An Anatomy of Christian Joy: 'Be, Jesus, Our Joy!'
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What is Christian joy? In its essence, Christian joy is supernatural in origin, which is to say it is something beyond our natural powers. Christian joy is anchored in Jesus Christ. "Christian joy," wrote Pope Paul VI in his encyclical on joy, Gaudete in Domino, "is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified."
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - "Christianity is, by its very nature, joy--ability to be joyful," wrote the theologian Joseph Ratzinger. "A Christian," said Pope Francis more concretely in a recent sermon, "is a man and a woman of joy . . . . The Christian sings with joy, and walks, and carries this joy."
Joy is a central theme in the Scriptures. Indeed, the Gospel, which is to say the very inception of Christian sacred history, virtually begins with the announcement of joy: "Rejoice!" was the first work spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel to the Good News that the Word was to become flesh. (Luke 1:28)
Jesus' teachings are intended to cause us joy. "These things I have spoken to you," said Jesus to his apostles, "that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:11) "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:4)
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, that Holy Spirit of Truth (John 16:13), the Spirit of Love, against which there is no law. (Cf. Gal. 5:22-23)
Perhaps the most famous is St. Paul's commandment to rejoice: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice." (Phil. 4:4)
What is this Christian joy? In its essence, Christian joy is supernatural in origin, which is to say it is something beyond our natural powers. Christian joy is anchored in Jesus Christ. "Christian joy," wrote Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation on joy Gaudete in Domino, "is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified."
Christian joy is therefore, a grace, a gift of God. "Joy is a gift from God," "a grace we must seek," observed Pope Francis in his sermon. Like the heart of Jesus in which it is found, like the Holy Spirit from which it comes, like sanctifying grace which justifies us, it "fills us from within." It is the product of our adoption as sons of God, of our divinization and at the same time our true humanization. Anima naturaliter Christiana.
Christian joy is tied to truth, the truth about the Lord Jesus, and so also tied to faith. Christian joy is tied to hope in God's promises in Christ. Christian joy is tied to love, the love of God in Christ. There is no Christian joy without the theological virtues. There can be no joy without it being grounded in love of God, in the truth of God and belief in him, and in our hopeful confidence in his promises. Joy is, in the final analysis, a gift of God himself, the God who is Love (1 John 4:8) and Truth (John 14:6), the God of Hope (Rom. 15:13), the God who has revealed himself in fullness in the God-Man Jesus.
Joy is intrinsically tied to truth, in particular the truths of our faith. As Joseph Ratzinger observed, "only when love and truth are in harmony can man know joy." In his apostolic exhortation on joy, Pope Paul VI was equally insistent that joy and truth are travel companions: "God disposes the mind and heart of His creature to meet joy, at the same time as truth."
In his Confessions, St. Augustine used a famous expression--the "joy of truth," gaudium de veritate. Through this expression, St. Augustine links joy to truth as if they were man and wife, to show their intrinsic and ineradicable connection. [Conf. X, 23, 33]
In the apostolic constitution Ex corde ecclesiae Blessed John Paul II defined St. Augustine's expression gaudium de veritate as "that joy of searching for, discovering, and communicating truth," in particular the truth about God's revelation in Jesus. This joy is a precursor to the joy in heaven which is beatitude. "And this is the blessed life," wrote St. Augustine about the Holy Spirit of truth promised us by Our Lord (John 16:13), "to rejoice in you, about you, and because of you (gaudere ad te, de te, propter te)."
Joy is inextricably tied to the truths of the faith, the foundations of which--the Word of God who does not deceive and cannot deceive--gives rise to "the certainty" of the lovely truth and truthful love "that Jesus is with us and with the Father," as Pope Francis put it.
Not only is joy intimately linked with the truths of our faith in Jesus, it is also inextricably bound up in the love of Christ.
In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas ties joy and love together, love being the engine of joy. He therefore discusses Christian joy with the context of the theological virtue of charity, the love of God in Christ.
St. Thomas Aquinas divides joy into two kinds: natural joy and supernatural joy. Our experience of natural joy allows us to understand supernatural joy.
