“No Barbarian can steal what is guarded by Christ.”
What can you have that can be lost but not stolen?
I’ll give you a few minutes to think about that …
Would you like a hint? It’s not anything physical …
It’s joy. Joy can be lost but not stolen.
Now, before you roll your eyes at what appears to be my written sleight of hand, let’s consider what joy really is.
Joy is not enthusiasm or pleasure or emotion or mood worked to a fevered pitch. Such an intense experience must by its very nature fade.
Catholic wisdom teaches us that joy is caused by love. Joy is delighting in the presence of the beloved. There is also the love known as “benevolence,” allowing one to rejoice in the well-being of a friend, even an absent friend.
“Okay,” you might say. “But sometimes my beloved is present and is really annoying and there’s no joy then!” That’s a good objection — but off the mark.
The fullness of joy, that is not dependent upon mood or circumstances or chance, is had by those who love God. “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:16-17). Christian joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
So understood, how can joy be lost, and why can’t joy be stolen?
Luke 15 shows that joy — that is, living the grace that enables us to delight in loving God rightly — can be lost in three ways.
1) The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) illustrates that Christian joy can be lost through stupidity. Sheep mindlessly wander into harm’s way. It’s useless to say to sheep, “What were you thinking?” because they weren’t thinking. An honest Christian with even a hint of self-knowledge and maturity will recognize himself in that parable. We have all wandered off from the grace of God at one time or another, found ourselves in a ditch and wondered how we got there. When we find ourselves in such a fix, it should not surprise us that we lack.
2) The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) illustrates that Christian joy can be lost through carelessness. We take for granted the treasure that has been entrusted to us. Consequently, we don’t keep it safe, we don’t marvel at it, and we don’t clutch it to our heart. Then one day we wake up, alarmed to discover that our joy seems to have been misplaced. We carelessly misplace our treasure by failing to practice basic Christian diligence — that is, fidelity to prayer, worship and study, generous charity and witness, and the cultivation of virtue.
3) The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) illustrates that Christian joy can be lost through wickedness — that is, through freely chosen acts of the will that turn away from God. In this case, we outright reject God’s gift. Who can be surprised that we have no joy then?