What About the Joy?

One of my readers put the question to me in my last posting about diaconal suffering, “Is there not joy?”

Joy is one of those human experiences that often gets confused with pleasure. Somehow in the minds of many, you cannot have joy unless there is a certain experience of pleasure. There is some truth to that, as joyfulness is pleasurable. But I would assert that joy and pleasure are not identical. I would also assert that suffering and pain are not identical. Nor are they unrelated.

Many deeply spiritual people and all the saints in history attest that they have found deep joy in the midst of suffering if the suffering is embraced, not for its own sake but for the sake of the greater common good. In other words, if embraced that others may live. That is why it can be said that Blessed Mother Teresa was a woman of great joy even though we now know that she suffered terribly on a daily basis.

Joy is the mark of a man or woman who is close to Jesus Christ. No one who draws close to him will walk away without profound joy. This may or may not include physical, mental or emotional pleasure (although God does grant that to many when they come close to him). Joy comes from embracing that which is good and holy and loving.

I am not denigrating the physical. God made us physical and spiritual beings. Physical pleasure is one of his gifts to us. It is good when oriented to life and love. In our desire for deep joy, we embrace life and love even if it entails suffering. To draw close to the good and holy and loving, we ought not seek out suffering. Suffering is not ours to create or to pursue. Suffering is ours to redeem when it comes our way, but turning it toward God and offering it to him. We give it away to God who alone ensures suffering never has the last word on anything.

Look at the crucifixion. Look at the example of Jesus. He accepted the suffering and offered it to his Father. The joy of the Resurrection broke into the world.

Joy is the goal, suffering often is the means. Suffering in this life is meant to give way to the inexpressible joys of heaven.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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