Every Easter I am greatly surprised by the attitude of Jesus’ disciples after the Pentecost experience. The first Christians are a happy people. Two qualities adorn their lives: the joy of their faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord and the courage to suffer persecution for him. When I was a young student I could not understand why some of my teachers appeared to be sad. I try hard to be joyful, although at times I fail!
We believers in Jesus, in particular, should try hard to be joyful. By the hand, above all, of the Sacred Scriptures, and of many teachers on my journey of life, I learned to know and appreciate real joy. I want to share these notes on joy with you.
THE SOUNDS OF JOY
Joy is a passion and an emotion of the human person. It stands for true satisfaction and delight, for the gladness produced by goodness, beauty, God. Joy is a quality in the lives of good people, of believers, in particular of the authentic Christian. As a Dominican I have to say that our Father Dominic was a joyful man. God said to Saint Catherine of Siena: “The religion of thy Father Dominic is joyful and lightsome.” Pope Francis underlines this joy in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel (2013).
The psalmist sings: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “I will bless the Lord at all times… I will praise him from my heart; let the humble hear and rejoice!” (Ps 34:1-2); “in the shadow of your wings I rejoice” (Ps 63:7). Creation rejoices too: “The hillsides are wrapped in joy, the meadows are covered with flocks, the valleys clothed with wheat; they shout and sing for joy” (Ps 65: 12-13). Rejoice, Isaiah requests us, “Rejoice Jerusalem, rejoice with her and you will find contentment” (Is 66:10). St. Paul advises us: “Always be joyful in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful” (Phil 4: 4).
As we know, our liturgical calendar gives prominence to the two preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent. It is interesting to note that among the four Sundays of Advent we find the Gaudete or the Sunday to be glad, and among the five Sundays of Lent, we have the Leaetare Sunday or the Sunday to rejoice! Advent and Lent prepare us for Christmas and Easter respectively, the two greatest solemnities of our religious calendar. Advent and Lent prepare us through penances that might appear – particularly in the past – as symbols of sadness and gloom. The Church reminds us every year that nothing can take away our joy. She reminds us in Lent too not to forget that the Christian attitude of life is an attitude of joy, of happiness.
Joy is one of the fruits and blessings of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). We are joyful because God is with us and in us: “Yahweh, to my heart you are a richer joy than all their corn and new wine” (Ps 4:7). We are glad, when we do God’s will: “In the way of your instructions lies my joy, a joy beyond all wealth” (Ps 119:14); “Rejoice in Yahweh, exult all you upright, shout for joy, you honest of heart” (Ps32:11).
I read somewhere that a person laughs about fifteen times a day and that the more he or she laughs the better for health: it may protect the organism against sadness and depression and cardiac arrests. Yes, true laughter brings joy, happiness.
THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS REJOICE
I was in Rome and in the Vatican on February 14 to 24, 2013. I was able to attend the last Angelus of our Holy Father Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus. From the window of his apartment, the then Pope told us – a crowd of around two hundred thousand people – to be faithful and joyful. In his last twit as Pope, Benedict XVI wrote: “May you all experience the joy of having Jesus as the center of your life.”
How can a Christian not be joyful? He or she believes that God is our Father, Jesus is our savior and brother, and the Holy Spirit is our advocate and consoler. Christian joy is communal joy. Paul VI says in his beautiful Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino (1975): “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, 22; cf. Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 3). We are all brothers and sisters! Fraternal/sisterly love increases our personal joy: “When many rejoice together, the joy of each is richer; they warm themselves at each other’s flame” (St. Augustine).
If we go through the main events in the life of Jesus we feel the presence of joy in his life and message. Contemplate the Annunciation to Mary: “The angel came to her and said: ‘Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you’” (Lk 1:28). The Visitation of Mary: How is it, Elizabeth says, “that the mother of the Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly moved for joy” (Lk 1:44). The angel talking to the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid; I am here to give you good news, great joy for all the people. Today a Savior has been born to you” (Lk 2:10-11 and 20).The joy of Zacchaeus welcoming Jesus to his house (Lk 19:6). The lovely parables of the lost show the joy of the Father in heaven over the found sheep, silver pieces and prodigal son: “Rejoice with me, rejoice with me! Let us celebrate and rejoice” (Lk 15:6, 9, 32). On the way to the glorious entrance of Jesus mounted on a donkey into Jerusalem, “the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Lk 19:37).
