It's easy to see how money can be a legacy. So can addiction, or anger. But have you thought about the inheritance of joy?
My wife has three friends who, collectively, have experienced some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. These women largely run the gamut of life stressors, ranging from infidelity to divorce, stage IV breast cancer with intensive treatments and periodic remission, rampant partner drug and alcohol dependence, abuse of all kinds, and day-to-day instability in regard to interpersonal situations. No doubt in their private moments they would be the first to acknowledge feelings of despair, bitterness, and frustration; they would also be quick to point out their own imperfections and failings. But if you would meet these three women, you’d never guess the hardships they face.
If you know some of their story, you might at first question whether their smiles and laughter are real. But the more you get to know them, the more you realize the joy they exude comes from a much deeper source. As Pope Francis once said, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”
What becomes clear in getting to know these women is that their joy is more than simply a recurrent emotion or a likeable temperament. No doubt these “natural” factors play a role in the brightness that they show, but when you talk to them more, you start to hear about a relationship—the raw relationship—with Him.
Through efforts to reach out to others, in attempts to better the lives of themselves and their children, and through deep soul-searching prayer, has come a willingness to be vulnerable and honest in a way that endears them to many.
In the meantime, it has forced the rest of us to consider just what we are doing with the blessings with which we have been bestowed, to ask ourselves seriously whether our countenance reflects the lives we are truly living, not just stressors and hassles that bind our day.
The testimony of these women reveals that no matter where a person’s life may lead, it’s still possible to experience joy. This is because the joy that is recorded by St. Paul as a fruit of the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on circumstances. It’s also more than emotion. Jesus spoke of it, telling us that we can partake in his joy, and if his joy is in us, then our joy is complete (cf John 15:11).
The beauty of this divine joy is that it, too, can become a legacy. It’s contagious.
It is rather easy to see how generations pass along material goods, knowledge, and habitual practices, whether those habits be good or bad. But it’s also true that generations can pass on a propensity to joy. The contagion of joy can carry on long after a person leaves this earth.
The encounter with these three women has led my wife and I to further consider that the Spirit of joy runs through us all, waiting to be released and shared wherever we go.
Just as a few people in a stadium can incite a collective “wave” of enthusiasm, so a few people in a parish can light a fervent flame that sets a congregation ablaze. Through their suffering and hardships, these three women have shared the joy of the gospel in their own, authentic ways — and challenge us to do the same.