Joy

“Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing–sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death–can take that love away.”[1] Joy strikes such a deep resonating cord within each of us. Joy is what we seek in life, our greatest happiness[2], that which makes us rejoice, rejoice in spite of everything, rejoice in spite of anything else. This fundamental, from-the-deepest-ocean-undisturbed-by-the-storms-of-life, joy is what “nothing – not sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death” can wrest from our grasp. Why? Because it is the knowledge, the experience, the enraptured state of unconditional divine love in which God enfolds me and will never let me go. Nothing I can do, no matter how vile and disgusting, nothing I can say, no matter how foul and cutting, nothing I can think, no matter how insidious, cruel or arrogant, can ever convince God not to love me. Any of these can be and are evidence I do not love God nor my neighbor. But the opposite is not and can never be true; God’s just not “built” that way. As Nouwen continues: “we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”

What struck me about this phraseology of this fundamental truth, not just of our faith, but of reality, is that it echoes two of my favorite people: St. Paul and St. Ignatius. Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice![Phil 4:4] and my favorite quote: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, [1 Thes 5:16-18] which sums up for me the whole of Christian life, rejoice, pray and give thanks, demands not just of our thought and speech but also, and perhaps primarily, to be exhibited in our actions, in our lives with others.

Ignatius, in The Principle and Foundation, exhorts us to practice “active indifference.” Far from its common mean of totally not caring, a more apt description of our contemporary society attitude toward our “huddled masses,” “in the Ignatian sense, to be indifferent is to care whole-heartedly towards something, with full desire and hope; but with equally full openness and freedom towards whatever the outcome,” [3] as I quoted in the previous Meanderings but bears repeating. However, it is the examples Ignatius uses to illustrate this point that mirror Nouwen’s description of joy: “as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.”[4] While Nouwen cites only the “bad” things, Ignatius cites both them and their “good” counterpart. “As far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition,[5]” Ignatius points out that our joy, “our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[6]

What struck me also is that all three agree with Nouwen: “joy does not simply happen to us; we have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”[7] Whether by praying, thanking and spreading God’s love and joy or by holding myself in the dynamic tension of active indifference while serving God and man, joy is something at which we have to work and work diligently and constantly, lest we slip down into stagnant familiarity, presumption, lethargy, distraction, disbelief, dismissal, and ultimately, its opposite, despair. It does not come easily. Therefore, Jesus, help me to seek joy in Your love every moment of my life, rejoicing always, knowing that the bedrock of my active indifference is its exact opposite in God, His total consuming and unconditional fascination, desire and love of me. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Dutch priest, author, teacher: 1932-1996

[2] “God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me. God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.” Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on My Happiness, March 6, 1848

[3] Fr. Glen Chun, S.J. Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org September 10, 2015

[4] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Location 182). Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. 181, 182.

[6] Ibid, 183. Ignatius defines that end: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 178-179). Kindle Edition.

[7] This quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen is part of a larger quote that is very popular on the internet; I was amazed by the number of people who have cited this quote, from all walks of life and different faith and philosophical backgrounds.

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