Jesus is conversing with his apostles during the Last Supper. He is going to be crucified and die the next day Good Friday. He tells them that God loves them, that they are the branches attached to the vine, that is, to him. Jesus adds: “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete” (Jun 15: 11). A little later in the evening, and after announcing to them his departure, He tells them: “You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy and that joy no one can take away from you” (Jn 16:22). The joy of the presence of the Risen Lord: “They were still incredulous for sheer joy and wonder” (Lk 24:41). The joy of the disciples who witnessed the Ascension of Christ: “As he blessed, he left them, and was taken up to heaven. They fell down to do him reverence, then returned to Jerusalem filled with joy” (Lk 24:52).
After the Resurrection of Christ, the apostles preached the Gospel with great courage and joy. They were often persecuted, imprisoned, flogged for doing so. They were “glad for having had the honor of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name” (Ac 5:41). What name? Jesus our Lord! Indeed, the Resurrection of the Lord is joy. The converts of Paul and Barnabas “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (Ac 13:51). The jailer of Paul and Silas in Philippi rejoiced with his whole household at having received the gift of faith in God (cf. Ac 16:34). After baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip was snatched away by the Spirit and disappeared, “but the eunuch continued on his way rejoicing” (Ac 8:39).
How did the first Christian communities experience Christ’s resurrection? By being faithful, joyful and passionately in love with the Risen Lord: “They remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to fraternity, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer… They shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone”! (Acts, 2:42, 46-47). Through the first centuries, non-Christians described Christians by their love: “Look how they love each other.” Through the first centuries, the celebration of Easter Vigil was already the high point of the Christian liturgy. The Easter Vigil celebration took the whole night. St. Augustine narrates a lovely story. Even the unbelievers (the pagans, then) were haunted by the Christians’ Easter Vigil. The pagans went near the churches to hear the joyful songs and prayers of the Christians and, above all, to see how the Christians came out of the celebration. When they saw the joyful, radiant faces of the Christians, many of them were converted to Christ, the Risen Lord. In his spiritual diary – recently published -, Saint John Paul II has this entry more than once; a statement of Paul Claudel: “Christians come out of the celebration of the Eucharist as if there coming from a funeral instead of from an encounter with the Risen Lord.”
Christians who are sad, Bonhoeffer says, have not understood the Resurrection, the joy of the resurrection! The disciples on the way to Emmaus are sad. They have a reason to be sad: they believe Jesus is dead. What is bad is that those who believe that Jesus rose from the dead are sad (J. L. Martin Descalzo).
To be a Christian entails to continue trying to practice as Jesus told us to do the Beatitudes, which are eight forms of happiness: Happy are the poor in spirit, the merciful, and the peacemakers – even those who mourn! The path presented to us by Jesus, a path of joy and happiness, is not the path of wealth, of pleasure and power but the path of spiritual poverty. Therefore, Jesus tells us, “Be glad and rejoice!”(Mt 5:12). In truth, the Beatitudes say to us: “O the bliss of being a Christian, the joy of following Christ” (W. Barclay).
Pascal says: “No one is as happy as an authentic Christian” or, we may add, as an authentic believer or an authentic human being! Are there many authentic Christians? Certainly, “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long faces” (W. Barclay, In Jn 15:11-17; also, In Lk 14:15-24). We all – all humans – agree on one common thing: We all want to be happy, and yet, as Camus says, “People die and are not happy.” And we, perhaps, are not happy – or happier – because we place our happiness in the wrong objects or things – in power, in pleasure, in positions, in possessions … Only true love is the source of real happiness and joy. Only doing good to others can make us happy.
LOVE IS JOYFUL
Love, true love goes to others and causes joy. Pope Francis writes: “True joy doesn’t come from things, from having, no! It’s born from encounter, from the relation with others. (…) And the joy of the encounter with Him and of His call leads not to closing ourselves but to opening ourselves; it leads to service in the Church. Saint Thomas said ‘bonum est diffusivum sui’ – Good diffuses itself. And joy also diffuses itself” (Address to Seminarians and Novices: July 8, 2013).
Indeed charity is cause of joy: the love of God and of all neighbors cause joy in us. Love is, with peace and mercy, an internal act of charity (see St. Thomas Aquinas, II-II, 26, 1). Generosity too is joyful: God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).
The Oriental Master says: “Just show us your face and we will know if you are inhabited by joy.” All the saints, great lovers, are a happy crowd, and “the greatest of their gifts was their smile.” Mary Our Lady rejoices: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1: 46-47). The apostles and disciples of Jesus of the first centuries were persecuted and martyred, but they were “full of joy” (Ac 5:41). St. Teresa of Avila rejoices in her sufferings – “sweet wounds,” she calls them. For a soul in love, a “dark night” becomes a “happy night,”and united to God in love she is in festive mood with a great joy from God, with a new song, always new and wrapped up in gladness and love (cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent and Flame). The first rule of St. Ignatius of Loyola on discretion of spirits is this: it is proper for God and his angels in their motions to give true gladness and spiritual joy, removing all sadness and disturbances which are induced by the enemy, whose characteristic is to fight against such a joy and spiritual consolation.
In her darkness, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was happy and joyful – always smiling: “I am happy. I just have the joy of having nothing.” Once, Blessed Mother Teresa gave a talk to married couples. She asked them to smile often to each other. After the lecture, a couple (that apparently wanted to catch her off guard) approached her to ask: “Are you married?” She answered them: “Yes, and sometimes I find it very difficult to smile at Jesus. He can be very demanding.”
A Father of the Church added to the seven capital sins – pride, anger, envy, lust, etc. – an eighth one: sadness. Francis of Sales tells us in one of the most influential books of Christian spirituality, Introduction to the Devout Life: “Oppose vigorously any tendency to sadness; if you are ever caught by this evil kind of sorrow, pray for prayer is a sovereign remedy for it lifts up the soul to God who is our only joy and consolation” (Fourth Part, 12; cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 6, chapter 12). For the children of God – for all of us -, “There is only one sadness: the sadness of not being a saint” (L. Bloy). When the young man was invited by Jesus to give up his wealth and follow him, the young man did not accept and, we are told, that “he went away sad” (Mk 10:22). Sadness is caused radically by the absence of God from our life and the presence of sin in our souls. The Psalmist says (Ps 34: 16): “But Yahweh’s face is set against those who do evil”; “A clean heart create for me, O God, give me back the joy of your salvation” (Ps 51:12-14). Sadness is caused by evil, sin, selfishness; by what writers of the Middle Ages call “amor curvus,” warped love – a love that goes back to oneself, or selfish self-love. SaintFrancis prays:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love …
And where there is sadness, joy.
The poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore writes:
I was sleeping and dreamed that life was joyful;
I woke up and saw that life was service;
I began to serve and saw that serving was joy”
MAY SUFFERING BE JOYFUL?
You and I ask: “Why should we rejoice always? Life is full of sufferings and pains and violence and injustice! Why should we? Because in spite of our miseries God loves us, and Jesus heals us, and the Holy Spirit consoles us!
Life, our life on earth is also visited by suffering. There is a time to mourn: “Blessed are the sorrowing, or those who mourn” (Mt 5:4). We mourn for our sins and the sins of others, for the evil that we see and endure. This beatitude and the other seven are fruits of charity, which is joyful. The disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus a question: “Why your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them: Well, when the bridegroom is around, no time for mourning; when the bridegroom is taken away then they will fast. So with the disciples (cf. Mt 9:14-15). “The Christian way brings its joy; but the Christian way also brings the blood and sweat and tears, which cannot take the joy away, but which, none the less, must be faced. So Jesus says: “Are you ready for both? – the Christian joy and the Christian cross” (W. Barclay, In Mt 9:14-15). Let us remember that suffering is not the opposite of joy, resentment is (G. Gutierrez). As St. Peter tells us: “In so far as you share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, so that you may enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:13). Suffering, the cross is not the opposite of happiness, of joy: “It makes me happy to suffer for you” (Col 1:24). In this context, we understand the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to Rome, to martyrdom: “In the blood of Jesus Christ, there is joy, eternal and unfailing joy” (Letter to Philadelphians, in Office of Readings, 27th, Thursday). Joy is mixed with some sadness in this life: joy in the good and sadness in the evil: I am happy in the presence of my friend and a bit unhappy because he is suffering. (Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 28, 1)
Life, this earthly life, however, is also full of tears. There are inevitable tears at times but we know in faith and in our own life that joy – like in the case of the farmer – will usually follow the tears: “Those who sow in tears sing as they reap” (Ps 126:5). “My soul weeps for sorrow,” the Psalmist prays, and asks the Lord to “strengthen me according to your words” (Ps 119:28). “To you we cry…, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,” we sing to Our Lady Mother Mary. When we are hurting, Jesus our Savior, brother and friend invites us to come to him: “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28).
