A joyful Church

The other day my Uber ride unexpectedly included a discourse on God and man and happiness.

This was a second ride with the same driver, and he had previously dropped me off at a church for Mass. No sooner did I hail the second ride did he ask, “Are we going to church today?” Clearly he had taken note, and clearly he had something to share.

The man, from Haiti, talked about how he was baptized Catholic and eventually showed me the rosary around his neck his late mother used to pray with. He said some Hail Marys in French to prove his credentials to me.

As you might have seen coming, he doesn’t go to church anymore. He made this choice after seeing too much, he explained — going to church too many times and encountering people for whom God was only about being seen on Sundays, who were fulfilling obligations and not living the life. And they frowned, he said.

God, he said to me with the conviction of a man who had truly encountered him somewhere along the way, is happiness. “He’s joy. He’s not war. He’s not division.”

There are two spirits, he tells me, and both fight for our hearts: God and evil. And too often we let evil win us over.

At this point I had to let him know how much he seemed to have in common with Pope Francis.

He would later tell me that Pope Francis is like Mother Teresa. She thought about God all of the time, he said. And that’s why she did the things she did and was restless if she was not serving him in others.

Think about God. We don’t think about God, he said. If we thought about God, we would give thanks.

He explained how his sister often asks him when he is going to go back to church.

“She’s crazy about church — always there,” he said, motioning to me, as if to say he had me pegged. But there was a reverence about the comment. “She loves it; she finds happiness there, but she really believes it and tries to live it. She doesn’t frown.”

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He says that while he doesn’t pray the Rosary the same way his mother would, he does pray. He thanks God for what he has. He clearly does some form of an examen. He asks God questions. He acknowledges his presence.

That man, of course, could be in church. He could be helping to build a community of joy. Obviously, and as he testified to me, he tries to do that with the “kings” and the “queens” “beside” him — the passengers he picks up in his car. Such respect for human dignity he has. Such joy.

And yet the mere fact he wanted to talk about it with me in his car, there was obviously a restlessness, maybe of the kind he described Mother Teresa as having. Or maybe the restlessness of someone who knows and loves God but wants to feel his presence more, wants a home that he can go to where he can be received and all his sins can be forgiven?

I couldn’t help but think about Pope Francis talking about how the Church can never be without joy and how our churches and institutions can’t be mere museums of a bygone era or bureaucracies. He talks about the dangers of sourpusses in church. Yes, he uses that word, or at least that’s one translation. Clearly, my Uber driver has met such people in church.

What do we look like to the world? Box-checkers with lists of prohibitions? Or people in love with Jesus Christ?

People who know who we are — and who we were made for?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).