Joy Is at the Heart of the Christian Experience

‘The Church’s vocation is to bring joy to the world. A joy that is authentic and enduring. The joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born.’ — Pope Benedict XVI

“The Resurrection of Our Lord,” Tapestry, 1524-1531
“The Resurrection of Our Lord,” Tapestry, 1524-1531 (photo: Courtesy of Dennis Jarvis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

My goal is to live for the glory of God.

What does that mean? Well, let me step back and explain.

I believe that everything is a gift from God — not just the earth, its richness and it sustenance, but my health, intelligence, drive and problem-solving ability. In addition, I was blessed to be born into a two-parent family that valued virtue, had strong morals and instilled in me the desire to know God. And it was all by chance — or rather, it was all by grace. I did nothing to earn or deserve it.

It’s funny. When one has a child who is tall for his age, we stick out our chest and boast. What effort did we exert to feel proud? Are we applauding our DNA, which we received without cost and without any say in the matter?

I have contemplated God and his existence and benevolence for more than four decades. But it hasn’t been until the last seven or eight years that I truly began believing that all was a gift. My only “success” was to say yes when called.

To choose. That is all we do. We choose to do right instead of doing wrong. We choose to act or we choose to rationalize not acting.

So in this journey I have come to believe and try to live three things:

First, I am joyful. I am joyful because I am grateful for all that I have. I don’t regret my losses or misfortunes because my blessings greatly outweigh and outshine them. 

Second, I try to live God’s will, not my will. This has become easier again in the last few years for several reasons:

  • I really don’t feel the need to climb any more hills. I don’t have powerful desires to do this or accomplish that.
  • I realize that achieving many things that I wanted in the past didn’t automatically bring happiness. Conversely, things that seemed devastating at the time, like not getting into medical school, later proved to be “the best things that never happened to me.”
  • Striving to do God’s will brings me joy. I have a purpose, and the purpose is to be faithful. Yes, I fail often, but I want to be better. I desire to be pure. And I can’t do that on my own. I need God’s help.

Third, retirement has come at the right time. I have run businesses and learned how to deal with people. Through my failures, I have become a better listener — more loving and, I hope, more humble.

And so, what do I do now with the lessons I have learned? Retire to a life of pure leisure? No. Doing the will of God — that is where the joy is.

I remember thinking in my 30s that if I did God’s will he would send me to a small village in Africa and I would be miserable. Which is funny, because that is exactly what God eventually did. He sent me to a small village in Africa — and the experience has given me more joy than I could possibly have imagined.

‘Bread and Water’

The Joy of Fasting

“The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.” (Catechism 1434)