Lay Hold of Joy This Easter Season
“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is a net by which you can catch souls.” —St. Teresa of Calcutta
One year during the Easter Season, when I was a novice in a contemplative order, my superior — a beautiful, happy French nun — bewildered me by saying, “As human beings, we often have a harder time celebrating the joy of Easter than we do enduring the suffering of Lent. This is because suffering is so close to our normal human experience on this earth, while joy is something foreign to us. We just don't know how to live it.”
She also said, “Joy is not something that just comes to us. It is something that we must go after and grab when we can; it is something we must work hard to obtain.”
Twenty years later, I can finally say I am beginning to comprehend what she meant.
Most of us could safely say that some of the most profoundly joyful people we know are those who suffer and sacrifice the most in life. For about three years, I volunteered as a live-in housemother for emergency night shelters run by Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. During that time, I came to see how extraordinary the joy of Our Lord truly is. I saw it on the faces of the sisters who radiated his joy even in the midst of the most trying of circumstances, whether it was rushing back to the convent after hearing gun shots going off in the ghetto neighborhood where they lived among the poor, or taking in a prostitute who had been beaten. I saw it in the volunteers who so freely gave up their nights and days to clean the shelter or drive the sisters to the prison. And I so often saw his joy in the grateful, vigorous spirits of the homeless women and children who came to us.
At one point, a mother of one of the Missionaries of Charity superiors explained to me that her daughter once told what great joy she experienced when removing lice from the heads of the orphans she cared for. “As I am removing each louse from their heads, I believe I am plucking a thorn out of Christ’s crown, and that makes me so happy.”
Each Thanksgiving, I would always marvel at the simple joy and peace that our shelter women and children savored. They had no home to call their own, no dinner table to eat upon, and no money to buy a hearty Thanksgiving meal. Worst of all, most of them were eating at our shelter on Thanksgiving because they had no family, friends or church members to eat a meal with. And yet, when the sisters brought out the meal to say Grace, they wouldn't hesitate to bow their heads and thank God on high for all of the blessings they had in their lives. As they ate, laughter would bellow out from the room and love would seem to fill the air.
We can all think of a time when we saw someone in the midst of a grueling trial in their lives, and yet they still possessed an inner joy. The trust they had placed in Our Lord to carry them through the dark time they were enduring was indeed carrying them through after all. Their surrender was a beautiful mark of love; and their confidence in the Heavenly Father was a sign of their loyalty to him.
When our conjoined infant girls died after they were baptized, and my husband made sure I held them in my arms at least once before we sent them off, I was truly tormented with agony. I bent down to kiss their lovely, perfectly formed faces, and they were cold and hauntingly still. But I look back on that time now and I see that there was still a little whisper of joy going through my heart. A joy that must have come from believing the Blessed Mother was holding them in Heaven, and that they had won the race, they had finished the prize.
When we face our pains and our struggles, we can think of the Saints and friends of ours who have held on to joy, even while they were wrestling at the foot of Calvary. When all looks bleak and hopeless, we can turn to the same source of hope that once lifted their spirits.
Divine joy enlarges our hearts so that we can embrace all of those around us and bring them deep into the Heart of Jesus. Joy naturally wells forth from a heart fortified by God's love, and a soul inebriated with his ethereal grace. As St. Thomas Aquinas eloquently explains in Secundæ, Question 28, Article 1 of his Summa Theologiae:
For joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved exists and endures in it; and the latter is the case chiefly in the love of benevolence, whereby a man rejoices in the well-being of his friend, though he be absent. On the other hand sorrow arises from love, either through the absence of the thing loved, or because the loved object to which we wish well, is deprived of its good or afflicted with some evil. Now charity is love of God, Whose good is unchangeable, since He is His goodness, and from the very fact that He is loved, He is in those who love Him by His most excellent effect, according to 1 John 4:16: 'He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.' Therefore spiritual joy, which is about God, is caused by charity.
This Easter season, may we remember that true interior joy does exist and it is within our reach, no matter how turbulent our path in life may be. We can rejoice because as long as we have breath in our lungs, we still have the chance to love, and this is what we have been created for — to love and be loved.