We all need a little joy in our lives but for many, this emotion can be fleeting – hard to find…hard to keep. I used to think folks experienced a lack of joy when life presented difficult challenges. Nowadays, it seems like folks experience a lack of joy even when things are going well. This strange phenomenon is the subject of tonight’s blog.
St. Thomas Aquinas said “natural joy is a fruit of love.” Joy is an emotion which is experienced in the presence of those we love or in the knowledge that those we love are happy. Upon reflection of Aquinas’ definition of joy, the beautiful face of my beloved mother Joan Mary came to mind.
Mom lived the theological virtue of love better than anyone I know – joy flowed freely through her soul to others in her midst. Her love was so true and selfless – that it had to be truly united with God, who is love. I believe that God allowed mom to participate in His love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and she in turn passed on this Divine love to those in her world. Why was mom joyful? Because as a woman of deep faith she allowed God to fill her up with His unconditional love every day. Despite her feelings (bad day or good day), she shared His love selflessly with friends and family who were then converted into people of joy.
Mom taught my siblings and me to love, because God has loved us first. She helped us to see what love looked like in very practical ways. Gathering together for family holidays at one house was a must! This meant over 20 people in our immediate family sleeping under one roof, but that didn’t matter – being together did. We’ve kept us this tradition – this Christmas in Maine – and forged many happy memories as a family. Through the love shared, joy sprouted and bloomed. Family dinners, nighttime prayers, Sunday Mass and breakfast, girls shopping days, movie nights and Cape Cod summer vacations were other simple ways that mom gave love to us over the years. Joy naturally followed.
So back to the question posed in the opening paragraph – where is joy today? I think I may have a theory… Unfortunately folks are looking for happiness and love in all the wrong places and when they don’t find it – there can be no joy. Mom knew that the things of this world are fleeting – power, money, fame, material possessions – and sadly, these are the things that many people think will make them happy and lead to joy.
Mom would want me to encourage all of us to reset our priorities and love more if we want to experience joy. Love leads to joy. This is not always easy – it takes practice. But anything worth doing requires practice. We have many heroic examples of men and women who have faced difficult life challenges, yet remained steadfast in faith and love. The Blessed Mother Mary didn’t have it easy at all with an unexpected pregnancy, journey to foreign lands and premonition about her son’s suffering, yet she remained joyful due to her deep faith and love of God. My mother Joan was also a deeply faithful woman, especially in the last 3 years of her life. She faced an unexpected cancer diagnosis at the prime of her life as a grandmother. Despite the grave diagnosis, she turned to God with a faith so deep it elevated her to saint status in my book. She remained joyful to her family, her friends and most of all, her beloved grandchildren. She never gave up, and certainly had the right to do so many times. But when one is so close to God, I don’t think despair is an option. God filled her with his light and grace and carried her through the darkest moments illuminating His light within her. We were all privileged enough to see that light shine bright!
Love leads to Joy!