Bl. Columba Marmion tells us that "In finding God, we shall likewise possess joy."1 In Christ, though we be suffering, there is and should always be perfect joy. "I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I not be moved. Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope." (Ps. 15:8-9)
This is something that in my life as a Catholic so far, I have only felt intermittently. This has been very much my own fault, my own temperament - I have slipped into judgmentalism and knee-jerk rants against all the abuses and bizarrities I have seen in my life in the Church (simply view some of my early blogs). I have allowed the peace and joy of heart that I knew in the beginnings of my conversion and in my first few months as a baptized Catholic Christian to dissolve in a sludgy pit of frustration, annoyance, and perplexity. I must, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes, "recover the meaning of this great joy...," for "From its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth."2
St. John of the Cross tells us that joy is "nothing else than a satisfaction of the will with an object that is considered fitting and an esteem for it."3 And as we famously know from the words of St. Augustine, one can only find joy and peace when we rest in God. But all of this rest is destroyed when we focus on something else and place it as our sole highest object in which to find joy. This can be anything from our favorite beer to a beautiful liturgy, from our favorite hobby to our best friend. All joy, ultimately must be and can only be found in God, from Whom all joy flows into the human heart.
I have experienced a taste of this kind of joy only a few times in my life, but they have always been memorable. Whilst at Divine Liturgy on Saturday, when the deacon so beautifully sang the words "Who loved me and gave himself for me", I felt lifted out of myself with a sweetness and happiness that I have not known in some time. This joy was found in the simple fact that, despite everything, Jesus had given Himself up to the Cross for me, so that I might know salvation, God's love for us, and be restored in Christ4 (cf. St. Seraphim of Sarov). Here is profound joy.
This joy simply must take hold of our lives and permeate our whole being as Christians. When I spoke to a priest the other day, he asked me "Why do you keep looking down? Lift your head up! Be joyous in Christ!" Here I was reminded of how much I had killed my own joy in Christ, through rigorous Kierkegaardian angst, through judging others, through reactionary feelings and all the rest. My sole focus should always be on heavenly things, on God Himself, and God in others. This is how I, and others like me who suffer from a certain despondency in their Christian lives, can recover their joy in Christ.
"Let us make a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!"5 (St. Herman of Alaska)
1 - Christ: The Ideal of the Monk, I:IV
2 - qtd. in Ware, The Orthodox Way, ch. 4
3 - Ascent of Mt. Carmel, XVII:1
4 - Spiritual Instructions, 3
5 - From here.