February 21, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Joy should be the name of our Christian game—each and every day

Cynthia DewesA friend once gave me a daily prayer book as a Christmas gift. It’s called Joyfully Living the Gospel Day by Day, written by Father John Catoir. As a well-known spiritual director and writer, his columns often appear in The Criterion.

In the book, each day of the calendar year is assigned a scriptural reference followed by a short reflection on it. It ends with an even shorter prayer for the day. As you would expect, the theme always involves joy.

While the reflections are written mainly by Father Catoir, some are quotations from saints, popes and even non-religious sources. But all of them zero in on the meaning of the day’s scriptural reading with interesting, meaningful insight. The day’s prayers are also succinct but dense in meaning.

Father Catoir’s main point in the book is the idea that as we grow in Christian wisdom we grow in joyousness. Faith leads to joy, which is not exactly the same as happiness. While happiness may be fleeting, depending upon the current circumstance, joy is a state of being. We may or may not feel happy about something going on in our lives, but we can live in a constant spirit of joy.

To some, as Charles Schultz said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” To kids, happiness probably means ice cream or going to bed later or not having any homework that day. To bigger kids, it may mean getting a date for the prom or acing a test or finding a summer job. These things create pleasant, but temporary, emotional feelings of happiness.

Adults experience such happiness, too. Perhaps they saw a hilarious movie or attended a great party. Or maybe they receive a compliment from the boss or a smile from a store clerk which lifts their spirits. Maybe they solve a problem they’ve been facing or get a raise in pay.

A friend once told us of something that made him really happy. He said he passed behind his teenage son, who was sitting at the dining room table having trouble with his math homework. This boy, who was a brilliant student, had the usual teenaged opinion that parents are clueless about everything.

But the dad, no slouch himself being an inventor and engineer, reached over the boy’s shoulder and solved the knotty problem with a couple quick strokes. Our friend said, for the first time since he could remember, he received a look of real respect from his son. Now that was a moment of happiness, while the joy of being a parent was a constant.

As Father Catoir emphasizes, joy follows from the security of God’s constant and unwavering love for us. When we know we are loved, we live in joy. Thus, we must not be stricken with guilt if we don’t feel emotional love for God all the time. Trust in a loved one does not depend upon constant giddy “falling in love” moments. Nor should we be deterred by the bad things that are bound to happen to good people.

Father Catoir quotes the Book of James: “Consider it joy when you fall into various trials, know that the testing of your faith begets perseverance” (Jas 1:2-3). He concludes that “Joy is possible even in difficult circumstances. Joy is nothing like the happiness of a fun time; rather, it is more a deep inner contentment, which comes from the knowledge of God’s love.”

The Christian faith is one of hope, and joy is its natural consequence.
 

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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