Saint Paul lists joy second among the seven famous fruits of the Holy Spirit. But if you are like me, you might often find joy to be elusive and somewhat immeasurable.
No one can force another person to be joy-filled.
Finding even the least bit of joy in our hearts, in fact, can seem almost impossible in the desert sands of a Lent that opened with the horror of the school shooting Ash Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. After this tragedy, we might feel guilty at experiencing moments of joy. We could find ourselves experiencing more anxiety, confusion, or uncertainty. The dark may seem to be overtaking the light in the world as we know it.
It is clear to us then, that joy must be something more than satisfaction or pleasure. And that is true. It is a fruit...a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The fruits of the Spirit are the byproduct of the life of God emerging from within us individually or from within a group.
When we look at nature, we see that fruit emerges from trees like little miracles. The tree must have a perfect level of light, water, pH levels in the soil, and nutrients. These and other largely unseen symbiotic relationships encourage not only survival but thriving life which eventually gives us delicious fruit.
So it is with joy. It is a miracle that comes about through the powerful action of the Spirit in our lives. The difference is that, even in the most difficult and imperfect situations, the fruit of joy can still thrive.
Our Gracious Lord promises to give us “fullness of joy” that “the world cannot give.” But how? Where do we find this gift? Is it possible to hold on to it, or must it always be fleeting?
Sisters and brothers, I have to admit: I love Lent for this reason. Lent takes a forklift to all the clutter and moves it to the side so that we can see again that we are connected to the living stream of Life in Christ. The stark, austere décor in our churches, the modest meals, the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are leaf blowers (or snow blowers, depending on where you live!), lifting away the myriad distractions that so easily cover our otherwise simple path. Beneath it all, we are connected, and this is authentic. This is joy.
It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to weep and mourn, to lament as we hold our brothers and sisters in sorrow and this unbelievable tragedy in shared anguish, and at the same time to hope. As control seems to break down, it is joy that helps us see where and how we can break through. This is not the joy of laughter and happiness. Sometimes it is the firm determination that makes us walk forward, seeking to be the difference and effect the change, in the peace of heart that bubbles over from the wellspring of the joy that we choose because we hope.
We choose to actively remind ourselves what the race is all about. Saint Paul would say “run so as to win” and "don’t fight like you are shadowboxing." Why? Because we know the end of the story. It is the narrative of death and resurrection written by our God and remembered and rehearsed every Lenten-Easter season. It is union with God. Union with Love who breathes us into life at every moment. We will eventually know the eternal union, restful bliss that we were created for, and Lent helps us aim there.
So living Lent in rhythm with the Body of Christ, the Church, will yield the fruit of joy. This fruit of joy is the mark of the Holy Spirit that only God can give and which grows through the grit of choosing hope. Since we were made for eternal joy, the joy Jesus won for us by his death and rising to a life that now is ours, we can journey through this Lent 2018 with a certainty that God wants us to have joy, to be joy, to create hope, to bring light, to be the Light the world needs.
Joy is a reality surer than gravity and will outlast everything that seems so absolutely certain around us because joy is of God and we were made for God.
I wish you a blessed and hope-filled joy this Lent!
Sr. Maria Kim-Ngân Bùi, FSP