Surprised By Joy

Are you happy? Smiles come easy. And 'clown's faces' abound. But behind the smiley mask there is weeping many times. Some seek cheer in a 'happy hour'. But, what goes up will come down. Joy is so elusive. Yes, are you happy?

Surprised By Joy is the enlightening title of a book written by C. S Lewis, a sharp British scholar who taught in Oxford and Cambridge. In it, he speaks of his spiritual journey that led him from the Christianity of his early youth into atheism and then back to Christianity.

Raised, like many of us, in a somewhat nominal Christianity, Lewis threw off his faith as a school-boy. But God does not concede defeat so easily. He uses every trick in his sleeve… 'Bibles laid open, fine nets and stratagems' to pull us back to Him.

Central to this pursuit, was Lewis's search for joy, which he defines as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." As a boy and as a man, Lewis was stabbed by this desire, yet he was never able to satisfy it. Until finally God strategically boxed him into a corner where he was forced to acknowledge that only the God enfleshed in Jesus Christ can satisfy this deep desire in him. There is within every man and every woman a God-sized hunger which only a God can satisfy.

My perception is very similar to C.S. Lewis experience. I only found happiness in a relationship. The relationship with Jesus Christ.

From the beginning Christ appears amidst a flurry of happiness. Elizabeth the sterile becomes pregnant. Zechariah the unbeliever prophesies. A Virgin is now a mother. The shepherds speak with the angels. The wise men from the East come to see the Savior in a manger and give all they have. Simeon is not afraid to die anymore.

When Jesus starts speaking in public, he immediately speaks of people who are blessed. The Greek word makarios means "blissful, fortunate, happy" usually in the sense of a "privileged recipient of divine favor." Those who receive God's favor will be happy people, in fact, the happiest of all people. Happy are the poor, the meek, the seekers of justice, the pure…

He even dares to proclaim that the Cross itself is a seed of love and joy here on earth! And on top of it, it brings in a glorious resurrection.

He gives a new vision of God. No longer a despot, a punisher, a judge, boring and unpleasant. But a Father. "When you see me, you see the Father", he claims. God is a baby in a manger, a man suspended on a cross, bread and wine in the Eucharist…. So precious and so close at hand!

Yes, joy is one of the fundamental aspects of a true Christian. And yet it is hardly ever associated with Christianity. Many believe that the Church is dull while sin is fun. Someone once remarked that "I might have become a priest if certain priests I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers!"

What a contrast to what the prophet David used to sing. "You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Saint Thomas More was an English statesman and humanist. In 1534 after being Lord Chancellor, he was charged with high treason by King Henry VIII and sentenced to death by hanging which the king commuted to beheading. He was canonized in 1935. Just a few days before he was executed he wrote this letter to his daughter Margaret, "Mistrust Him, Meg, I will not, though I feel me faint… I remember how St Peter with a blast of a wind began to sink for his faint hear; and shall do as he did, call upon Christ and pray him to help. And then I trust he shall set his holy hand unto me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning….

What are some of the ways that Christians can experience joy?

One way is to simply slow down and relish the moment-enjoy the life that God has granted us.

Solomon wrote, "Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

Abba Hyperichius said, "A traveler who is carrying a heavy load pauses from time to time and draws in deep breaths. It makes the journey easier and the burden lighter."

You may even notice as you go along that real joy involves touching the lives of others in a positive way…

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.