God's Gift Of Joy
Lynne Therese Elwinger, O.C.D.
Joy to the world! Joy for the world! The seasons of joy have come around once again! In Advent, we rejoice in the hope that the Light of the World will come and evaporate the darkness all around us. At Christmas, we give thanks that Jesus, God’s Joy personified, has been born to Mary and become one of us. Because of this, Jesus becomes our joy too. Although we may never fully understand the mystery of God becoming flesh, we do know that when we really connect with this mystery and all it contains, we experience great joy. And as they once were for the shepherds in Bethlehem, the angels are still around us to help us recognize that we, too, have a cause for rejoicing.
Joy has been a recurring theme for me this Advent, leading me to think about the times in my life when I thought I had lost my own joy. I seemed to know joy in those days more by its absence than by its presence, and I wondered if it was gone forever. But I didn’t have a real clue what to do about it, except to pray for its return. I wasn’t exactly depressed when this was happening, and at times I was even temporarily happy, but I was always aware of the missing joy which I had known before this happened.
While reflecting on the difference between true joy and other happy states, I came across this quote from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, which almost perfectly describes what I had experienced. He said, “Pleasure comes from without, but joy comes from within, and it is therefore within reach of everyone in the world.” This may seem at first like a small difference, but it really isn’t. What stuck with me was the idea that joy comes from our own inner being, the depths of our heart and soul. It arises from within, and everything else comes from without, being therefore dependent on other people and circumstances. It seems to me that this joy is God’s gift to us, forming a part of us from the moment of our creation. Most babies and young children are instinctively joyful. When that joy seems to disappear or perhaps has not yet been fully experienced, it is still there within us waiting to be uncovered or rediscovered.
Most of us can think of some times in our lives when we have really felt that joy, such as when praying or meditating, at the birth of a child, at a time of deep commitment, in the beauty of nature, or when reuniting with loved ones after a long absence. There is such a depth to that feeling and a type of intensity that seems to stand out. Remembering those occasions will often bring that feeling back in almost the same intensity.
Experience Of Joy
I have come to see the experience of this joy as an experience of union with the God-spark implanted permanently in our hearts, and I believe that we are truly intended to live our daily lives from that place within. I also have found that it is easier said than done! This isn’t the same as being “happy” all the time. There are many serious and challenging and yes, even sad, moments in our days, in which happiness as we understand it, would seem inappropriate. But in those same difficult times when we connect with the Divine Presence deep within, which companions us through everything, we can walk through even the darkest valleys of our days with an inner joy knowing we do not walk alone.
We have seen this in the lives of many of our Saints, canonized or not, whose examples encourage us on our own journey. People who are captured by joy seem to just glow with a soft radiance, as if that inner light is leaking out and blessing all around them. It has been said that “Joy is the infallible [or the surest] sign of the presence of God.” When I looked up the source of this quote, I found it attributed to a number of different people, among them our own St. Teresa of Avila, and Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Regardless of who said it first, I’ve definitely seen this to be true in my personal life.
Warm Rays Of The Sun
The season of Advent asks us to just stop the hustle and bustle of daily life for a little while, and allow a moment for reconnection with the springs of joy bubbling up in our deepest places. Or, as I sometimes like to imagine it, to allow time to bask in the warm rays of that little sun always shining inside us. Actually every day of the year should be an Advent day, in this sense. The celebration of Christmas then gives us a little extra boost in our rejoicing, helping us to more easily reconnect with that inner joy which is in itself a sign of Emmanuel, God-with-us. As we multiply our own moments of presence to that joy, we create a path to the source that is easier and easier to find and walk on. Once we are back in connection with God’s life-giving joy in ourselves, we are called to bring that joy out into our world. We don’t necessarily have to preach or tell people about it directly. Joy is, in itself, contagious! Your joy-glow will bring all those around you closer to the source of their own inner joy. This is the true gift of Christmas! Jesus, God’s Joy, awakens the joy in us, so we can be people of joy for all the world.
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