

      Very true!

  • Donna Ruth

    I suspect in this post-Christian society, most Catholics who seek to evangelize are dealing with folk who have been hornswoggled by the world. We are eager to evangelize, and we listen to and absorb marvelous apologetics by gifted speakers, but too often in our lives, especially with family, we can barely get out of the apologetics batting box. We must content ourselves with sitting at Stages one and two of “Make a friend; be a friend; take a friend to Christ.” This can seem discouraging. We want to actively evangelize, especially to evangelize lapsed Catholics, but they are very comfortable in this world and have too often imbibed the koolaid that tells them the Church is backwards and needs to be more relevant. Our task in these situations is to present to them ourselves: people who are a prayerful, seeking to grow in virtue, and exuding that necessary peace and joy. His Grace is sufficient for this task–but it is never easy, as we just want to dazzle them with our stellar logic and reason :^ }

    • RachaelM

      Often times, sadly, we have to wait until there’s a tragedy in people’s lives before they are willing to pull away from the world and consider the strength and peace of mind our faith gifts us with. That’s okay. We’ll be there waiting for them, just like the Prodigal Son’s Father ;-)

  • defiant12314

    it depends on who you ask

    From many Traditional Catholics I get the sense that every moment not spent praying is wasted and that if you don’t fast and abstain every day, if you don’t wear lengths of Cilice around you entire body etc etc that you are a evil wicked person who deserves to be kicked about by God until death. These same people seem to think that desiring to feel intimacy with God is sinful and wicked and we deserve bad priests cos the Holy Fathers have screwed up the Consecration of Russia

    Others (mainly Charismatic Catholics) are actually quite friendly, welcoming and joyful about their Faith, passionate and caring of others,

    As for me, I’m going for the joyless slog at the moment

  • Ally

    One factor I think that has to be considered is cradle vs convert – it’s not always true either way (and a lot I suspect would have more to do with ones personality anyway) but cradle vs convert and/or how long one has been a Catholic I suspect would also play a factor in whether someone finds it joyless or not. (Also are they depressed otherwise? Maybe the issue isn’t so much with Catholicism but their outlook on life in general?)

  • admaro22

    Sadly, I am aware of how frequently Catholics attack/criticize our faith and our faithful. Our purpose seems to alert others of where we can improve. I feel like shouting, “leave me alone!” I wish we would focus on being kind and patient instead what others are doing wrong, or poorly

  • Patricia C.

    Joy is a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving. Didn’t St. Teresa say Lord save me from saints with long faces” ? Perhaps the joyless sloggers are doing too much. Start small, we need to be evangelized before we can evangelize others. I think too much focus on catechetics, dogma, liturgical correctness, apologetics and all the woes and sins of the secular world can drag one down. I think for most of us its more important to have a healthy and robust prayer life and frequent participation of the sacraments. Sit and learn at the feet of the Lord, like Mary, drink in the goodness , be nourished , get strong, fall in love with Jesus, and all he teaches , then, not only can you take on the world but you will want to. Read good books. Take a bible study. Make yourself useful to others. And it can be something you like to do, it doesnt have to be a sacrifice If you like to bake , bake someone a cake. . A kind word, a smile, it doesnt take much to show love. Pray for patience, humility. Apologetics is interesting but one can do a lot of harm if you do it arrogantly, or proudly.

  • JumpinJax

    In my experience, Joy and Peace follow from union with God’s will. The holier we are, the more joyful we will be. (That’s not to say that we face no obstacles, but that we are joyful even in the midst of suffering.) I know that personally, every time I am unhappy, I can trace it to some selfishness or sinful tendency. Let’s all pray for one another to embrace God’s will and be filled with true Joy. I could certainly use it!

  • Jeff Knox

    Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. At the risk of sounding “evangelical”, strive to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus. Eucharistic Adoration. Pope St. JPII to grow in spiritual life i.e closeness to Christ, you must live a life that is “intensely Eucharistic” and you must learn to develop “silence in the interior”. He also said said you can’t give to someone else what you don’t have yourself! Deepen you love for Jesus and you will reach a point when you won’t be able to NOT share your faith. I am not in that state but I have had enough glimpses of it to know that it exists. You will come to feel as the apostle (was it Paul?) that if he didn’t proclaim the gospel the very stones would be driven to proclaim it in his stead.

