Whenever I meet a religious sister, priest, or brother, I am always astounded by several things. But the most important is their joy. The joy is something palpable. If you have ever been near a person who is deeply religious, you will know what I mean. It is something that you can feel when you are around them. It is a joy that is not of this world.
Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit enumerated by St. Paul. The lives of some saints are particularly noticeable for this trait. St. Philip Neri, the great apostle of Rome and the founder of the Oratory, was a man who was renowned for his joy. He would walk around Rome and pull pranks. He would tell children funny stories. He would shave half of his own beard in order to make a point. It is difficult not to imagine St. Philip smiling radiantly and, indeed, one of his biographies is called “St. Philip of the Joyous Heart.”
St. Francis of Assisi was also a joyful man. It is very difficult for us not to imagine him laughing and smiling at the antics of Brother Juniper or his other Franciscan brethren. Not only this, but St. Francis always sang out of the joy of his heart. Wherever he went and whatever he did, he was always singing songs of praise to the Lord. The Canticle of the Creatures is one lengthy joyous song of thanksgiving for everything that the Lord has given us from the wind, sun, and moon to our sister death. Indeed, the smiling figure of St. Francis was what inspired me to call this blog: “Peace, Love, and Joy.”
From my own experiences, Sr. Angelica, one of my favorite teachers in high school, was also a nun who was renowned for her joy. Whereas some of my other teachers were dour and unfriendly. She was always smiling and happy. Sitting in class was a joy because he understood teenagers better than most. She could tell us stories about George Washington’s poisonous nightshade dinner and then beam at the end. Except for an incident in which I was caught cheating, I don’t remember hearing her utter a discouraging word or say something that would offend someone. Whenever I think of teaching nuns, the image of Sr. Angelica always springs to my mind. Her joy was infectious and I’m sure that it still infects the students that she works with today.
Yet Sr. Angelcia was not alone in this. Many of the sisters at my high school always smiled. Since I wasn’t Catholic, I always wondered if there was something in the water that made them so happy and free. Either that or they were probably on something. I kid, of course, because there is no such drug that can give you supernatural joy.
Yet the joy was there and I always wondered why. I suppose that the joy of the holy comes from their close union with God. Since they have left everything to follow Our Lord, He has repaid them by giving them tremendous supernatural graces. To some, He has given very loving hearts, while to others He has imparted His joy in different degrees since every person is different and each has much more different needs.
Yet joy does not merely come from renouncing the world. Joy also comes from the fact that one is doing God’s will. When someone follows in conformity to God’s will, there is a great joy in knowing that he or she is doing what God wills for them. When I recite the Divine Office throughout the day, I feel a certain joy because I know that this is what God wills me to do. When I am in the classroom teaching, I feel exactly the same way. I’m happy not because I’m teaching, but because it is God’s will for me to touch the students that come to me for my assistance and help.
Joy is also something that is infectious and can be easily imparted to others. Although I do not talk to many of my students about God, I do make them laugh. Lately, I’ve been seeing many more smiles in my classroom. Why? The reason comes from a saying of St. Francis de Sales, “You will catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” Indeed, what is the point of being dour and unhapy when you could be smiling? What is the point of not doing what God is asking you to do and feeling that you are walking blindly without someone to guide you along the way?
Our Lord said that if we are solicitous for the things of God, everything else would be added to it. I’m sure that when he said “everything else,” He also included joy. For it is when we correspond with His will that we truly feel loved and in love.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
St. Philip Neri, pray for us!