Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
Pope Francis early in his papacy called Christians to be a joyous people. He criticized the Christian who goes around with a glum look, the Christian who is too serious. This type of Christian doesn’t manifest life in Christ and certainly will not attract others to Christ. A lot of people (and I was one of them) took serious issue with how Pope Francis said this or with the fact that he said it at all. After all don’t different people have different personality types. We’re not all called to be an extroverted Ren and Stimpy “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of people. And can we really blame Christians for being sad with all that is happening in the world today? The multitude of varieties of crap throughout the world, in and out of the Church, is oppressing.
Isn’t this a rather superficial way of interpreting Francis’s words? Perhaps that problem isn’t with what Francis said, but with the insecurities of so many Christians and the sign of contradiction that his words are to them. Really there is a criticism from Francis here: If you aren’t joyous there is a serious deficiency in your life. Who likes being told that? But Francis’s words are so much more than a criticism. They are first and foremost a call to ascend the mountain of the Lord, a call to truly enter into the interior life. The interior life is the only fount of true joy. It is a life rooted in an encounter and relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God. The soul inundated with joy is a soul inundated with God, a soul divinized.
“Give me again the joy of your help”: A call to joy means first recognizing that we are sinners. We are horribly wounded. Francis’s image of the Church as a field hospital is apt. Our sins do all manner of ills to us. It rots and spoils our souls; saps us of our energy; blinds us, oppressing us with darkness like that in Egypt; makes us deaf, surrounded by a cacophony of silence. Our sins drag us in the disease ridden, dung filled mire of hell where there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, an endless stream of tears, sobs, and cries. In Baptism though this is not who we have to be. We are given divine life and sonship. We partake of the divine nature and become divine ourselves. Our soul is purified because it is filled to its greatest depths with the Holy Spirit, the One Who sets us within the heart of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and brings us into the love and communion of the Holy Trinity. Through Confirmation, Eucharist, and Reconciliation we may became holy for the Lord, our God, is holy; we may become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. He who was sick and at death’s door has been healed and reinvigorated. He who was fallen has been raised, and he who has decayed has been restored. The lost coin has been found, and the gem wiped clean brilliantly shines.
Our joy as Christians is due to God saving us. This is only the starting point. The Divine Physician is not like a human one. Our doctors prescribe medicine and perform surgeries, but when we are healed they send us on our way and are no longer a part of our lives. God, however, does not send us away once He heals us. No, to remain healed and to grow stronger and gain health He must stay with us. He brings us into communion with Him – a communion with the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit. We continue and mature in the life of the Spirit given to us in Baptism and all the sacraments. This life in the Spirit bears fruits, one of which is joy. Not just joy of having been restored, but joy of entering into the communion of the great love and intimacy of the Godhead.
Joy of its very nature must be expressed and shared, and so the psalmist says, “that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you.” Joy leads to evangelization. As John states in his first epistle: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”
So Pope Francis has called and continues to call us to recognize the horror of our sins, repent and return to God, be joyous at our having been restored, enter into new life, grow in that life through the interior life, let the Spirit bear the fruit of joy within us, and to go out and bring that joy to others. So what does true joy look like? Joy is expressed in many ways, but whether one is an introvert or an extrovert these are present: peace of heart, warmth, a smile (it need not be big), a vivacity in the eyes (like Moses on the day of his death), and, finally, sometimes it looks like this:
While nothing can take away the joy we have when we enter into divine union, joy does know that it is stupid to smile, laugh, be exuberant, or even warm in certain situations.