Monday, December 16, 2013

The basis of true Christian joy

Yes, it is indeed a time for joy as Christmas draws near.  This joyful atmosphere is felt and encountered almost worldwide.  In places that eschew anything spiritual for the ‘season’, the joy that is promoted and celebrated can dwell primarily on the mood or feeling that is being created, either by the weather (where cold Winters can engender sentiments of a Christmassy feel) or other artificial or worldly enhancements, accessories and trimmings.  It would take a stoic of great resolve to walk through any shopping street or mall at this time of the year and think that nothing special is happening in town.  I am, of course, not speaking from experience this year as I am still keeping well away from crowds as my low immunity can cause me to catch just about anything airborne.

Even Liturgically, the Church has a specific week in Advent that speaks of joy.  This week, we enter into Gaudete or Joyful Sunday, which is the third week in Advent.  However, is this joy that the Church celebrates the same as the secular joy that the world promotes and ‘sells’ at this time of the year?  If not, then what is it about our Christian definition of joy that sets us apart from the joy that women and men without faith seek and perhaps even promote in life?  This is appropriate fodder for reflection this week.

The joy that we speak of and celebrate is very intrinsically connected with the hope that we have.  Our Christian hope is not a pie-in-the-sky hope.  Hope, as our Catechism teaches us, is one of the Theological Virtues which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature.  These are virtues which relate us directly with God, and set our sights and minds towards our shared heavenly (and saintly) goal in life. with the other two Theological Virtues being Faith and Charity.  What starts us all on this movement toward divinity is thus our baptism in Christ, where by God’s grace, our souls are ordered and disposed to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity. 

When this is the basis of deep and abiding Christian joy, and we are in a living awareness of how our basis of our joy founded on the hope of an eventual heavenly life, it should reconfigure and redefine what drives, dictates and motivates our daily lives.  In other words, when we are constantly bearing in mind our ultimate goal in life (which is full life in the Trinity), we are given eyes to see anew just how short-lived and temporary the joys that the world gives us are.  Put bluntly, the Christian knows that at the ‘end of the day’, all earthly joys, yes, even the joys of family life and spousal relationships, pale in comparison to that eternal joy that awaits us, and that everything literally dies.  All things material that we strive for on this earth, all positions of power and fame, all yearnings for success and glory, will come to an end when we die.  This does not mean, however, that we Christians are walking pessimists.  In fact, the reality is just the opposite, where we Christians are ever the optimists in the face of any adversity, troubles and sufferings.  Moreover, we are stewards of our given gifts and talents to influence, mould and transform the world so that our Christianity flavours it to bring the Kingdom of God to its fruition.  Yet, we are reminded that this world as we know it is not something that lasts, and that there is certain transience to everything that belongs to this world.

Where is the joy in this?  - Precisely in the realization that all our strivings and pains and struggles in this life will also come to an end.  This is the hidden and paradoxical joy that our faith gives us in the face of each of our own individual complexities of life.   But when one’s definition of joy is only something that is based on a mere good feeling, or a success in life that is largely material and ego-based, one becomes blinkered from seeing that one is living an ‘either-or’ life, where it’s either joyful or sad.  Most of us live this way, and this leads us to having erratic mood swings.  But in a true Christ-like non-dualistic life, where it’s a ‘both-and’ and not ‘either-or’, one’s life joys are no longer based on only success or glories, but one dares to even see failures, sickness, weakness, illness and yes, even death, as moments that give us a doorway towards eternity, our lasting joy, because even these moments do not last forever, and it is very often when we are really in the doldrums of life that we truly begin to look up to what really speaks to the soul.  I have often wondered if the Liturgical colour of the third Sunday of Advent, which is Rose, was chosen because the Rose colour’s base is red, which is symbolic of suffering, martyrdom and life. 

Does knowing this make our lives as Christ’s disciples complex and complicated?  Only if we think that we need to keep thinking about this as we live our lives.  It’s just too artificial for one to do this all the time, and frankly speaking, it can be tiring.  But if we were to, as it were, re-calibrate our hearts and minds for a moment or two each day, to re-set our targets on what really lasts, what really matters to our innermost being, in other words to pray, we can live in a dimension of joy that transcends even the most painful and seeming joy-less situations that we find ourselves is.  We will be able to say to ourselves, even in the face of seeming disaster and strife, that ‘it is alright’.  We will be able to have that confidence to see that the world is a good place despite the many sufferings that we see around us.  That peace that we find prevailing in our hearts will be the joy that is based on our lasting hope in God. 

There have been many people who have commended me on the way I have handled my illness this past year (it was on December last year when I first started getting the daily fevers of unknown origin), leading me to discover that I had cancer.  This confidence and hope that I have is not my doing.  Purely a gift and a grace from God, it is also attributed in a large part to this hidden joy based on my hope in God – that no matter what happens, our hope in God’s ultimate promises of eternal life remain.  If my joy only comes from a hope for a cure, the joy would only be temporary and short-lived. 

There’s an Italian phrase that is used in theology that bespeaks of what is ‘already and not yet’ – gia e non ancora.  Literally, it is used to describe the Kingdom of God as we know it.  It is here, but not fully realized yet.  We see glimpses of it, we experience moments of it, but never it its entirety and while we are alive, never in its fullness.  But we have tasting portions of it when we live out and experience the Theological Virtues.

But when my joy is based on eternity’s hope, there is joy in a ‘gia e ancora’ way.  I am given a broader horizon to appreciate the world and all it has to offer, in terms of both success and failure; glory and shame; wealth and poverty; health and illness, and perhaps most importantly, life and death. 


  1. Morning Fr Luke, thanks for this timely feature about the true perception of joy. It's not just a feel good experience that comes and goes. But something much greater. So this advent, we dare to hope more each day (much inspired by you battling on) and to also to love more each day. Sorry you still have to be cloistered but know we'll be thinking of you (and eating more heartily on your behalf). Love, Ignatius & Florence

  2. Hi Fr. Luke,
    I received this little ditty a short while ago; and since we're on the subject of joy, I'd just like to share this with you. It's called, "Drinking from my Saucer".

    I've never made a fortune, and it's probably too late now.
    But I don't worry about that much, I'm happy anyhow
    And as I go along life's way,
    I'm reaping better than I sowed.
    I'm drinking from my saucer,
    'Cause my cup has overflowed.

    Haven't got a lot of riches,
    and sometimes the going's tough
    But I've got loving ones all around me,
    and that makes me rich enough.
    I thank GOD for his Blessings,
    and the Mercies HE's bestowed.
    I'm drinking from my saucer,
    'Cause my cup has overflowed.

    I remember times when things went wrong,
    My faith wore somewhat thin.
    But all at once the dark clouds broke,
    and the sun peeped through again.
    So LORD , help me not to gripe,
    about the tough rows I have had.
    I'm drinking from my saucer,
    'Cause my cup has overflowed.

    If GOD gives me strength and courage,
    When the way grows steep and rough.
    I'll not ask for other blessings,
    I'm already blessed enough.
    And may I never be too busy,
    to help others bear their loads.
    Then I'll keep drinking from my saucer,
    'Cause my cup has overflowed.

    God bless!