If we are not sufficiently dour, are we betraying those who are suffering?
This year Gaudete Sunday (the Advent Sunday of rejoicing as the feast of Christmas draws near) seems a bit hollow.
Restrictions on our festive gatherings, questions about Christmas worship, loss of loved ones, frustrations at work … the world seems so heavy. The annual November Health and Healthcare Gallup poll shows the struggle many are facing. Americans’ rating of their mental health as “excellent or good” dropped nine points to this year’s 76% rating.
Despite the acceleration of cases of the Coronavirus in the United States and elsewhere, we have to ask: How is our rejoicing real? How can it be authentic?
The Joy of my soul
The prophet Isaiah, no stranger to suffering, announces, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” This is a joy that can never be taken from us. As Christians, the Lord alone is the deepest joy of our soul.
Isaiah describes the intimacy of this joy with glorious wedding imagery. Our souls are “like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”
The same Gallup poll above demonstrates that those who attend religious services weekly saw a 4% increase from 42% to 46%.
Embarrassment of Joy?
We might be tempted to be embarrassed about our joy. If we are not sufficiently dour, are we betraying those who are suffering? If I rejoice in God, the joy of my soul, am I abandoning those who are carrying heavy burdens?
Pope Benedict suggests no. He says,
The loss of joy does not make the world better – and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true.
Authentic joy does not fracture solidarity. When joy is genuine it is not egotistical. Pope Benedict continues,
The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good.
Authentic joy is contagious. When we rejoice in the good it is communicative and shareable.
The Secret Virtue which increases joy
Joy is fueled by trust. What gives Christians such freedom? How does weekly religious worship support good mental health? How are religious people happy (and what’s lacking if they aren’t!)? Trust.
Trust is a dynamic declaration that I believe the Lord will not squander my faithfulness to him. Trust means that despite difficulty and pain, I know that love of the Gospel will expand the horizons of my heart and life. Trust in the Lord is lived.
To increase and nourish trust is to live the great virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The more we nourish these virtues, the more our trust in God will grow.
We feed faith by study and practice of our religion. The more we speak to and of God, the brighter the fire of faith will burn in our hearts. We feed hope by being grateful. Recalling God’s past works of love and mercy strengthens our confidence in the good things to come. We feed charity by love of neighbor and by practicing mercy.
Jesus revealed to St. Faustina the value of trust. She records a message of the Lord in her diary:
The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.”
Trust readies our heart, building it up, allowing it to become a place where joy can reign.
Rejoice! Again I say Rejoice!
The joy of the present does not depend on our feelings, our past, or the circumstances of life. Joy depends on our closeness to God. St. Augustine puts it this way,
For there is a joy not granted to the wicked but only to those who worship you thankfully – and this joy you yourself are. The happy life is this – to rejoice to you, in you, and for you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. In Him you shall find joy!