Seize the joy this Easter | National Catholic Registry

“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is a net by which you can catch souls. -St. Teresa of Calcutta

One year, during Easter time, when I was a novice in a contemplative order, my superior, a beautiful and joyful French nun, disconcerted me by saying: “As human beings, we often have more difficulty to celebrate the joy of Easter that we bear the sufferings of Lent. This is because suffering is so close to our normal human experience on this earth, while joy is foreign to us. We just don’t know how to live it.

She also said, “Joy is not something that comes to us. It’s something we have to seek out and grab when we can; it’s something we have to work hard to get.

Twenty years later, I can finally say that I’m beginning to understand what she meant.

Most of us could safely say that some of the most deeply joyful people we know are the ones who suffer and sacrifice the most in life. For about three years, I volunteered as a stay-at-home mom for emergency overnight shelters run by Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. During this time, I was able to see how truly extraordinary the joy of Our Lord is. I saw it on the faces of the sisters who radiated joy even in the midst of the most trying circumstances, whether it was rushing back to the convent after hearing gunshots in the ghetto neighborhood where they lived among the poor, or take in a beaten prostitute. I saw it in the volunteers who so freely gave their nights and days to clean the shelter or lead the sisters to prison. And I have so often seen his joy in the grateful and vigorous spirit of the homeless women and children who come to us.

At one point, the mother of one of the superiors of the Missionaries of Charity explained to me that her daughter had once told of the great joy she felt in removing the lice from the heads of the orphans in her care. “As I remove every louse from their heads, I believe I am pulling a thorn from the crown of Christ, and that makes me so happy.”

Every Thanksgiving, I always marveled at the simple joy and peace enjoyed by the women and children of our shelter. They had no home, no table to eat at, and no money to buy a hearty Thanksgiving meal. Worse still, most of them ate at our shelter on Thanksgiving Day because they had no family, friends, or church members to eat with. And yet, when the sisters brought the meal to say thanks, they did not hesitate to bow their heads and thank God from above for all the blessings they had in their lives. As they ate, laughter erupted from the room and love seemed to fill the air.

We can all think of a time when we saw someone in the midst of a grueling ordeal in their life, and yet they still possessed an inner joy. The trust they had placed in Our Lord to carry them through the dark times they were going through was indeed carrying them after all. Their surrender was a beautiful mark of love; and their trust in the heavenly Father was a sign of their loyalty to him.

When our conjoined granddaughters died after their baptism and my husband made sure I held them in my arms at least once before sending them away, I was truly tormented with agony. I leaned down to kiss their beautiful, perfectly formed faces, and they were cold and still. But I think back to that time now and see that there was still a small murmur of joy in my heart. A joy that must have come from believing that the Blessed Mother held them in Heaven, and that they had won the race, they had finished the prize.

As we face our pains and struggles, we can think of the saints and our friends who clung to joy even as they struggled at the foot of Calvary. When all seems dark and hopeless, we can turn to the same source of hope that once lifted their spirits.

Divine joy expands our hearts so that we can embrace all those around us and bring them deep into the Heart of Jesus. Joy springs naturally from a heart strengthened by the love of God and from a soul intoxicated with his ethereal grace. As Saint Thomas Aquinas eloquently explains in Secondæ, Question 28, Article 1 of his Summa Theologiae:

For joy is caused by love, either by the presence of the thing loved, or because the good proper to the thing loved exists and lasts in it; and the latter is the case chiefly in the love of benevolence, by which a man rejoices in the welfare of his friend, though he be absent. On the contrary, pain arises from love, either by the absence of the thing loved, or because the loved object to whom good is wished is deprived of its good or afflicted with some evil. Now charity is love of God, whose good is immutable, since it is his goodness, and by the very fact that he is loved, it is in those who love him by his most excellent effect, according to 1 John 4 :16: ‘He who abides in charity abides in God and God in him. So spiritual joy, which concerns God, is caused by charity.

In this Easter season, let us remember that true inner joy exists and that it is within our reach, however eventful it may be on our way of life. We can rejoice because as long as we breathe in our lungs, we still have the possibility of loving, and that is what we were created for: to love and to be loved.

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