Joy for our Time...
Our discussion on joy, using an article from the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas, very much echoed the truth of the late Holy Father's words. One member of the group reflected on the most joyful moments of her life which were found in doing the will of God and finding a deep contentment in having to sacrifice and transcend her own wants to do what God asked of her; in her case, of caring for a beloved and elderly aunt. This experience of hers reminded us that joy is not primarily about feeling happy but about God's will and peace and that it is found in those who act with truth and integrity, responding wholly to God's grace. Thus St Thomas Aquinas would define devotion, which contains joy, as "a ready willingness to give oneself to God" (ST IIa IIae 82, 1).
Moreover, as John Paul II said, "The final two [joyful] mysteries, while preserving this climate of joy, already point to the drama yet to come. The Presentation in the Temple not only expresses the joy of the Child's consecration and the ecstasy of the aged Simeon; it also records the prophecy that Christ will be a “sign of contradiction” for Israel and that a sword will pierce his mother's heart (cf Lk 2:34-35)." In saying this, the late Holy Father reminded us that joy is sometimes accompanied by sorrow and pain. Indeed, this is the witness of the Cross, wherein we find the joy of redemption mingled with our compunction for sins and Christ's sorrowful Passion.
This was a fitting reflection because we are now approaching Lent, that season of grace, penance and repentance which the Church in her Liturgy also calls "this joyful season" (Preface for Lent I). St Thomas Aquinas offers a way to understand how Lent - that annual season when we come to terms with the truth of who we are and how we stand before God and our neighbour - is marked by both sorrow for sin and deep joy. The Angelic Doctor says: "Consideration of God's goodness is the goal of devotion, and though in itself a cause of joy, can be accompanied by sadness because we haven't yet fully reached that goal. The consideration of our own inadequacies is the starting-point for devotion, and though in itself a cause of sadness, can be accompanied by joy in God's help. In Christ's sufferings there is cause for sorrow - the human weakness that needed such suffering to remove it - and cause for joy - God's loving kindness that provided this way to set us free" (ST IIa IIae 82, 4).
This joy in God's forgiveness and the grace of redemption is at the heart of the Christian's joy. As my Novice Master said to me recently, the love of Christ is so great that when we have sinned, He does not need excuses or justifications for our sins. Rather, he just wants us to come to Him, humbly acknowledging the Truth of who we are and He stands ready to forgive all our sins. But before He can do that, we have to examine ourselves, we have to know who we are and what we have done and we have to ask Him to forgive those sins; that is the hard, sorrowful part. Our temptation is to do what a fallen Adam and Eve did in the garden: run and hide. But with tender-mercy, gentleness and love, Christ summons us to life and truth, and He forgives us whatever we do, if only we have the courage to know ourselves and ask for His forgiveness; that is the joyful part.
And I am convinced that this unequivocal, free gift of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, whose only demand is that we acknowledge before Him what we have done, is a joy that can be found no where else. Only Christ gives such deep and lasting joy and the Church holds out this salvation in Him as Joy for our time, and indeed, for every time. This is the Good News the world longs to hear and we are the witnesses to this Truth. Timothy Radcliffe, OP puts it much better than I do, so let his be the final words: "So the challenge for the Church is to become the sort of community that can speak convincingly about God, which is to say a place of mercy and mutual delight, of joy and freedom..." (What is the Point of Being a Christian?, p210).
The photos that illustrate this post were taken at yesterday's Study Day.