A legacy is defined as something handed down by a predecessor. When I think about the concept of spiritual joy, I see it as a legacy handed down to us by the Lord himself. Jesus wants you to receive his joy and pass it along to others. St. John Paul II said, “Go therefore and become messengers of joy.”
I wrote a book entitled, “Enjoy the Lord,” which was reprinted in seven languages. This led to my Trilogy on Joy: 1) “Enjoy the Lord”, 2) “God Delights in You”, and 3) “Enjoy Your Precious Life”; all from Alba House, NY. The demand for these books taught me that there is a deep hunger out there for more information on the topic of spiritual joy.
Let’s face it, the Catholic Church, and many other Christian Churches of the past, were filled with fear and foreboding. Damnation was a constant theme. Mortal sins were considered as easy to commit, as eating meat on Friday, or missing Mass on Sunday. Even when legitimate excuses existed, people felt guilty. I remember hearing the confession of a woman who missed Sunday Mass twice in a row. I asked her why? She replied, “I was in the hospital having a baby, and there were complications.” I told her there was no sin in that. She said, “I just wanted to be safe.”
Fear of divine punishment was a constant theme, and the punishment for mortal sin was eternal damnation. When you put that kind of thinking up against the words of Jesus, who said, “I have told you all these things that your joy may be full,” (John 15:11), you can better understand the issue. Jesus wasn’t merely speaking of our heavenly reward; he was talking about a grace-filled life of joy, here and now. Spiritual joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We can only advance in that gift by putting on the will to trust God’s love and deep and abiding mercy for all his children.
“Do not be afraid” was repeated by Jesus many times. St. Paul said, “Rejoice always, and in all circumstances, give thanks to the Lord, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5: 16-18). Scripture tells us that God wants us to find our strength and joy in Him. He told us to, “Fear not.” His infinite love and mercy are always with us.
Recently, I wrote a column entitled, “The Optimism of Pope John XXIII,” extolling his positive attitude. He relied on the Holy Spirit and was able to stand up to the opposition he received from many cardinals. When Vatican Council II opened the floodgates of reform, the church began moving from fear to joy. Even though the church has always preached mercy and forgiveness, the mentality of fear has diminished considerably due to the influence of all our recent popes from John to Francis.
Some complain that this spirit of love has led to laxity. A decline in Mass attendance has occurred, but I ask you, which is better: to have attendance at Mass higher because those attending are in fear of God’s eternal punishment? Or having smaller crowds attending Mass because they trust God and want to receive His loving sustenance?