As we draw closer to the end of Lent, we are reminded that our Christian life is not meant to be a life of sack-cloth and ashes, but marked with joy.
The Necessity of Joy
Pope Francis has put a lot of emphasis on joy and even dedicated an entire encyclical to the “Joy of the Gospel.” He writes in the opening paragraph,
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. (1)
At the very start of his encyclical, Pope Francis puts this “joy of the Gospel” in stark contrast to the pervading mood of modern culture,
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. (2)
At the same time, joy is not always an easy trait to acquire. Even faithful Christians can be tempted to live life without an ounce of joy. It is like living always in Lent, but never experiencing the joy of Easter (or as Mr. Tumnus describes Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it is “always Winter, but never Christmas”). Pope Francis puts it this way,
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. 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. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26). (6)
While it is never easy being a Christian, Pope Francis encourages us to persevere and find the key to true joy, which is not found in the many temporal things of this world,
Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. (7)
Last of all, joy is something that attracts. If we are always mournful, condemning and harsh, will we ever attract others to the beauty of the Gospel? There are certainly times when we need to correct our brothers and sisters from their wayward ways, but it will be our Christian joy that will attract other people and inflame within them a desire to follow Jesus and his way of life.
Let us pray to God to infuse within us Christian joy, so that others may be attracted to the Gospel.