Joy, St. Thomas says, proceeds from love, is "caused by love," either because the thing loved is present or the thing loved flourishes. Joy is the opposite of sorrow, which arises from the absence of the thing loved, or when the beloved is deprived of its good and is afflicted by some evil. (S.T. IIaIIae, q. 28, art. 1, c.)
Pope Paul VI gives a litany of these natural joys, those "many human joys that the Creator places in our path," most of them based on natural virtues and obedience to the natural moral law, including: "the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy and satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice."
Christian joy, however, is something more than mere natural joy. It is spiritual and supernatural in origin. Christian joy does not disdain natural joys, but presupposes them and purifies, completes, and sublimates them, notes Pope Paul VI. And yet it is also something wholly other than natural joy and its sublimation.
In the case of supernatural joy, the beloved is God. If we love God as he has revealed himself in Christ, then His presence in our lives brings forth Christian joy. "Therefore spiritual joy, which is about God, is caused by charity" or love of God, concludes St. Thomas. (S. T. IIaIIae, q. 28, art. 1, c.)
This spiritual joy in God is two-fold continues St. Thomas. The more excellent supernatural joy is to "rejoice in the Divine good considered in itself." This supernatural joy is perfect, and is "incompatible with an admixture of sorrow."
The other supernatural joy rejoices "in the Divine good as participated by us." The presence of God in our lives, or in the lives of our neighbor, "can be hindered by anything contrary to it," and so this joy "is compatible with an admixture of sorrow," it may be bittersweet in that we may grieve the sin in our life or in the life of our neighbor.
The joy we have in God, the "perfect joy incompatible with an admixture of sorrow," helps overcome the sorrow that would ordinarily be met with in suffering without our hope in the promises of Jesus Christ. The reality of joy founded in Christian hope allows us to overcome the sorrow in suffering.
As Hans Urs von Balthasar linked hope and joy in his book Theo-Drama: "This concrete co-inherence [of joy in suffering that ought to be found in the Christian] is expressed most beautifully in the long 'as if' sequence in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10: 'We are treated 'as if' impostors, and yet are true. . . 'as if' dying, and behold we live; 'as if' punished, and yet not killed; 'as if' sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; 'as if' poor, yet making many rich; 'as if' having nothing, and yet possessing everything."
Citing to St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms, von Balthasar continues: "Augustine says on this passage [2 Cor. 6:4-10] that 'we can say 'as if' in connection with our sorrowing, but not in connection with our joy, for it is secure in hope."
"In a dream everything is 'as if', but on awaking the 'as if' vanishes. 'For the Apostle does not say 'as if rejoicing, but always sorrowful', or 'as if both sorrowful and rejoicing'; rather, he says 'as if sorrowing, yet always rejoicing."
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In short, what von Balthasar and St. Augustine are saying is that the greater reality is not our suffering, but "the God of hope" who transforms our suffering and thereby fills us "with all joy." (Rom. 15:13) Christian joy defeats suffering. This is the gaudium crucis, the joy of the cross.
It is joy's reality that allows St. Paul to tell the Colossians: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church." (Col. 1:24)
We must abide, then in faith, hope, and love of God, for joy to be a part of our life and to defeat the sorrows that suffering would otherwise bring. For this reason, Pope Francis suggested that joy is "a pilgrim virtue," a "gift that walks, walks on the path of life, that walks with Jesus, preaching, proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming joy."
Joy is contagious, cannot be suppressed; it is "magnanimous"--the thing that makes a soul great--in the words of Pope Francis: it overflows into everything a Christian does bountifully, refusing limits, irrepressible, and, like a playful energetic puppy, "cannot be held at heel."
The author Robert Burton wrote a famous though ponderous book, The Anatomy of Melancholy. The term "melancholy Christians" is, to Pope Francis, an oxymoron. In a homey image, Pope Francis says that Christians without joy "have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life."
What is needed, as part of the New Evangelization, is an Anatomy of Christian Joy, whose three sections are faith, hope, and love, but whose contents, contrary to Burton's thick tome, can all be boiled down to one Word: the Word of God made Flesh, Jesus.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux put the anatomy of Christian joy in four short words in the hymn often attributed to him, Jesu dulcis memoria:
Sis, Jesu, nostrum gaudium!
Be, Jesus, our joy!
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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