A gift freely given – JOY

What is one thing that this past year has taught you? What is your learning experience? Fr. Donald Goergen, OP asked these questions as he gave a virtual retreat to Adrian Sisters, in which we participated.

Photo of a banner in the Basilica 
of Mary Our Lady of Sorrows

As I thought about the questions, the word joy flooded my mind. That surprised me since I could not see how joy could speak to me so strongly in these times of uncertainty in the world.

Reflecting on that, I realize that true joy is that which comes from following our Divine and having the Divine as a constant companion, and not only taking joy as a feeling based on happenings. This is God’s invitation to me during my canonical year under the pandemic. I spend 18 to 20 hours of the day in the house, meeting people on screen and getting virtual hugs, following up on updates about the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and many other Covid-19 waves that continue to hit the world, listening to talks on racial injustices and following the updates of the current shootings, watching wakes and funeral services of our sisters at the motherhouse… how do I still find joy in the midst of all this? 

As a Christian I am reminded that joy is not an emotion or a good feeling, it is a gift of the Divine. God brings joy in our lives that circumstances cannot take away from us. This joy that is gifted to us through the Holy Spirit, transcends all circumstances; pandemic, the pain of loss, natural calamities, and all injustices. It is an internal joy fed to our hearts by the wellspring of joy the Father has toward us. We can experience joy amid trials and tribulations because we have genuine faith that this life is not all there is.

Mother Mary Joseph our foundress (Maryknoll Sisters) poses to me as a model of Joy. She spoke about ‘our spirit of joy’ as a great aspect of community living. In one of her conferences, she said, “I think it is the cause of our joy that dominates the life of every Maryknoll Sister – union with God. We can’t talk about it. It’s a thing that is too deep, too real; it touches the hidden wells of our hearts ….. “‘, ‘MMJ  July 16, 1937  Chapter Meeting – Cloister’. Food for thought indeed!

Paul in his epistle of joy to the Philippians inspires me, more so, since he penned it while still in prison awaiting trial. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice”, Philippians 4:4. Paul had joy amid imprisonment. So what was the source of his joy? Perhaps his intimate relationship with God, and certainty of His love for him.

I am reminded that this foundational joy does not just happen. It is a process. I need patience to grow in it as I learn to know God better and better during and after this ‘canonical-pandemic’ year. This Joy empowers and gives me the ability to move forward even when things are tough. God’s grace through the Holy Spirit enables me to discover this real deep-seated joy that touches my innermost being, leads me forth, and gives courage, it penetrates through all odds. “To be full of joy,”  Pope Francis said, “is the experience of the highest consolation when the Lord makes us understand that this is something different from being cheerful, positive, bright…”

Jump for Joy- Mary, and Elizabeth on canvas
He who promises this joy is faithful. This joy is real and never in short supply, Jesus does not go without it, It is freely given. Let joy draw us, replace our situations and lift our spirit as it lifted Mary’s Spirit in her Song of Praise as she sang “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. The kind of joy that flowed from Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth released profound energy of the Spirit which produces a vibration and a wave of joy that then spreads out “from generation to generation.”

There can never be a better time than the Easter season, to celebrate the joy that is brought by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Looking at our situation, in the middle of the pandemic, it is much easier relating to the sufferings of Christ in Lent than feeling the joy of Easter. Even as we are experiencing the scourge of the covid-19, God has never stopped showing us his goodness and love. 

The victory of his resurrection gives hope to a world that is tormented by despair. Jesus is our true joy, a joy that comes from his bruises and pierced side. Our joy is not shallow but comes from faith. We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song! [Pope John Paul ll:1986].