Last weekend I heard the word “joy” mentioned on two very different occasions. I met an elderly gentleman in the church porch who had recently suffered a bereavement. “I wanted to come to church. It brings me joy,” he said.
Then I officiated at the wedding of a young couple and the prayers in the Mass spoke about the joy of Christian marriage. On the one hand, there was joy in the midst of the pain of loss; on the other, joy as a natural part of the shared life of man and wife.
I thought afterwards: how can the one word encompass such diverse experiences? Then I recalled something that became very apparent to me in writing the booklet which is published this month. We experience joy through our relationship with God and God is always with us.
When somebody whom we love dies, we commend that person to God. Their death can become a new moment for us to understand how great is God’s mercy and power. We know in faith that, because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, that person is not lost to us. We know that we will be reunited. Hence, we experience joy.
When we participate in a wedding in church we see more than a man and woman pledging themselves to each other. We see the love of God shining out from the relationship of the couple. We know, again in faith, that God’s love was expressed most perfectly in the crucifixion of Jesus. Through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the Holy Spirit will strengthen the couple’s love for each other. They will become capable of truly self-sacrificial love. That knowledge brings joy to us all.
At the heart of Christian joy, then, are two things: a relationship with Jesus; and a settled resolve to do the Father’s will, as Jesus did. The Holy Spirit makes both these things possible. The Spirit gives us the precious gift of faith which enables us to respond always more fully to Jesus’s invitation to friendship. The Spirit pours love into our hearts making it easier for us to act in ways that are pleasing to God.
What does this look like in practice? Another way of asking this question is: how may I, with all the distractions of daily life, experience joy? A good starting point is to look at our life of prayer. Every joyful person I know is serious about prayer. Lots of good parishioners I know do not give themselves enough time for prayer. They try to make Sunday Mass attendance the ‘be all and end all’. If we pray each day we find that we can go deeper at Mass, give ourselves more completely to Christ as he gives himself to us. It is in that exchange that we know joy. We are taken out of ourselves.
Secondly, we have to get on with stuff. Years ago, a good priest friend of mine concluded his self-assessment with the seminary Rector by saying that he felt he was not engaging sufficiently in charitable works. “Well do something, then!” the Rector exclaimed. We will not experience joy if we remain inactive. Each of us is being called to contribute to the mission of the Church. The fun part of being a Christian is looking around at the concrete possibilities and choosing one of them.
In my own parish, parishioners have recently decided to set up a soup kitchen, start a Youth SVP, start a Walking Group and start a Faith and Light Group. The Holy Spirit has enlightened them and they have just told me in courtesy what they are doing. It’s no surprise that as other parishioners have joined in their activities an atmosphere of joy has spread around the parish.
If you are able to read my booklet I hope that it will encourage you in your vocation in the Church and help you to experience more joy in your life. Of this I am convinced: God wishes all of us to know his joy. Whatever bad things may happen to us, we can be confident that God will never withdraw his protection from us. That is why Christian joy is not a flimsy thing: it is as permanent as the rock which is the faith of Peter, a faith in which we all share.
The new CTS series Living Fruitfully is available on our website: