This past fall, I have often found myself demoralized. There is a seemingly continuous stream of distressing news describing troubles outside, but particularly inside the Church. This is compounded by the stresses of daily life, which for me are mostly due dates and tests. While this is nothing unusual – modern life finds countless ways to unsettle us – I realized that I was lacking something essential to the Christian life, essential to spreading the Good News: Christian joy.
When Christians talk of joy, it is not to be confused with a mere feeling of happiness. Feelings are fleeting, and depend on the circumstances of the moment. Christian joy is different. It is not temporary, but permanent; it is founded not on circumstances, but on the certainty of God’s love, poured out gratuitously on the Cross, and put on display for all to see.
One of my greatest sources of encouragement to grow in Christian joy is looking at the lives of the saints. One sees a certain joy in the midst of the many tribulations they went through. Most vividly of all the saints, the martyrs exemplify this joy. When reading St Ignatius of Antioch, for example, his joy and excitement at being able to follow Christ in death leaps off the page. The early martyrs’ joy was contagious. There are even stories of Romans leaping into the arena to join the Christians in their trial. What could have motivated their oppressors to join the Christians? Of course, the Holy Spirit was their ultimate motivation, but He worked through the witness of the martyrs facing death and lions with joy and peace.
Recently, as I was meditating on these things and discussing them with my brothers, I realized that I was lacking this profound joy, but I also realized that the grace of God gives us everything we need to live a life of Christian perfection. I found three things in particular to be helpful. First, I realized that I need to spend less time and energy dwelling on what I have no control over, and instead exert myself working on what God has given me the ability to do. I found that letting God worry about His Church and His world has helped me focus on my own spiritual life. Second, as I mentioned above, I found that reading the lives of the saints is a great source of joy and consolation.
However, if these aids do not lead to prayer, they are only a diversion. Thus, the third and main response to a lack of joy is prayer. Intensifying one’s prayer life is what makes Christian joy possible. Prayer is not burying one’s head in the sand or looking away from trouble. Instead, it is an offering of that struggle to God alongside Jesus on the Cross, which grounds us on the deep and lasting conviction that Christ Jesus cares for the needs of each one of us, as well as those of the Church as a whole.
This is what St. Peter conveys in his epistle: “Without having seen Him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Peter 1: 8-9). Let us constantly remind ourselves to draw our strength from the only true and inexhaustible source of Christian joy: God himself.
-Br. Paul Maria Müllner, O.P.
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