JOY in the Spiritual Life: Q + A

“The only happiness here below is to strive to be always content with what Jesus gives us.” – St. Therese

“The greatest joy which it is possible to taste on earth is to possess God, God alone… And little souls do taste this.” – Sr. Consolata Betrone (Jesus Appeals to the World,’ Saint Pauls/Alba House) 

 “Give up your own will, if you want to be little.” – Our Lady to St. Bridget (Bk 4, Ch 18)

+ Thank you ‘edarlitrix’ for the article idea. God bless you, friend.

CONTENTS 

  1. What is joy?
  2. Is joy compatible with sorrow?
  3. If joy is not felt, can it be called joy?
  4. Joy amidst suffering: the example of the Saints
  5. How can suffering and joy coexist?
  6. Purity of heart: the key to abiding joy
  7. How do we attain purity of heart/intention?
  8. Only God can give us true joy
  9. The Eucharist: the Source of all joy
  10. Some final questions
  1. WHAT IS JOY?

Joy can be described as spiritual contentment, resulting from the possession of a desired good. Authentic joy consists in the possession of God, Who alone can satisfy our hearts, which thirst for Infinite Truth (satisfaction of the intellect) and Infinite Love (satisfaction of the will).

“Now joy,” writes St. Thomas, “is compared to desire, as rest to movement… and rest is full when there is no more movement. Hence joy is full, when there remains nothing to be desired.”

Our hearts were made by God and for God, the Sovereign Good. Only in Heaven will our joy be complete: ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord.’ (Matthew 25:21). There, the risen body will partake of the soul’s delights, without hindrance. Also, according to sound theology, the risen body will have its own unique delights.

  1. IS JOY COMPATIBLE WITH SORROW?

St. Thomas answers in the affirmative (ST, Second Part of Second Part, Q. 28, Article 2). In this “valley of tears”, our joys are often mingled with sorrow. As we grow in love, we also become more sensitive to sin, which abounds in the world. The sight of our loved ones suffering is enough to render our joy imperfect.

Again, only in Heaven will our joy be perfect; for it is there that ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.’  (Rev. 21:4)

  1. IF JOY IS NOT FELT, CAN IT BE CALLED JOY?

Yes, for if we return to the definition of joy (i.e. “spiritual contentment, resulting from the possession of a desired good”) and to St. Thomas, we will see that joy does not properly consist in feelings. It is quite possible to experience intense fear and joy at the same time, for example.

As it is not a physical thing, joy cannot be reduced to a feeling or an emotion. In saying that, joy does imply peace and contentment – at least at the spiritual or intellectual level. To understand what this means, we must distinguish between the inferior part of the soul and the superior.

The superior part of the soul, in simple terms, refers to the spirit, whereby man is distinct from the animals. Man can know and love – these are spiritual faculties. The inferior part of the soul, in simple terms, refers to our emotions.

It is possible for the superior part of the soul to possess joy, while the inferior part of the soul is beset by all kinds of trouble, such as fear, restlessness and violent movements of the passions (e.g. anger).

  1. JOY AMIDST SUFFERING: THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS

It is a fact that many of the Saints suffered indescribably. It is also a fact that many – if not all – of the Saints were full of peace and joy. “To suffer for God is the highest joy and delight,” says St. Crescentia; “but not to be able to love Him enough is a great martyrdom.” “When suffering is accepted with love,” says St. Therese, “it is no longer suffering, but it is changed into joy.” Such expressions are not uncommon amongst the Saints.

In his personal diary, for Christmas Day, Bl. Dom Marmion writes: “Aridity and temptations. Deo gratias (Thanks be to God).” This same holy Abbot – an astounding theologian, whose doctrine is very practical and consoling – writes: “In finding God, we shall likewise possess joy… It is impossible to explain the abundance of this peace in the soul altogether given to God and seeking Him alone.” These are the words of a man who underwent long interior trials, and who experienced bouts of depression. But these sufferings have ended for him, and they shall never again touch him; for he is now experiencing unimaginable happiness ‘in sinu Patris’ – in the Bosom of the Father (Jn. 1:18).

When we suffer, let us not forget this: the Cross, borne willingly, unites us more intimately to God, and leads to Paradise.

Jesus to Ven. Concepcion Cabrera de Armida:

“During my life, I never desired anything except the Cross, and ever the Cross, wanting to show the world that which is the sole wealth and happiness on earth, the currency which will buy an eternal happiness.”

