Sean Coghlan S.J.
In an article I read recently about joy, the writer started by saying that he had been listening to a radio discussion about a new book. One of the participants said that when he finished the book he had been left with a feeling of joy. The writer of the article confessed that he was startled by the reaction of the chairperson. When she heard the word "joy" she seemed to leap out of her seat. She yelled the word "joy" as if the speaker had used an obscene word. The reaction was so violent that the writer was left pondering. Is there something indecent about joy? Is it immature or escapist to feel joyful in our modern world?
Joy is deep pleasure, great gladness. How often do you feel joy? How often do I feel joy? Is it even possible to feel joy in our daily lives? What is the foundation for joy in life?
To the best of my belief, Jesus Christ is the deepest and most reliable source of our joy. At Christmas we sing "Joy to the world, the Lord is born". When John the Baptist saw Jesus near the Jordan, he said "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" Jesus takes away our sins and our fear of death and so gives us reason to be joyful. An old Russian saint, Serapion of Serof used to greet all he met with the words "Radost Moya. Christos Voskrese" "My Joy. Christ is Risen"
But back to the question if is it possible to feel joy in our day to day life. My experience tells me that it is.
One lovely summer evening when I was about twelve years old I went into a friend's house to ask him out to play. His mother was preparing her youngest daughter for bed. She was saying her night prayers with her. I stood, transfixed, listening to the mother's gentle voice and the little girl's sleepy voice stumbling along behind. It was a moment of great peace and lasting importance for me.
Once I was playing football. Yes, of all things football! I suppose I had the usual worries and anxieties most of us have, but, just for a moment, an odd, almost dreamy feeling came over, a quiet conviction that everything was going to be all right. Just that. Not perfect. All right.
Charles Ryder in "Brideshead Revisited" describes Julia the woman he loved. "That night and the night after and the night after, wherever she went in her own little circle of intimates, she brought a moment of joy, such as strikes deep to the heart on the river's bank when the kingfisher suddenly flares across the water". The words themselves bring me joy whenever I read them and, even here in this frenetic place called Hong Kong, I also have moments of joy when the kingfisher flares suddenly across the pool in the hills above Sai Kong.
Joy? A strong word. On reflection it seems to me that I have been describing a humbler emotion, a scaled down version of the real thing. Perhaps, however, it is enough to be graced from time to time with the calming conviction of the presence of the holy in our lives and that beauty in the most mundane situation balances the ugliness and boredom we experience there. Perhaps unexpected moments of calm convince us that, just as we are able to weather our daily storms, so too will we know the joy of arriving in our heavenly harbour. We may find rest in the thought that we can go along with God's active presence in the processes if this world. We may experience something akin to satisfaction when we manage to extract some good from unpromising situations and when we succeed in enduring when things look unchangeably black.
I believe we can avoid charges of immaturity or escapism when we hope for joy in our lives. Joy is essential if we are to be men and women in a demanding world. At the end of his life, Jesus faced death with aversion and fear. I do not see how he could have said, "Thy will be done" if he had not enjoyed a deep seated awareness of the Father's love for him.