A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Capturing Joy

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

As Victoria emerged from months of lockdown late last year, there was much relief and celebration around Melbourne. One reporter describing the moment said: It is simply joyous!

Joyous – what a beautiful and understandably under-used word it is.

When violence, criminality and corruption occupy the bulk of our news services, joy rarely features. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause suffering and fear, especially across Europe and the Americas.

Then there are our own personal and family struggles as we cope with all the normal stresses of our lives. In our personal battles, joy can be a rare visitor.

We can wax piously about the joy that our faith provides for us, but at times when the cross rather than the resurrection is more evident, these pious expressions carry little weight. We are putting one foot after the other, coping with health issues, children’s issues, managing our family’s economy, dealing with mental health problems that result from the current pandemic. None of these has much room for joy.

In the Church we are struggling with the great credibility gap between much church-speak and the real hunger of our people for nourishment. We hear elements in the Church seemingly more interested in survival than in mission and our heart falters. There’s not much joy here either.

Then a text comes through unexpectedly: I was walking the dog the other day and saw a ray of sun coming through the clouds. It was very calm and quiet and I actually had a quick thought about you. And there it was! On a gloomy, windy and wet day, an inkling of joy broke through!

If we’re on the lookout, it doesn’t take much for God’s precious gift of joy to transform our muddle and pain. It could be as simple as a kind word, our dog greeting us when we come home, a short stroll around our back garden that we have tended so carefully and is now bursting with spring colour, or a small child offering a flower she had just picked for us.

In fact, the joy of God’s presence is ever so carefully concealed in the fabric of each day, just waiting for us to recognise it. All we need to do is to take our attention off ourselves and our burdens for a moment and there we are!

The startling image of Mary Magdalen in the garden following Jesus’ death comes to mind. The previous days had been an unmitigated disaster and, without warning, all her sadness and despair were turned to unimaginable joy. Life is born again as she encounters the risen Jesus. She is the first to meet him risen and her meeting with him continues to stir us right down to our own day.

Joy can survive, and even flourish, in the midst of suffering if we have the heart to let her in. This is not easy work and takes courage and belief in the basic goodness of life.

Pope Francis speaks often of the joy of the gospel in the midst of a ministry that for him must present daily challenges and struggles. A young Brazilian woman I met recently told me that she has been in Australia since December, going through fires, floods and Covid-19. In among all that she could say how she was loving being here!

In rising from the dead, Jesus signals to us that the gift of joy is possible for us, no matter what our circumstances. His rising from the dead is our invitation to rise with him and to taste the joy that comes when life prevails over all that weighs on us from day to day.

It’s not an easy gig to take on. Nevertheless, the invitation is always there!  

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