  1. HOW CAN SUFFERING AND JOY COEXIST? 

We might wonder how anyone could maintain joy amidst terrible suffering. The answer is simple: by LOVE. (A supernatural love, that is). Love alone will transform our very sufferings into joy.

Jesus to Sr. Consolata Betrone:

“Love Me and you will be happy; and the more you love Me, the happier you will be! Even when you find yourself in utter darkness, love will produce light, love will produce strength, and love will produce joy!”

The greater the flame of Divine Love that burns in our hearts, the more rapidly will the wood of the Cross be consumed, thereby producing an ardent and pure charity – a delightful charity that is incomparably sweet; a charity that increases our knowledge of God (God is both Love and Light); a charity that gives us strength (God is both Love and Power); a charity that draws down an abundance of grace; a charity that increases our confidence in God’s love and in the hope of an eternal reward; a charity that renders our trials light and sweet; a charity that increasingly finds its pleasure in pleasing God. And because God is infinite Love, we can always love Him more (Fr. Paul of Moll). Consequently, there is no limit to the joy that God offers us!

The greater our love for God, the greater will be our knowledge of Him; and the greater our knowledge of Him, the greater will be our delight in serving Him. “Jesus told Mother Clement that the secret of happiness is to abandon oneself to the power of God’s love; acting in this way, He teaches us to know the Divine Perfections, which produce in us a perpetual admiration, complaisance and adoration.” (Rev. Auguste Saudreau)

Even the smallest suffering accepted for the love of God, increases our union with Him. And what more could the Saints desire – or can we desire – than God? What more can we hope for than the love, the friendship, the protection, and the grace of God? “The good of the grace of one soul,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, “is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe.” “Do you not actually possess all things if you have Him who possesses all?” (Peter de Blois).

The joy of the Saints, you see, was a result of their pure love for God. They desired God alone. Because they had given themselves to Him entirely, they were assured of His love, His grace and His protection. ‘I love them that love me: and they that in the morning early watch for me, shall find me.’  (Prov. 8:17) The joy of the Saints was constant because they were ever seeking God.

God to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi:

‘WHO WOULD HARM YOU IF YOU SOUGHT NOTHING BUT GOOD?… IF THEN YOU RETURN TO ME, WHO AM YOUR PRINCIPLE, AS THE RIVERS RETURN TO THE SEA FROM WHICH THEY CAME, YOU WILL ENJOY PERPETUAL HAPPINESS, BECAUSE YOU WILL LIVE IN ME – WHO AM THE LIFE OF YOUR SOUL AND YOUR SOVEREIGN GOOD.’ 

  1. PURITY OF HEART: THE KEY TO ABIDING JOY

‘To those who love God, all things work together unto good’ (Rom. 8:28).

Commenting on the above Scripture, St. Alphonsus writes: “Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfil, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord: ‘Whatever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad.’ (Proverbs 12:21).”

What an excellent definition of purity of heart: “To fulfil, even in adversity, the will of God.” In other words, we must seek “God alone, God only” (Jesus to Sr. Gertrude Mary).In joys, seek Him; in trials, seek Him; in doubts, seek Him*. Thank Him for everything that comes from His loving Providence. Believe that God permits nothing that is not for our greater good. This disposition of heart and mind, this living faith, is necessary if we are to experience true peace. If our hearts are set on self, sin, created things, or on creatures, then we cannot experience true peace; our heart will be torn in a thousand different directions.[*This does not always require an explicit intention before or during everything we do; love, says St. Augustine, is essentially rooted in a desire of the heart]

The more generous we are with God, the more generous He is with us. If we are all His, He is all ours! “My child,” said the Infant Jesus to St. Crescentia, “give Me thy heart, and everything that I possess is thine.” He repeats these same words to us: ‘My son, give me thy heart: and let thy eyes keep my ways’ (Proverbs 23:26).

  1. HOW DO WE ATTAIN PURITY OF HEART/INTENTION? 

Persevering prayer is the key to purity of heart. Constant, confident prayer obtains all. Without confidence, there can be no joy. ‘Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in thee.’ (Ps. 33:22) Without prayer, we can accomplish nothing. How can we draw closer to God if we refuse prayer, which is the key to His grace and mercy?

All of us can pray with confidence. Although it is true that the power of a just soul’s prayer is immense, it is also true that God denies His grace to no one who asks with confidence and humility.  Let us listen to the words of Rev. P.J. Michel (in his excellent work, ‘Spiritual Despondency and Temptations’); they are profoundly consoling; and furthermore, they are supported by several dogmas of the Church. The author writes:

The saints did not hope in God because they were faithful to God, but they were faithful to God because they hoped in Him. Otherwise the sinner could never make an act of hope, and yet it is that very act of hope which disposes him to return to God.  Observe that St. Paul does not say, I have obtained mercy because I have been faithful, but “Having obtained mercy of the Lord, to be faithful” (i Cor. vii. 25). Mercy always precedes the good which we do; and it is from mercy alone that we have the necessary grace to do any good at all. The saints never counted upon their works to strengthen their confidence in God, for they were ever mindful of the words of Our Saviour: “So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: “We are unprofitable servants” (Luke xvii. 10)… Unlike the Pharisee in the Gospel, they [the Saints] found nothing in themselves to warrant their confidence, but in the mercy of God they sought and found a confidence, the foundations of which could not be shaken. This was what supported them, and this it is which must encourage you, and reanimate your fainting strength. It is of the utmost importance for you to understand this truth, that you may not again fall into the snare which your enemy has so often laid for you.”  [Source: https://archive.org/stream/spiritualdespond00gareuoft#page/n5/mode/2up]

Let us pray, then, with unshakeable confidence! As soon as our soul is touched by grace, let us hasten to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is an abyss of love and mercy. Do not think that any hardness of heart is an obstacle to God’s mercy; if it were, He would not inspire us to seek Him. Our greatest obstacle to union with God, apart from self–seeking, is a lack of confidence in His goodness.

Jesus to Sr. Benigna Consolata:

“Knowest thou what souls profit most by My goodness? Those who trust the most. Trusting souls are the robbers of My graces. Write that the pleasure I take in the trusting soul is inexpressible.”

  1. ONLY GOD CAN GIVE US TRUE JOY 

“Only that which is eternal can satisfy us.” (St. Therese). Created goods cannot satisfy us; they were made for us, not we for them (as God said to St. Catherine of Siena). Likewise, human love cannot satisfy our hearts. Only God can satisfy our hearts. He is the cause of every good that we see in the world; He is the Eternal Fountain from which pours forth every good. ‘Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration’ (Jn. 1:17).

Consider that all the love, knowledge and joy of the Elect is merely a participation in the limitless abyss of God’s love! All of these things can be found in Jesus to an infinite degree.

We have every reason to be generous with God, and not a single good reason to be selfish. Let us pray frequently, receive the Sacraments devoutly, and ‘attend unto [spiritual] reading’ (1 Tim. 4:13). When we die, we will have to account for all the graces that we have abused. How little do we esteem grace!

‘Peace to men of good–will.’ “If you are at peace, you have the seed of this joy that will come.” (Pope Francis) Only those who are generous with God can experience the abundance of peace that He offers. ‘You shall seek me, and shall find me: when you shall seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer. 29:13) Like St. Paul, we must ‘die daily’ to sin, so that we may rise with Christ, Who is ‘the Resurrection and the Life.’

  1. THE EUCHARIST: THE SOURCE OF ALL JOY 

‘He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things?’ (Rm. 8:32). How admirably are these words fulfilled in the Holy Eucharist! If we seek joy, there we shall find it! The Eucharist is truly the Risen Christ; veiled under the appearance of bread and wine is He Who said to St. Thomas: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” (Jn. 20:27) The Adorable Eucharist is the Ultimate Source of Strength and Holiness.

“If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.” (Session 8, Canon 1: Canons on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist)

  1. SOME FINAL QUESTIONS
  1. Was Jesus always joyful?

There is a great mystery here. Jesus, from Whom all good things come (including joy), chose to suffer unimaginably in His Sacred Humanity. The Divinity cannot suffer. It is in this sense that we are to understand the following words of Jesus to St. Margaret of Cortona: “All the time I was on earth, My body had not one completely happy day, nevertheless while My friends are here below I intoxicate them with the joys of Heaven and give them rest and peace.”

  1. What does the following Bible passage mean: ‘Extinguish not the spirit’(1 Thess. 5:19)?

Fr. Haydock writes: “Do not oppose either the interior gifts of the holy Spirit, which are his graces, nor his exterior gifts of prophecy…” We do this by setting up obstacles in our souls: pride, disobedience, distrust and the like. This admonition is not referring to souls of good–will; if they trust in God and continue to ‘seek first the Kingdom,’ God will fill them with His peace in time. The feelings of our sensitive nature (to be understood in a Thomistic sense) are not necessarily an indicator of our interior dispositions, nor are they a good guide to the spiritual life.

On the contrary, God wants to perfect our joy by perfecting our charity; and this transformation can only be effected by means of the crucible of suffering, which purifies, enlightens and strengthens.

“What happiness to resign ourselves absolutely to Our Lord, submitting our will to His, adoring Him in tribulation and in consolation, in sorrow and in joy, doing whatever He wills like little children!… He knows best what we need.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Let the following words (which are believed to have been addressed to St. Catherine of Siena by the Eternal Father) sink into your heart:

“The light of faith ought also to teach you that I know, I will and I can bring about your happiness better than yourself. You can do, know, and will nothing without My grace. You should, therefore, try your utmost to submit your will completely to the Will of God. If you do this, your soul will remain in peace, and you will always have Me with you, for I dwell in peace.”

  1. Why is there so much sorrow in the world?

Because God is scarcely known and scarcely loved. Faith is weak and sin abounds. “In thy amazement then,” said Our Lady to Ven. Mary of Agreda; “my dearest, weep ceaselessly over the terrible loss sustained by so many insane and thankless souls, who are forgetful of God, of their duty and of their own selves… Catholics should bear in mind more constantly the passion and death of the Lord, because the Church so often recalls it to their remembrance, although few show themselves grateful… I wish also that thou lament with great sorrow the fact that Judas, in his malice and treachery, has many more followers than Christ. Many are the infidels, many the bad Catholics, many the hypocrites, who under the name of a Christian, sell and deliver Him and wish to crucify Him anew… No torment, nor death itself, would I have refused, if such had been necessary to save any of the damned, and to save them, I would have esteemed all sufferings a sweet alleviation in my most ardent charity… continue to pray [for the salvation of souls]: for thou canst scarcely imagine how acceptable are such prayers to the Almighty.”

Jesus to Sr. Benigna Consolata:

“To exercise Justice is for Me to go against the current; it does violence to Me…”

  1. How can I infallibly attain peace?

Be little. “I want you in My arms,” said Jesus to Bl. Alexandrina (a bedridden stigmatic), “with the same simplicity of a baby in those of its mother.” “Give up your own will,” as Our Lady said to St. Bridget, and seek only God’s good–pleasure. He will remove any obstacles to your peace; but this will happen in God’s good timing. Believe me. I used to be consumed by sorrow; but I kept asking God for light, and He heard my wavering prayers in a miraculous manner. Deo gratias!

  1. Are there any good online resources on joy?

There are two that spring to mind. The first deals indirectly with joy in so far as it gives us reasons to believe in the immense goodness of God.

  1. ‘Decalogue of Confidence’ (dictated by Our Lord to Sr. Benigna Consolata on September 11, 1915): https://littlestsouls.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/decalogue-of-confidence-3/

The second is very beautiful. I happened to “stumble upon” this chapter while at Eucharistic Adoration. This was quite fitting, as it relates perfectly to what has been said in this article. It is a very encouraging read.

  1. ‘Love, Peace and Joy,’ by Rev. Andre Prevot; ‘Twenty–fifth day: ‘THE LIFE OF JOY IN THE HEART OF JESUS, ACCORDING TO ST. GERTRUDE): https://archive.org/stream/lovepeaceandjoya00prevuoft#page/162/mode/2up

Pax Domini!

‘REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS; again, I say, rejoice’

(Philippians 4:4)

 

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5 thoughts on “JOY in the Spiritual Life: Q + A

  1. This blog brings joy! How refreshing to read these posts which encourage, console and draw us in to follow Him. Thank you so much and God bless you.

  2. Sorry this is so late, but thank you for taking the time to write this in response to my question… I really appreciate it, and I have found what you say helpful–especially those distinctions Aquinas made that you delineate in the first question. 🙂 It is actually similar to what Hinduism teaches–we desire infinite being, infinite love, and infinite knowledge.

  3. This is beautiful. Thank you for your work to instill confidence in the Lord’s infinite Mercy. Scruples is something with which I often struggle and I’ve found your blog to be a true blessing. God bless you.

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