    But even for the saints (at least the ones I have read about), consolations are not a constant companion. There are times of trial & tribulation… sometimes intense ones. It is certainly true that Christianity is not a garden party; more like the Garden of Gethsemani! Christ tells us we “will have trial and tribulation”; he doesn’t say we might! Interestingly enough, in today’s scripture reading for mass (Mt 10: 34- 11:1) vs 38 “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So yes, in one sense, Christianity/catholicism is a slog. But in the practice of our faith we learn to find the joy in the tribulation. This, to me is (part of) the genius of Paul’s contribution to the Gospels; he says of all the pain and persecution, that he “counts it all as joy”!.. and that he has learned to be satisfied in whatever state he finds himself (and he found himself in some very difficult states/circumstances). Many saints talk of the incredible joy of their suffering and the crosses they bear because they have found in it their deepest and truest connection to Christ; and since Christ is the infinity of fullness of Truth and Life and Love, any connection to him is pure bliss; and that is what the saints report. I have found NOTHING more effective to dispel the gloom and drudgery of life (even the “slog” of practicing our faith) than reading the lives of the saints. I suspect Dr. Marshall would have some suggestions here but here are a few of mine:

    My Life with the Saints – by James Martin

    Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness
    by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, Blessed Claude de la Colombière, Paul Garvin

    As to the anonymous poster’s last comment, “Much better to let people take their chances with invincible ignorance.” I couldn’t disagree more! (I would welcome Dr. Marshall’s input here but I believe that, from a philosophical perspective, ignorance is NOT invincible, if it is, we are doomed!) But on a practical level, I have three children. I don’t think I am a parental exception when I say I would willingly give my life if it meant the difference for my children between having the treasures of our catholic faith vs “…taking their chances with invincible ignorance.”!!!

  • RheaJ

    I love being Catholic! The idea of allowing people to remain in ignorance is not acceptable. That said, I must admit that there is much left to be desired in many Catholic parishes, including my own sometimes – I love the people but the liturgy is mediocre and the music – well, let’s just say it could use a lot of improvement. If I only went to Mass on Sunday, without additional “input”, then yes, it would be a joyless slog. I read a lot and listen to great and inspiring Catholic talks on CD and the Internet. This adds greatly to my understanding and enthusiasm. Sometimes I envy our evangelical friends though who enthusiastically invite everyone to their church – I would not be inclined to do the same since it would not necessarily be a very uplifting experience for my guest. That is my dilemma – even if I convinced someone of the truth of Catholicism, would their experience in the Catholic Church at the average parish be a positive one? From what I understand, a certain percentage of people who go through RCIA and join the Church end up leaving because they don’t really meet other Catholics afterward who are very enthused about their faith.
    The beauty of the Church and her teachings don’t always translate into a lived experience of joy at the parish level.

  • Ruthann

    My first reaction: perhaps the other person can “slide in” on invincible ignorance but will the writer make it in by his (or her) lack of charity in not sharing the Faith?

  • Gina Nakagawa

    Dear Dr. Marshall,

    I wish we would loose the term “Catholicism” and go back to “the Catholic Faith” I never met an “ism” that was any good at all: Marxism, Naziism, Facism, Boshevism, narcissism… I am sure you get the picture. I also wish the “Liturgy” would go back to “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Catholic Church also has the “Liturgy of the Hours.” I wish everyone, including the priest would turn to face God instead of schmoozing each other. Faith should be warm, loving and joyful, but too many today are getting their knowledge of the faith from pop “culture” and, yes, another “ism”-Protestantism. We need more face-to-face joyful information about the Catholic Faith. I believe it was St. Teresa of Avila who said, “The Lord loveth not a sour saint.” (that loves for the “th” challenged. God bless you

    • Anna

      Yes!

