When I originally thought of writing this article a few weeks ago, I had a different idea in mind for it than what I am writing today. I wanted to talk about the pervasiveness of Easter, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the winding down from the school year and the stretching out into long summer evenings. But that was before the Uvalde massacre.
Now, I don’t feel joyful. I feel heartbroken. Again. Since I live in central Texas, just a short drive from Robb Elementary, I know people who were personally affected, who knew the victims. We all do, around here. No, I don’t feel joy or hope or happiness. I feel anxious, ill and overwhelmingly sad.
I went to Mass today, where my parish held a special remembrance and rosary for Uvalde, and I heard these words in the Gospel, “Jesus said to his disciples; “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy…So you are now in anguish, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-23)
It was a good reminder that the apostles were also deeply sad. Jesus, the one they dearly loved, was going to leave them. Jesus spoke these words before his Passion, to prepare the apostles for what was coming.
The Gospel was also a reminder about what Joy really is. C.S. Lewis once commented in his memoir, Surprised By Joy, that Joy, “must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…But Joy is never in our power.”
Joy is not so much a feeling as a longing, a longing for a place and space where all our tears will be wiped away, where we will never have to worry about losing our loved ones again. It’s not so much something we feel as a spiritual reality we want to participate in. Catholic theologian Peter Kreft writes that, ”The way to joy is sanctity, loving God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. No one who ever said to God, "Thy will be done" and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy – not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now.”
So, yes, I am still joyful, in the midst of sadness, despite senseless mass shootings, wars that drag on and on, and the various other fires that keep spreading throughout our world. I don’t feel it, but I believe in it. Jesus promised us that “if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11) The Joy that we seek in the Eastertide goes beyond chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. It points us to union with God and each other, both here and in eternity.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us!