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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Joy, How to Maintain This “Best Makeup”

            In preparing my talk to religious in New Orleans, I came across Anne Lamott’s words: “Joy is the best makeup.” This is true because a person who is full of joy has a radiant face. Peace and happiness shine forth from it. Eyes sparkle, cheeks are rosy, lips curve in a pleasant smile.

            My talk was geared to consecrated people: sisters, brothers, priests, and a hermit. However, huge portions of it also apply to anyone. So, in this blog, I will share them with you.

What Is Joy?

            Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, listed in Scripture right after love. Blessed Columba Marmion said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” Teilhard de Chardin echoed this: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Ayn Rand noted, “Joy is one’s fuel.” It empowers us to keep on keeping on.

            Joy and happiness are similar, but joy is bigger and more precious than happiness. It is serenity and deep well-being. It is constant and intense. Happiness is usually triggered by something external and is temporary.  The joy Jesus speaks of and brings about is a deep, abiding bliss. It the joy no one or nothing can take from us. Those who have a reservoir of joy can be at peace although our world, country, and church are fractured and violence and injustice abound.

            In the Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama converse about joy. Tutu says when we possess joy, we have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.

Why We Can Be Joyful

            Marcus Aurelius said, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”  We can marvel at the wonders of the universe like a solar eclipse or a perfect red rose. We can delight in friends—those people who know all about us but like us anyway. We can run marathons, read books, listen to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” dance, feast on juicy hamburgers, strawberry sundaes, liver and onions.

            Out of a zillion possibilities, God decided to make you.  Our creator who said, “Let there be light, etc., at one point in time said, “Let there be Judy…or Margaret or John.”

            Look at your palm. You are unique. No one has fingerprints like yours or like the DNA inside your cells. Ever since Adam and Eve, down through centuries thousands of couples, your ancestors, have united in love and passed on their genes. And one year as the beautiful Psalm 139 says, God knit you together in your mother’s womb. (In some of us, he must have dropped a stitch or two!)

            St. John Paul II said, “God made us for joy., . . the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.”  That may be a new thought for you: that God took pleasure in creating you. He enjoyed giving you the world and the promise of heaven.

            And God has not deserted you. Joy is the assurance that God is in control of all the details of your life. Joy is the confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right.

            Not only do you have life on earth. You can be glad because Jesus died and rose to save you, and so you can look forward to life in heaven. In 1 Peter 1:8 we read, “You believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

            When someone loves us, our hearts burst with joy. Well, God loves you as tenderly as a father loves his children, as a bridegroom loves his bride. He became a human and died for you, even stays with you in the Blessed Sacrament and lets you consume him in the Eucharist.

Ways to Feed Your Joy

True, during our first earthly moments we cry. But then nothing is more delightful than the gurgling laughter of a baby. How do we keep joy and peace constantly flowing like an underground spring within us?

Spend alone time before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is God. Face to face with him hidden in the Sacred Host, we are with God, hopefully as we will be in eternity. In Psalm 16:11 we pray, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”

During the day be alert to God winks, also called lovebursts. You find a parking spot, a book falls open to the information you are seeking. You meet someone “by chance.” When I was looking for the Book of Joy in our library, instead of using the computer I walked the aisles. There the book was…sticking out from the others on a shelf.  You might record such happenings and review them occasionally, like reading old love letters.

Have faith in God’s design. Confidence in the goodness of God is the key to happiness. No matter what happens, trust that it is for your good or the good of others.

Choose to be joyful. Joseph Campbell said, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” Actress Rose Byrne suggested, “At least twice a week, focus on seeing yourself in joy. Feel yourself in joy. Imagine joy ahead in your life and see yourself basking in it.” And Norman Vincent Peale said, Think joy, talk joy, practice joy, share joy, saturate your mind with joy and you will have the time of your life today and every day all your life.”

Don’t compare yourself to others.  President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  So-and-so is more popular. So-and-so is a better singer or writer.  So-and-so is more handsome or more attractive.  So what?  Cherish your own gifts.

            Also resist comparing yourself to yourself. Say last year you took first prize at the fair, but this year you had honorable mention. When you were thirty you wore size 8; now you wear size 18. Accept what is and be grateful.

Do something for others. Psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger was asked, “What would you advise a person to do if he felt a nervous breakdown coming?” He recommended, “Lock up your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need and do something for them.” Self-centered people are unhappy people. J.R. Miller said, “Nothing else in all life is such a maker of joy and cheer as the privilege of doing good.”

Find humor in situations. The first time I read at Mass in our large province chapel, my hearing aid fell out. This could have been embarrassing, but afterwards the priest said, “Good catch,” and Sisters said, “I thought you were swatting a fly.”

Associate with people who lift your spirits. Not the grumpy ones who view the world through black colored glasses…unless you want to do penance.

Look at humorous things. Watch a funny movie or silly sitcom on TV. Read cartoons like these:

Act as if. That is a basic spiritual principle. A modern translation is “Fake it till you make it.” Thich Nhat Hanh observed, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Act as if you’re on top of the world.  Miraculously, suddenly you realize that you are. Try it.

When a bad thing happens, look for the silver lining.  When I was the head of the English department at Regina High School and registered to get a Master’s in English at Bowling Green, I was sent to get a Master’s in math at the University of Minnesota.  I hadn’t finished taking undergraduate math courses in college. So in the pure number theory class, I was lost. Our grade depended on one test. Out of 90 points, the instructor gave me 5— probably because I wrote my name on the blue booklet. But the positive effect of this humiliating experience was that I could empathize with my students who struggled in school. (I switched to English instead.) Besides, at that university I saw Roger Williams, Mitch Miller, ballets, plays for free and enjoyed as much soft serve ice cream as I wanted in the cafeteria. I also flew in a plane for the first time.

Next week I will share ideas for how to give joy to others.

My presentation ended with this camp song, for which all enthusiastically joined in:

• When are you most joyful?

• Who are joyful people you know?

4 Responses

  1. I am most joyful when I receive communion.
    I am most joyful when I am with my family for happy occasions.

    My great grandchildren.

  2. Dear Sr. Kathleen,
    Monday in Bible study we discussed joy in advance of the 6th Sunday of Easter readings. Then your blog arrived. No coincidence, but rather a loveburst. You gave many great explanations and cited relevant quotes. The humor is the icing on the cake. I like that about Sr. Melannie also! Thank you for a “keeper” this week.

    1. Karen, yes that was a God-incidence! Stay tuned. This coming week’s post will be a continuation of “joy.” By the way, usually I post a cartoon every morning on Facebook. People tell me they enjoy them.

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Jesus depends on us to spread the Good News of God’s love, offering the world hope and joy. Mary Kathleen, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, responds through writing, speaking, giving retreats, and teaching. Her motto, adopted from Eddie Doherty’s gravesite, is “All my words for the Word.”

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