I don’t know how many years I have been reading David Brooks’ column in the New York Times. My guess is that it has been close to five years. I also watch Brooks every Friday evening on the PBS News Hour as he discusses the week’s events with syndicated columnist Mark Shields. His comments are almost always illuminating.
A few years ago, I read his book “The Road to Character”, and devoted several columns to commenting on the book. I even persuaded David to meet with a group of priests to discuss the book. Obviously I am a fan.
Brooks’ columns, often dealing with what I would describe as “philosophical questions,” seem unique because of Brooks’ interests. As soon as his new book “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” (New York: Random House, 2019, $28.00, pp. 346) appeared I obtained a copy and read it. I am hoping that David will meet with the priests again. I think his new book is filled with interesting insights into the moral life.
The following are the opening lines of “The Second Mountain”:
“Every once in a while, I meet a person who radiates joy. These are people who seem to glow with an inner light. They are kind, tranquil, delighted by small pleasures, and grateful for the large ones. These people are not perfect. They get exhausted and stressed. They make errors in judgment. But they live for others, and not for themselves They’ve made commitments to family, a cause, a community, or a faith.”(p. xi)
These are the people who, in Brooks’ opinion, have found their deepest selves through ascending the second mountain. The first mountain is the one people thought they should climb to achieve success, to make their mark, to find personal happiness. Those who find that success on the first mountain does not provide the deep joy for which they hunger, can look elsewhere for a deeper fulfillment. Brooks thinks some find it through a life commitment to what is bigger than themselves. They move from self-centered to other centered, from independence to interdependence. In his stimulating and provocative book, David discusses life commitment in detail.
Brooks divides his book into five parts. In the first part, he explains what he means by the two mountains. The other four parts are detailed discussions of vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith and community. Early in his book he discusses different levels of joy, using data given to him by people who talked about their experience.
What especially interested me was what Brooks calls spiritual joy and what he calls moral joy. He describes spiritual joy as arising from contact with some reality that seems boundless. About moral joy Brooks writes the following:
“I say this is the highest form of joy in part because this is the kind that even the skeptics can’t explain away. The skeptics could say that all those other kinds of passing joy are just brain chemicals in some weird formation that happened to have kicked in to produce odd sensations. But moral joy has an extra feature. It can become permanent. Some people live joyfully day by day. Their daily actions are aligned with their ultimate commitments. They have given themselves away, united and wholeheartedly. They are so grateful to have found their place and taken their stand. They have the inner light.
“Pope Francis seems to have this…
“The people who radiate a permanent joy have given themselves over to lives of deep and loving commitment. Giving has become their nature, and little by little they have made their souls incandescent. There’s always something flowing out of the interiority of our spirit. For some people it’s mostly fear or insecurity. For the people we call joyful, it’s mostly gratitude, delight, and kindness.” (pp. xxx-xxxi)
What Brooks has identified as moral joy is the type of joy that followers of Christ should have. This does not mean that Christians won’t have disappointments in their lives or even experience great suffering in their lives. It does mean that they experience deeply that they have been redeemed and that God has and is embracing them. Indeed that God’s love extends out to all people and an awareness of God’s presence in everyone’s life can cause a deep joy in the hearts of believers. Like David Brooks, I believe I have met people who have that joy. They are extremely attractive people. I want to be like them. I suspect that even as she was experiencing the dark night of the soul and felt no consolation from God, Saint Teresa of Calcutta had this profound joy that coexisted with her feelings that God was distant.
To have our daily lives align with our life commitments is a wonderful ideal. Christians should try to achieve that ideal.
Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.