Pope Francis talks and writes frequently about joy, and how important it is for Catholics to share joy with others. But if you are struggling with illness, grief, or trials, you may not be feeling particularly joyful. Does it make you a bad Christian if you are sad? And how can we find joy even amidst the trials and tribulations of life?
Recently on Go Ask Your Father™ a listener called who said that she did not feel joy, and was worried that she was sinning by not being a joyful witness of the Gospel. Msgr. Stuart Swetland replied:
“Let’s make some distinctions. Because there is a difference between feelings and the supernatural reality of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Even I have difficulty, sometimes, grasping this mystery.
We sometimes, and rightfully, call Mary ‘Our Lady of Sorrows.’ We talk about the seven swords that pierced her heart, just as Simeon prophesied. She is Our Lady of Sorrow. But yet even while Mary was going through each of her seven sorrows, she never lost joy. Because joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
In Galatians 5:22 we are reminded that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are fruits of the Holy Spirit, meaning if the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us He’s giving these fruits to us. And so every Christian should radiate those fruits. That joy, that peace, that patience, that kindness should be evident.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re always going to feel happy and joyous. Mary wept at times. Jesus wept at times. Scripture doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the emotional life of Jesus, but it tells us on two occasions in particular that He wept. But yet He was always filled with joy.
Joy is that supernatural gift of knowing who we are and why we are, as sons and daughters of the Father. And even if we’re going through great suffering, we can still have joy because we know the work of God that is going on in us and through us in the world.
The term at the root of happiness is hap. And that’s in haphazard and happens, it’s in a lot of English words – and it means chance. It means something happens to you. It’s almost something external to you that you have no control over. And happiness can be illusionary in that way, in the sense that it is something that seems to be chance. The fact is that much of our emotional life is not under our control. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. It’s what we do with our emotions that makes it moral or immoral.
Our spiritual life runs deeper than our emotions. It’s like the oceans can be very wavy on the surface, but deep down the ocean is solid, deep, and not very wavy. And that’s what we have, that’s what we are.”
Listen to the full conversation below: