Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter – Jn 15:9-11
In today’s Gospel, a whole three verses, Jesus continues with the Last Supper discourse, asking His disciples to remain in His love so that His joy might be in them, and their joy might be complete. The Greek word John uses for joy is χαρά (khar-ah’), and it appears nine times in His Gospel: seven of these are during the Last Supper discourse, and twice here. Today, as we continue through the Easter season, we can consider two aspects of Christian joy: first, its connection with God’s grace and love, and, second, its characteristics.
First, there’s an important connection between joy and God’s grace and love. This is, first off, a linguistic connection: this Greek word for joy, χαρά (khar-ah’), and the word for grace, χάρις (khar’-ece), come from the same root. True joy is rooted in God, and principally in God’s love for us, a connection that Christ Himself makes in today’s Gospel: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love . . . so that . . . your joy might be complete.” Thus, the exemplar for Christian joy is Christ Himself. In a very beautiful, yet rather forgotten apostolic exhortation, entitled Gaudete in Domino, Saint Pope Paul VI wrote that “it is necessary here below to understand properly the secret of the unfathomable joy which dwells in Jesus and which is special to Him. It is especially the Gospel of Saint John that lifts the veil. . . . If Jesus radiates such peace, such assurance, such happiness, such availability, it is by reason of the inexpressible love by which He knows that He is loved by His Father.” In other words, God the Father’s love for Christ is limitless, inexpressible, and unfathomable, and Christ, who knows and reciprocates that love from all eternity, is filled with a joy that is equally limitless, inexpressible, and unfathomable. This is the secret of Christ’s unfathomable joy.
The characteristics of Christian joy, our second point, flow from this exemplar. As the Pope says elsewhere, “in essence, Christian joy is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified.” As Pope Francis said in his Evangelii Gaudium: “Joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (6).
It’s amazing to think that God calls us to participate not only in His limitless, inexpressible, and unfathomable love for us, but also in the infinite joy that follows from it. Paul VI explains that “this joy of living in God’s love begins here below. It is the joy of the kingdom of God. But it is granted on a steep road which requires a total confidence in the Father and in the Son, and a preference given to the kingdom.”
Note the two requirements: total confidence in God, and a preference for His kingdom. Total confidence in God stems from a true and unequivocal belief in His love for us, and that leads to action, to a preference for His works and righteousness. As God’s love never changes, neither should our joy, if it’s firmly and truly rooted in Him. We can consider, for instance, the example of Saint Gabriel Possenti, who died at the age of 24, was known for his joy. Even in the midst of great sufferings from tuberculosis, he would write to his father “My life is one of unending joy.” In fact, his brothers in the monastery often sought to be with him in his cell, taking care of him, since his joy was so great, “it cheered and warmed them like sunshine.” Or Saint Teresa of the Andes, who, although born into a wealthy family, gave up everything to become a Carmelite. As Pope Saint John Paul II said of her, “This is the new hymn of Christian love that rises spontaneously from the soul of this young girl! God is infinite joy! She herself said, ‘When Jesus is loved, everything is joy! The cross is not heavy; martyrdom is not felt. We live more in heaven than on earth.’” As she wrote: “I can’t do anything else than love [Jesus Christ]. What do you expect when Jesus Christ, that mad lover of mine, made me fall madly in love with Himself?” In her letter to her older sister, Lucia, (letter 112) she said, “I want to tell you about my happiness. Yes, I want you to feel for just a moment, the happiness of belonging entirely to God, but there’s no human language that can express the divine feelings in which my soul finds itself submerged. I’ve given Him everything, it’s true, but I’ve also come to possess the one who is Everything.” In that she found her joy.
In his exhortation, Saint Paul VI places Mary at the head of the joyful saints, writing that “with Christ, she sums up in herself all joys; she lives the perfect joy promised to the Church: Mater plena sanctae laetitiae. And it is with good reason that her children on earth, turning to her who is the mother of hope and of grace, invoke her as the cause of their joy: Causa nostrae laetitiae.” Let us ask, through her intercession, for the grace to trust in the Father’s love for us, and so enter into His joy.