There is an incredibly catchy Spanish Pentecostal song that goes as follows:
“El gozo que tengo yo, el mundo no me lo dio, el mundo no me lo dio, y como no me lo dio, no me lo puede quitar”
which translates as:
“The joy that I have, the world did not give to me and as it did not give it to me, it cannot take it away from me”
I found myself humming the tune to myself this morning and had to chuckle to myself. As I have gotten older, I definitely have allowed myself to succumb to being a grouch. It is easier to be grumpy than to be sad but no one likes to be around someone who bubbles negativity. Everyday life has its fair share of negative emotion. But sometimes I have even found myself seeking out things which incite rage–it is easier to be upset at a world event or what someone on the internet said than to focus on one’s interior life!
Depression is real and can be extremely crippling. This is not an article to tell a depressed person to “just cheer up.” But it is, however, an article to encourage healthy Catholics to cling to joy.
We all know the familiar passage:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law – Galatians 5:22-23
The Bible is simply saturated with passages that tell us to be joyful! What do we make of this in light of the fact that there is so much suffering? I have briefly discussed how suffering is used to make us more virtuous in my article Rising from Hopelessness. We have saints throughout the ages who learned to maintain peace and yes, even joy, in their hearts when faced with the most grievous persecution and suffering.
I want to remind fellow Catholics of the importance of joy. It is not a prosperity-gospel promise of material wealth and perpetual, warm fuzzy feelings. It is the reality of the Catholic life. If we have the truth of Christ, we have no other option than to be joyful and to spread this joy with others.
We know that love is an action and to keep it alive we must work hard. The same is true for joy. We must water the garden to keep the flowers of joy and love blooming and healthy.
It is easy to allow ourselves to be carried with the tides of our emotions but we must persevere to subject our emotions to reason a bit more each day. St. Thomas Aquinas says:
Spiritual joy is not so much a feeling but a sort of contentment, peace, and appreciation. It is “an act, or effect, of charity.” It is an understanding of the heart and mind in unison and it overflows in how we interact with others.
Peter Kreeft, from the Catholic Resource Education Center, says that there is a distinction to be made between joy and happiness. He says “Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.” We are not always called towards happiness; happiness is fleeting. However, joy is something we can maintain in our hearts; like a treasure, that springs from closeness with the Almighty God.
We know that in the spiritual life, the virtues do not work in isolation but rather they flow from each other and build off of one another. How can we have sanctifying sorrow and joy? To participate in sanctifying sorrow is not to be downcast and embittered. And to be joyful in the Lord does not mean always laughing and being boisterous. As we mature and grow in the spiritual life, we see how life becomes an intermingling of holy sorrow and holy joy, both co-operating and flowing from each other as we strive for holiness. We sorrow because of our lack of perfection but can have joy in how far God has brought us and the recompense we await. We sorrow in being apart from God but this works in our purgation to bring us closer to Him.
I think it is always important to meditate on the fruits of the Spirit and see where we fall short. May we find contentment in what we have been given and thank God for His mighty provisions.
As I explore the new waters of married life, I have particularly been observing my behaviors and emotional responses. I see that although I am an adult I still have much maturing to do. As a woman, I have the special task of being the heart of the home. I set the mood of the household and joy is very important in this regard. There is nothing more beautiful than a joyful wife and mother. I pray that my heart would be softened and that I would become full of joy.
Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Monica, and St. Margaret of Scotland, all wonderful wives and mothers, pray for us! I pray that I may become a better woman, in service of my neighbors and for the sake of my loving husband.
St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy and merriment, pray for us!
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.