  • Seeker

    I am sorry to say but I feel going to church is a chore. I love Jesus, and I enjoy a good homily but most of the time unfortunately it is mostly boring. I listen to other Christian speakers like Rick Warren and they seem to touch my faith more. My girls who are 11 and 7 have a hard time the least staying through 50% of the mass. They should make it interesting for this age too. I think for this generation, people are so used to constant knowledge input that the traditional mass will ultimately lose its importance. They really have to modify it with more enthusiasm, lively singing with the audience dancing too, why not! We are praising The Lord, and at the same time keep some of it sacred and solemn.

    • Donna Ruth

      Hi Seeker: There are so many wonderful youtube Catholic talks that could knock the socks off Mr. Warren. Just this weekend I listened to one by Kimberly Hahn (Overcoming All Fears), and a barnburner by Steve Ray (Spreading the Gospel Back Then and All Over Again). Just go to youtube and enter names like Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Steve Ray, Kimberly Hahn and you will have a feast of talks to lift you up! Lighthouse Catholic Media has marvelous Catholic speaker CDs and MP3s you can buy for a pittance.

      As for the Mass, well, we only get out of it what we put into it. I know it is not easy to absorb this concept in a society which perennially offers entertainment, but we do not go to a Mass to be entertained; we go to meet the person of Jesus Christ who comes down on our altars:God meets man. Ask Him repeatedly to show you the riches of His Mass, and I promise you the Mass will come alive.

      • Steve d.

        This is a misunderstanding of Mass. We don’t go to Mass to get something out of it, we are there to worship our Lord (which includes a reverent Liturgy, incense, vestments, candles, altar rails, and beautiful sacred music) and give thanks for the Holy Sacrifice, as we unite ourselves with the priest in offering up this perfect sacrifice to reconcile us with God the Father, and for the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body. Amen.

  • Mary Meza

    The comment makes me so very sad. You can feel the pain in the writer’s soul. Will be praying he or she will recover their joy in this most beautiful Faith.

  • Christina Martin

    When you don’t feel the impulse at all to evangelize, don’t evangelize. You are in need of spiritual food before you can go out and feed others. We all get to that point some times. As Catholics we know we are called to evangelize, but it is sometimes easy to forget to care for our own needs as well. Rest. Attend a retreat. Get alone in a house and cry or yell at God. Whatever it takes to get yourself to that place where you need to be.

    If you think that the faith is all rules, it is either that you are burned out, or that you have been mis-catechized. It’s a good idea to find someone you know to be a strong, faithful Catholic to talk to about your biggest difficulty. (Birth control? Making it to Mass? Gossipping?) and ask that friend if he or she can recommend a good book to help you see the positive side of the rules. Also, never forget to ask for prayers. You are not a burden if you ask for prayers. To the contrary, you are helping someone else when you give them something to pray for. You help them to be a more loving person, and love brings joy.

  • Victor

    Unlike you Doctor Marshall who is steadily walking daily with JOY, me and sinner vic simply keep going for the sometimes joy and sometimes joyless slogging of every day life while hoping that His Holiness pope Francis does not lose our Catholic Faith that Jesus Christ started. LOL :)

    God Bless

    • Steve D.

      LOL, me too.

  • Joe

    Yes.

  • Sean Hudson

    Frankly, I think tonight’s 7/27/2014 G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense show which presented such a debate between ‘Chesterton vs Darrow’ pretty much sums it up, for me anyway…in the sense that, ahh yah, if you are an avid fan of the sciences which goes onto to disclaim the validity of religion, then yes, of course Catholicism is a “joyless slog”, let alone slight political upheaval in the making, that is, from a scientific perspective, it seems. However, should One relate much more clearly , in terms of such blessedly bountiful common sense, in regard to the always legendary, saintly commentary of Chesterton, then right then and there we will indeed discover who is the more righteous of the two gentlemen in debate, speaking of Weslon College’s ‘The Great Debaters’, at which point, this this case, Chesterton wins, once again, “hands down” indeed! Praise the Lord!

    P.S. By the way…good luck with the latest cause for sainthood for Bl. G.K. Chesterton, courtesy of the American Chesterton Society’s latest updates!