I’ve noticed for quite some time that there is a new buzzword in the world of Catholicism. No, I’m not talking about the ‘New Evangelization’ here. I’m speaking specifically about the word ‘joy’.
Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with having joy or being in a state of joy. I consider myself to be joyful most of the time as I am always in the mood for a good joke and a fun time.
However, my concern is that all we talk about lately is that Christians have to have joy in order to be successful at Evangelization. As if that is a requirement for being a disciple of Jesus Christ as well as a Catholic in Good Standing. To me, we are overusing this word and making the word become a sappy and emotional feel-good term, as opposed to the true joy that Jesus refers to in the Gospels.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:10-12
Jesus is clear here. If we follow the commandments that Jesus has laid down before us, as well as the Commandments that God our Father has given us, we will have the joy that Christ has and gives because we are in that state of grace.
Similarly, when Jesus is telling the disciples that He will be taken up and crucified and will no longer be with them, they are upset. He says to them:
Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. John 16:20-24
When you go out to run a race, you more than likely are not thinking or even feeling joy. As you are running, the pain in your legs and the lactic acid build up begins to ache and throb. More than likely, this is not a joyful experience. Many times you may feel the desire or the urge to quit, but you push through. Finally, after your continuing success, you see the finish line. Inspired by this sight, you begin to push harder and run faster. A joy begins to arise as you know you are almost done with your race. You push harder and harder until finally, you cross the finish line, puffing and panting and suddenly a rush of joy sweeps over you. This is authentic joy as Jesus hints at.
This is the type of joy we are to strive for as Catholics. We shouldn’t settle for the counterfeit joy of feeling emotional and good and giddy and happy. Being a disciple isn’t always a joyful experience. Jesus warns us that following Him means the world will hate us because it hated Him first.
He warns us that the Gates of Heaven are narrow, and the Gates of Hell are wide. He warns us that our family will hate us because we follow Him. Jesus even mentions that we are going to have to sacrifice. None of these things are joyful in themselves.
What makes them joyful in the Catholic sense of the word, is the fact that we are created to love and serve our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are to follow His will for us. When we follow His will, we may experience moments of joy, however, there are moments when we do not. The false dichotomy that we will experience joy can lead the person who follows this mentality to think that they are not following God’s will because they do not feel joy. There are many instances in which following God’s will, will in fact not feel or seem joyful.
The faithful who stands up for an end to abortion or in defense of traditional marriage may get fired from his job. There is joy in standing up for God, but the doubts and uncertainty of where the next paycheck will come will not be a joyful experience. Thankfully, God will provide to his faithful.
We have confused smiling and laughter with joy, which is thanks to our wonderful culture who either ignorantly or purposefully do this. If you Google Image St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joseph or really, just about any Saint you can think of, you will find that they rarely are seen smiling. They are serious and stern, but the holiness radiates around them. Heck, look at the images of Our Lady in all of her different apparitions. Not many smiles.
I know some traditionalists would argue with me (and that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion), but I see nothing wrong with smiling. But putting an emphasis on smiling and being a good Catholic is a lie and doesn’t stand when looking at the history of the Catholic faith. Catholicism is based on intellect, not on emotion. Emotion plays a role from time to time, but the majority of the time it is logic and truth.
Life isn’t always joyful. For proof, look at the Rosary as given to us by Our Lady. We don’t have 3 sets of Joyful mysteries. We have a set of Joyful mysteries, a set of Sorrowful mysteries, and a set of Glorious mysteries (we also have a set of Luminous mysteries that were given to us by Blessed Pope John Paul II as a suggestion, so it is not required to pray these). The argument that we must be joyful at all times is a farce of an argument as even Jesus stated that we must be ready and stand watch for the thief that comes at night.
The next time you see someone who is devout in their faith, but seems “non-joyful” or even “angry” at something, before you jump to criticisms and accuse them as such, take a step back and look at the deeper under-linings of why they are such. It may just be that they are interiorly following Christ and are upset that others are not.
Read the follow-up post, You Can’t Always Be Joyful