We pray to God that our attitude be of joy and when sadness comes we ask him to deliver us from evil, from sadness as an attitude. When we see others sad, we must have compassion – like Jesus who had compassion of the sick, the hungry, the lonely, and of those burdened. St. Paul advises us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).
Suffering and pain are part of our life. At times it may be appear as too heavy a burden, not a time to smile. Even then, Pope Francis tells us, “we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress” (EG 6).
We are all sinners. While sincauses sadness, conversion causes joy: joy in the sinner, the community and in heaven: “I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:10). When the Prodigal Son returns home a repentant sinner, the father – the Father – rejoices: “Let us rejoice and celebrate for my younger son has come back home” (see Lk 15:11-32). St. Paul tells the Philippians that they will make him happy if they follow Jesus, if they become one in love: “Make my joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind” (Phil 2:2). When we are not joyful, we ask God for the gift of joy, like the Psalmist: “My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God” (Ps 84:2).
My favorite priest writer is José Luis Martin Descalzo who passed away at sixty after years in dialysis. He wrote: “I confess that I never ask God that he cures my sickness. This would seem to me an abuse of trust. I ask him, yes, that He helps me bear my suffering with joy.” To the Ten Commandments, Descalzo adds the eleventh: “Be joyful.”
To be happy, or joyful, however, does not necessarily mean to smile all the time. I remember when my mother passed away, it was very painful for me. I was the main celebrant in the Funeral Mass, but I could not give the homily. One thing I found out of place at that Mass was the singing of the Alleluia. I know it takes us to the resurrection of Christ – and ours -, but that was not the time for the joyful Alleluia! Later on, I told a priest friend about how I felt. He said that it was fine to sing the Alleluia, for we are Easter People. I asked him: “Do you think that Our Lady at the foot of the Cross when her Son Jesus is dying, or when she has his dead body on her lap; do you think that she would have liked the singing of the Alleluia?” He understood! There is a time for everything: a time to smile and a time – hopefully, a short time – to cry.
In his Apostolic Exhortation on Christian Joy, Gaudete in Domino (1975), Pope Paul VI writes: The joy of the Kingdom…can only spring from the simultaneous celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord: neither trials nor sufferings have been eliminated from this world but they take on a new meaning in the certainty of sharing in the redemption wrought by the Lord and of sharing in his glory.”
Suffering is part of our life, yes, but suffering is not the word that gives meaning to our life; love is. And love, true love gives meaning also to suffering and only love can make suffering light and hopeful.
Prayer helps us remove sin, praise God and rejoice in his presence: “Better your faithful love than life itself, my lips will praise you . . .; a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth” (Ps 63:3 and 5); “One thing I ask, one thing I seek: to dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to enjoy the sweetness of Yahweh, to seek out his temple” (Ps 27:4); “My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God” (Ps 84:2). St. Paul prayed for the Philippians with joy, because they were faithful to the Gospel of Jesus (Phil 1:3-4). When St. Ignatius of Antioch was on the way to Rome to be martyred, he constantly pleaded the people not to impede him but, on the contrary, to pray for him who was most willing to die for the Lord: “I am the wheat of God… Only let me enjoy Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Romans).
Like the monks of old, the Christian may enjoy God’s presence also in chanting or reciting prayers, and also in the silence of the soul. Francis de Osuna (+1540) wrote a remarkable book entitled Third Primer of Spirituality, a treatise on prayer. This wise and saintly Franciscan tells us that prayer, collected prayer must be done with a joyful spirit, because according to him those who are sad make in fact little progress on the journey of prayer. Once a nun saw St. John of the Cross after celebrating the Mass; the saint had a radiant and joyful face. She asked him: “What is so funny? Why are you so happy?” “Why should I not be,” the mystic answered, “I just was with Jesus in the Eucharist?” In the reception of the Eucharist the union with Christ is experienced joyfully (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ). The Russian Pilgrim tells us that the Prayer of the Heart (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us”) delighted him so much “that there could be no one happier than I in the whole world” (The Way of the Pilgrim). I have a lovely sister who is partly disabled. She will have for life between 12 and 14 years – now she is sixty five. She is the most grateful person I have ever known. She is usually joyful, and at times totally joyful, or as Linus of the Peanuts Family, “outrageously happy”: “Fausto, I cannot have more happiness in me; I am so joyful.” I remember Jesus’ words: “If you do not become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Prayer, true prayer – vocal or mental or affective or contemplative – is a source of strength and joy. It is also cause of joy: There is joy in going down the mountain of prayer and contemplation with a radiant face (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata 38).
Devotion or dedication to God’s service is also caused by meditation or contemplation. The primary effect of devotion is spiritual joy, although secondarily it may produce certain sadness. It causes great joy when considering the divine goodness, and some sadness when considering our misery: meditating on the Passion of Christ produces certain sadness, but great joy when contemplating the goodness of God who liberates us in Jesus (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, question 82, articles 1-4)
JOYFUL IN HOPE
Life is gaudium et spes, hope and joy: joyful hope. Life is a journey. We are pilgrims on the way to our Father’s house. Hope is the virtue of the pilgrim. True hope in God means not a pie in the sky but journeying to God by loving fidelity to the present. The present, the moment, the “now” is the only thing in our hands. The Zen master says: “The past is unreal; the future is unreal too; only the present is real.” Life is – he continues – “a series of moments either lived or lost.” This moment then is the only thing in our hands. What matters is that while walking to God – to heaven – we are faithful to the present; and this means to put love in everything we do, that is, joyful love, a true love that “finds its joy in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6), in the presence of God, who is Love and Truth. We walk towards God with hopeful love, which is the best form of journeying: “We walk towards God not walking but loving” (St. Augustine). By the way, joyful love is good for our health too: “A joyful heart is the health of the body” (Pr 17:22). “The health of the soul is the love of God” (St. Jon of the Cross).
The virtue of hope thenis also permeated by joy. Be joyful in hope, St. Paul advises us (Rom 12:12), which means: you are happy here because you hope, and you hope to be happier in the afterlife, because you are a Christian and therefore not just optimistic but hopeful; tomorrow will be better. We cannot be perfectly joyful here on earth, but we are certainly joyful already because God’s love – a hopeful love – is in our hearts. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God – the Kingdom of grace and justice and love – is within us, and St. Paul comments: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
We try hard to be happy, with the relative happiness that we can have in this life! We believe in heaven, in eternal life as the object of our hope, the end of our longing (cf. 1 Jn 2:25). We strongly believe that we shall be outrageously happy in the life to come – after a happy ending! A happy ending will come as effect of the merciful love of God, his love in our hearts, and our humble cooperation with his grace and love.
Love is the only thing that will accompany us to the other life, the love we accumulate through life – love of God and of all neighbors, principally the little ones, that is, the poor, the sick, the abandoned, those in prison… We know what Jesus says: “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me” (cf. Mt 25:40). We joyfully hope and pray that Jesus will tell us then: Come, “share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21-23).
We are Christ’s disciples, we are citizens of heaven. On the way, we truly rejoice – in hope. Christ tells us today what he told the apostles at the Last Supper: “That my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). We should rejoice not because we are powerful, even miracle workers like the 72 disciples sent by Jesus to proclaim his Good News: “Do not rejoice,” Jesus tells us, “because the spirits submit to you; rejoice instead because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).
We are pilgrims, hopeful and joyful pilgrims: We are Easter People and Alleluia is our song! We are on the way to the house of the Father. On the journey of life, St. Augustine invites us to sing with him: “Let us sing now… in order to lighten our labors. Sing but continue your journey, making progress in virtue, faith and right living. Sing, then but keep going.” We are on the way to the embrace of Christ.
We are joyful on the way, joyful in hope because we believe in God, a joyful God, the greatest lover, who will certainly surprise us in heaven with perfect joy:
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him (I Cor 2:9).
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things, the world of the past have passed away“(Rev 21:1-4).
The Spirit and the Bride say, “come!” Let him who hears answer, “come!”…Come, Lord Jesus (Rev 22:17, 20).
(The original text was published in Boletin Eclesiástico de Filipinas, Vol. XC, No. 904, January-April, 2014, pp. 309-320)
Fr. Fausto Gomez, OP
St. Dominic’s Priory, Macau