Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Every weekend, we try to have a big Sunday meal. It might be brunch or dinner, but the goal is everyone together, and it is to be a feast.
This past week, my second oldest decided to take on making a special dessert based on one of those “Tasty” videos for apple dumplings. It made the meal — her gift of time and effort. Likewise, this past week, one of my younger children realized she possessed a talent for organization, and took it upon herself to tackle her brother’s room. Her efforts resulted in a very happy older brother who bought her lunch. It was a gift of unexpected effort and time. My youngest daughter and son spent the morning planting bulbs with their father. They are cultivating joy both now in the experience of toiling together, and for later when the flowers bloom.
One of the hallmarks of doing God’s will is joy. If we would do God’s will, we should learn to recognize the marks of doing His will, which include bringing comfort, peace, laughter, gifts of time, treasure and talent, listening, song, beauty, light and service — in other words, joy.
Joy is tangible in that we know it. It leaks through the eyes, through the smile, through the air. It bursts outward like flowers or the sun rising, and it touches others. It warms hearts. It seasons food. It brings people together, even after the fact when the story is shared. Joy always seeks to be shared. As such, we can know if we’re actively participating in God’s plan and being obedient to His will if our energies and efforts invoke in others a sense of joy.
If we need any encouragement in embracing this destiny, we need only look at the Blessed Mother. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, both kept joy in her heart, and cultivated it in others. She gave us the example, molding her will to God’s with her Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” and “My spirit rejoices in God, my savior.” Her life reveals a constant “Yes” to God’s will, and is hallmarked by bringing joy to others. Whether in the Visitation, Incarnation, Presentation or finding of Jesus in the Temple, or the Luminous Mysteries like the wedding feast at Cana, or at the foot of the Cross, she held onto God’s will rather than her own. She held joy in her arms, and thus she is the cause of our joy.
Mary’s life reveals that joy isn’t dependent upon prosperity or an absence of suffering. Joy isn’t manufactured or a manipulation of emotions. Joy is a response to grace, a choosing to do God’s will over being steeped in fear, anger or even pain. Back in 2000, my father faced open-heart surgery. Seeing my mother worried about the operation as he lay on the table, he chose to sing Irish drinking songs to her. My brother and sister and the nurses and surgical team joined in the chorus. Singing “No, Nay, Never... No, Nay, Never, No More...” as they prepped for the procedure made it joyful, despite the reality of his needing open-heart surgery.
This deliberate approach to suffering is a joyful embracing of the Cross. It is what we are all called to do in our every day, whether we face something large or small. It is what we are commissioned to do when we are sent at the end of every Mass after receiving Jesus — to go and be a constant Visitation to the rest of the world, bringing with all that we do and don’t do, say and don’t say, joy.