I have met joyless Catholics. I keep meeting them. They seem the most obsessed with rules, regulations, compliance, and everyone else’s lack thereof. They scare me the most of all the Catholics I meet.
“Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ has produced significant reaction and commentary, both positive and negative. Many in the media have focused on the social, political, and economic implications of the document. Sadly, most commentators have looked past the obvious: the second word of the text and the title: joy. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG 1).
Joy is such a central aspect of our faith. Unless we are filled with joy, we have no message of Christ to bring to the world. The accounts of the martyrs throughout history are full of descriptions of them going to their deaths with great rejoicing and full of joy. Joy reorients us away from our self-focused lives and onto what is really important. Mother Teresa used the acronym JOY as an aid to remind us of the proper ordering of the importance of things: Jesus, Others, You.
Joy is thus an important aspect of living out our faith, but as St. Thomas Aquinas notes, joy is not a virtue in itself. Referencing St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, St. Thomas comments that joy is “an act, or effect, of charity” and thus is one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Summa Theologica II-II, q.28, a.4). Joy proceeds from and is caused by love. One could even say that joy is the external expression in our lives of our love for Jesus Christ. Our joy is what others see and experience through our attitude and actions. Pope Francis notes that “joy always endures” even if parts of our “lives seem like Lent without Easter” (EG 6). Our joy depends not upon the external circumstances of our life, but only upon our love of Christ.”
Happy New Year!