“Joy isn’t found in the material objects surrounding us, but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace.” – St. Therese of Lisieux
It is a gift that most everyone cherishes. When it is genuine it carries with it a happiness that is capable of transforming hearts of stone into life giving waters. It is not contingent on laughter or noisy clatter, neither is it reliant on outward expressions of enjoyment. Although these are manifestations of joy, they are not in themselves a source of happiness.
What is the root of lasting joy?
Love is a universal experience. We have all experienced it to some degree, whether it be philios, eros, or simply affectionate love which carries with it the gift of compassion. We can agree that the one undeniable gift it brings with it is happiness. We find joy in knowing that we are loved and have loved. And yet we understand that the fulfillment of love can be disturbed by human limitations. We are vulnerable without boundaries one day, and the next we are shutting every door that leads to the intimate depths of our heart.
Experience tells us that we are not free to love without pain. So why is love so closely tied to the joys we experience in life? If we look beyond human affections we discover that deep in the recesses of the soul, there is agape, a love that is hidden and pure; a quiet yet enduring love that seeps into every part of our life and accepts it as it is; an everlasting love that cannot be disturbed by the world. “Give praise to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 106)
We are at the advent of a renewed encounter with the author of all that is love and as we prepare our hearts to receive him we are also preparing our hearts to give him to others. This reciprocity maintains the joy of loving that cannot be found apart from Him! God sustains the joy of loving because he is Love Himself.
Love is not something to be feared. It simply requires confidence in knowing that we were first loved by God. Any other love only serves to adorn and compliment our joy in Him. This allows us to step forward joyfully anchored in the security of knowing we are wanted and pursued by love.
What happens when your heart struggles to be receptive to this kind of love? We all have days of dryness, sadness, dim rays of light that simply flicker with fainted smiles; those days when all we want to do is run away from all that pains us. It is during these moments of hurt, at the height of our vulnerability that the Holy Spirit invites us into a sacrifice of praise where we are embraced by Jesus on the cross. Our struggle does not vanish into thin air and the scars of our brokeness do not seize to exist when we come face to face with the Divine Healer. But, just as he was glorified on the Cross, so too does he glorify the wounds we hold out to him and make them new . At the cross we look into the eyes of everlasting love and our joy is renewed in a beautiful paradox of sorrow and bliss.
This is the kind of joy that “bears all things, believes all things, Hope’s all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:7) It can genuinely be seen in the stillness of a single gaze, in the simplicity of a sincere embrace or the silence of soulful weeping. No one can take away the joy that comes from this intimate encounter.
Broken humanity will always be a broken humanity. It will never be able to satisfy our thirst for love. But as we make up part of its brokenness, we too play a significant role in its healing. We can begin to cultivate a life of sacrificial praise in the midst of pain and sorrow which in turn bears fruit to the healing power of love made manifest in and through Jesus Christ. This is such a powerful antidote to the human condition of sin and suffering. And in it we discover the joy of living.
“Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.” CCC 30