The Saints are people who prepare a place in their hearts in which joy can reside. As they grow in holiness their perspective, that is, their view of themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationship with God, totally shifts toward God and His desires for them. They fall so in love with God that their hearts are transformed in love that is often expressed as joy which becomes visible to others. This is because God is joy. We often hear that God is love, but love brings joy, and therefore the two cannot really be separated. Joy is not something we know with our minds, and it is not something that can be defined, though it can be described. To know God with the heart brings joy that is like no other because this knowing is experiential; it is pure gift. In one of his letters, St. Paul lists joy as one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) The Fruits are signs of the presence of God, and therefore St. Paul attests to the fact that among other things, God is indeed joy.
Holiness is to have had that shift in perception so that one sees joy where others see none; to see beauty where others do not, and to know that faith, hope, and love are present as we face opposition and falsehood. Holiness comes when we are willing to offer ourselves to God and then accept the gift of His love and joy which transform us to understand the beauty of living a life steeped in Christ. As in the First Letter of John we could then say, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:3-4) We already are in this fellowship as members of the Body of Christ; therefore we need to take to heart the exhortation of St. Paul to rejoice in the Lord. And taking to heart St. John, may our joy be complete.
©Michele L. Catanese
* For the complete text of St. Thérèse of Lisieux's poem called My Joy, click here:
Note: Next post is on August 14.
1. This first photo is one of mine, taken at Matagorda Bay, TX. I chose it because of the vividness of the colors in nature that day: all of the shades and hues of color present seemed joyous to me when I took this photo. The walking bridge seemed to lead right into the midst of it all, as if beckoning one into the scene.
2. This icon is called St. Paul the Apostle, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. True, St. Paul does not look joyful in this icon, but you must remember that in icons the subjects never are seen smiling because it is not as if they are posing for a photo. However, I picked this one for more reasons than one, but primarily because the "lack" of a smile truly exemplifies what I was saying about joy. It is a change in perspective and something truly interior. He is holding the source of his joy in his hands: the gospels, depicting his desire to share his joy with us, something he did in his ministry of preaching and letter writing. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-paul-the-apostle-196-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This photo of St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta was taken right before she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. I chose this one because it shows the joy with which she was able to accept it. In clarification, her joy is not in "her achievement," but rather in being able to serve Jesus and to spread the gospel through her actions. That she was noticed and therefore rewarded was never about her, but it drew attention to the work of her sisters and the need to help the poor. However, as humans and as Christians, we are supposed to enjoy the fruit of our labors. It is not prideful to do so and I highly doubt anyone would accuse this most holy of women of being anything but humble.
4. I chose this photo because it perfectly states the reality I was trying to convey about spiritual joy: to express what it is, is actually impossible, though I attempted to describe what it is and is not. But Thérèse is 'spot on' with her statement as seen at the side of her photo: How powerless we all are at expressing the things of Heaven which we have seen, heard, or experienced in our prayer! When I saw this statement,I instantly knew I would use it here because it made me feel so much better about my stumbling statements to describe joy which fall short of what it really is. Thank you, St. Thérèse! It can be found at http://blog.littleflower.org/st-therese-daily-devotional/powerless-how/.
5. This is a painting called Paradiso by Giusto de Menabuoi (1375-76). It is on the ceiling of the Baptistry at the Cathedral in Padua, in the Veneto region of Italy. I chose it because it shows Jesus surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, (with Mary, His mother, depicted most prominently just beneath Him) which is referred to in the Letter to the Hebrews, that is, the saints in Heaven. I think this fresco is magnificent. It takes me breath away to see Heaven so depicted.
6. This is one of my photos, taken while hiking at Fort Davis National Park in Fort Davis, TX. Again, the beauty of nature brings joy. All of nature is a gift of God. Our planet and all the life sustained here is a gift, and so it should be a source of joy and gratitude.