A few words about joy. Well, okay, more than a few…
I used to think that Catholicism was very dour, celebrating solemnities (solemn celebrations?) bemoaning sin and life in this world. This was a false picture of the Catholic Church, however. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has had this misconception of Catholicism — probably millions do right now. The error, I think, comes partly from human attempts to depict the Mysterious Majesty of God and the profound honor, respect, awe, and even submission, due to God. When contemplating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, we don’t do so with silly giddiness or casual interest. We must do so with solemn reverence and humble, awestruck gratitude — so also with joy.
One problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to find an ancient image of Mary smiling. (If you know of one, please share!) Smiles probably didn’t mean the same thing then as they do now. But let us remember that the Bible does speak clearly of joy. Mary herself cries out to Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Mary rejoices. And so should we.
I do like this modern (1873) Greek icon of the Most Holy Mother of God…
Today we observe the “Solemnity” of the Immaculate Conception (celebrating the Mystery of Mary being conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of Original Sin, so that she may truly be The New Eve). And Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) is being celebrated this weekend. So, truly, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the importance of joy in our lives of faith. With the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, must also come the gift of joy — for how can we not be joyful when we believe that we are made to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with God forever? With this faith and hope we are free to love — and in the true freedom of loving others and knowing that we are intimately and infinitely love there is true and lasting joy.
Allow me to share a couple of passages from a post that I wrote two years ago called Mercy Is Joy or It Is Nothing:
“What is a joyful Catholic? What is a joyful Christian? Let the answer not be: “a rarity”.
“A joyful Christian is not someone who dwells in fear, mistrust, and misgivings. Rather, a joyful Christian is someone who lives in hope and trust and generosity. “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:3.)We are not to go about in gloom, covered always in ashes and sackcloth, bemoaning and wailing the waywardness that is man, groveling in a flood of tears for our sins. Jesus died for our sins. He took on the responsibility of our waywardness and let Himself be crucified for our sakes. And then… the glorious “and then”… Jesus rose from the dead. Because of the Resurrection, the true Christian dwells in joy. We are an Easter people.
“People often say to me that I am an inspiration. This is not an uncommon thing for a person in a wheelchair to hear. But not all of us will hear it. Simply being disabled is not very inspiring, after all. However — I am a naturally joyful person. God created me with a sense of humor, an easy smile, and a deep love for the beautiful in all things. When I became a Christian, therefore, it was easy for me to be a joyful Christian — because, even as an atheist (when God spoke to me in secret, a secret kept even from me,) God has always spoken to me in the language of joy.
“So, when people see me all crumpled up in my wheelchair — and genuinely smiling — they are inspired. Loss and limitations, disease and suffering, deformity and pain, fragile body and pending death — none of these things can kill the joy in the human heart, the joy placed there by God. To know this is, indeed, divine inspiration. I did not create it nor do I produce it — it is a gift from God, it is the gift of God, flowing through me.”
Now, being a joyful person doesn’t mean that I am happy every moment of the day, always smiling and never sad. That is definitely not me! I dare to say that this is not a description of any human, not even the greatest Saint. When you experience unhappiness, please don’t think that you are a bad Christian! Jesus Himself, who is divine, felt fatigue, pain, dread, and the sense of abandonment, was angered, and wept sorrowful tears. But He also knew joy, great joy, joy that He wanted every one of us to experience: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.… I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
Therefore, yes, let us celebrate solemnities, with reverence, respect, awe, humble gratitude, and joy, great joy. Remembering that we are loved into being and that God Godself came to live among us, as one of us, so that we may have divine joy within and the fullness of human joy in our lives — how can we not rejoice? Although we may sorrow in suffering and struggle — how can we not rejoice?
© 2016 Christina Chase
You may also like:
Where Is God in the Midst of My Misery?
 Luke 1:46-47
 John 15:9, 11
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Good Morning Christina,
I was going to have a look at our National Galllery for a smiling Mary, but the NG that came first was the Hungarian one! This is a mediaeval smiling Mary:
And I think there are lots of treasures at the site. No time to look now though!
Keep smiling yourself!
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Wonderful image of Mary smiling! I do love when she is shown pregnant. This one seems to be packed with much symbolic imagery – makes me wish that I was a medieval Hungarian so that I could “read” this painting. Thank you so much for sharing with a smile!
I like that: “We are an Easter people.” This was a joy and an inspiring post to read today. Thank you, Christina, for your heart that reflects God.
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