“When a festival goes as it should, men receive something that it is not in human power to give.”
“In celebrating festivals festively, man passes beyond the barriers of this present life on earth.”
Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity

I think I must say it. Saturday was the happiest day of my life. My daughter got married, and family and friends came together at our home for the marriage festivity.

At first I was reticent even within my own head to judge this day my happiest. What about my own wedding day? I wondered. But then I realized: the joy of this day includes the joy of that day, and more. What about when my children were born? Again, this day includes those days, and more.

Here were my family of origin, and my wife and children, and other dear relatives and friends, and we found ourselves face to face with the most primordial of human realities: the immeasurable goodness of human life and love. It was as though things came into focus with a new clarity. In the presence of this reality, we found ourselves moving together, on a higher plane.

Never before had I so experienced the truth of Pieper’s words: “…man passes beyond the barriers of this present life on earth.” And indeed, I think that we received “something that is not in human power to give.”

The experience elicited an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, and a sense of wonder at how reality can be so beautiful.

It will be my challenge now to go back to ‘normal’ day to day life. But then again, I think Pieper’s point is that how we live the normal days is precisely what makes a true festival possible. And then the festival gives us new insight and contact with the astounding reality that under-girds every day of our lives. So we can return to what is in fact never simply mundane, with a renewed, deepened sense of joy.

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Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German philosopher in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas. Many of his works have been translated into English and are still in print, including Leisure the Basis of Culture, Happiness and Contemplation, A Theory of Festivity, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, to name a few.

Image: By Spiering Photography

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