Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 31, 2009
Joy is the fruit of living in the spirit
Perhaps the biggest lie that the anti-religious tell about the faithful followers of Christ is that we live dour, gloomy lives, dictated by rules and absent of joy. Truth be told, the spirit of repression and negativity is sometimes far from absent from those who aspire to be religious. But look closely at the people in your parish and you will see many more faces filled with joy than with gloom.
If there is any witness Christians need to bring to the world in these competitive, self-indulgent times, it is the expression of joy. Joy is the fruit of living in the Holy Spirit, St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (5.22). Life lived in the Holy Spirit will naturally show itself in many qualities - first on the list is love, second is joy.
But when Paul wrote to the Philippians - a letter he wrote from the sombre confines of a prison cell - he implied that it is not enough to expect that the Spirit will create joy in us. Do not be passive. Take the initiative. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice!" (4.4).
Such joy is not a personality trait, a part of one's nature. It is rejoicing "in the Lord." It is a gift, an overflowing part of one's faith. It grows out of a life of devotion and praise. One has a choice - a life filled with praise and thanksgiving versus a life filled with criticism and complaint.
Choose praise and thanksgiving and joy will flow forth as from a mountain spring.
St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great spiritual masters, is reputed to have said, "From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us." She need not have worried. There are no sour-faced saints. Again and again in the lives of the saints, one finds the magnetic quality of joy.
Even, or especially when, performing acts of penance, the saints rejoiced, not out of a sense of spiritual superiority, but because their penance gave glory to God. Their joy arose because their focus was on union with Christ, not on themselves.
But neither is the life of a saint primarily one of penance. St. Teresa enjoyed the fruits of creation, including fine food. "There is a time for partridge and a time for penance," she said. One can almost see the grin on her face.
Even Jeremiah, often thought of as the prophet of doom, could say that when God's presence is most real in our midst, "You shall shake your tambourines and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers" (31.4).
And so, where is our joy? Is it evident to an unbelieving world? Can it be more evident?
Of course, it can.
It becomes more evident not out of efforts to slap a phony smile on one's face, but out of lives rooted more deeply in the Spirit. The world awaits this witness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can deliver.
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