A Catholic Monthly Magazine


Fr Tom Ryan SM

The Bright Side

Part 1 of 3

‘Tears of Joy’ 

The team and supporters winning a grand final or a world cup. The bride and groom radiant on their wedding day. The political leader and party supporters after an election victory. A couple with the birth of a child. The patient hearing “the cancer is completely cured.” Parents told their lost child has been found.

Joy is about being overwhelmed by happiness and, sometimes, by a sense of relief. Joy, here, is spontaneous and, in a way, beyond our control. It spills over from desires being fulfilled. Love’s desire to generate new life (and protect it). Desires fulfilled by sacrifice, by skills cultivated by discipline and practice. The examples above could be described as the ‘public’ face of joy. Again, some joys can be passing and, at times, based on circumstances outside us. 

But joy has a ‘private’ face, in the person’s motivation and in its unobtrusive and enduring qualities. It is a quiet joy from the service of others, with a spirit of sacrifice and done for no personal gain. More broadly, there is the pervading sense of contentment from leading a good life.

Joy expresses connection and harmony with others and within oneself. Most especially, it is a sense of well-being through an abiding sense of being loved by God and a conscious relationship with God. Again, like love, joy is something that overflows its banks. As Mark Twain once observed: “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”

Again, we can be moved to admiration and joy when we witness those who strive for justice for the disadvantaged or who are courageous in the face of evil and brutality. We are, in some way, lifted out of ourselves by the testimony of the goodness of other people’s lives. Our horizons are broadened; our hearts are expanded. Goodness precisely as beautiful lifts us beyond ourselves. It can motivate and inspire us: “In that situation, that is the sort of person I would like to be.” Joy, then, finds a natural home in the constant effort to live a good life.

Like happiness, joy is less something we find but more a gift that ‘creeps up’ on us, namely, the by-product of doing other things, of how we live. ‘Tears of joy’ (as delight and healing) can accompany the unexpected gifts that loss and grief can bring.

We see this with Australian journalist Lucy Palmer in her movingly beautiful memoir A Bird on My Shoulder. By looking back, in sadness and joy, on the loss of her husband Julian, and being left with three young children, she finds hope and meaning where there did not seem to be any.

Perhaps these reflections on joy and its ‘tears’ may offer some insight into the comment of Teilhard de Chardin: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

To Ponder

Can you identify ‘tears of joy’ events in your life? Has their impact endured?


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