Isaiah 12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Global tensions are on a seemingly exponential uptick. Yet the utter importance of joy has been coming to me again and again. The above Scripture passage can be read in two ways, a passive way and an active way. The passive way implies that joy is what we are filled with after we are saved. Very true. But the active reading of this passage tells us that joy can also be the “bucket” we can use to draw water from the wells of salvation. Joy therefore becomes an instrument of salvation in the hand of the Christian.
Think about it: a dour Christian makes a crummy witness, but joyful Christian is a powerful sign to others that no matter the circumstances of our earthly lives, our hope is in something infinitely greater. But more than that, Christian joy has its own power to transform the hearts and the lives of those who cultivate it—as well as those around them.
But this must be done appropriately. As the days darken, as the sufferings of the current trial intensifies, it would be insensitive in the extreme to just say, “Chin up! Things will be better tomorrow. This too shall pass.” We are no mere optimists. We are filled with joy because a life lived for God gives meaning to everything—the good and the bad. In all circumstances we believe that God is, that He loves us, that He redeemed us, that when this life is over He will take us to himself. We know that God can use everything we give him, our joys and sorrows, our strengths and weakness, our consolations and our sufferings. In Him nothing is wasted.
Suffering in this “Valley of Tears” is normal, a consequence of our fallen nature. Sometimes we are given consolations, earthly joy, and for those times we are appropriately grateful. But we are foolish if we mistake those consolations for heaven. They are a pale imitation, a limited foreshadowing. No, we don’t get heaven here, but we can bring heaven to earth—for ourselves and others—through our selfless acts and attitudes. And this too is cause for rejoicing.
St. Paul told the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Ph 4:4) He did not say to rejoice in the Lord sometimes. He said always. Rejoicing always is a form of gratitude that goes beyond the secular ideal of living a life of gratitude. Rejoicing always means that you have a wellspring of hope that no earthly circumstance can drain. Even your suffering has an edge of anticipation to it. “Yes, I am suffering now, but this is not all there is. God has given meaning to my suffering. I am on the cross, with Christ. I know and trust that God will use my suffering to accomplish something far more wonderful than anything I could possibly imagine. I believe that in Christ every crucifixion is followed by a glorious resurrection. Jesus I trust in you! Use me as you wish to accomplish your designs upon the world.”
This does not mean that we should not pray to be delivered from suffering, but that if we are not delivered, we can rejoice knowing that God has a divine plan and that he will bear the burden with us, heaping on us grace upon grace so that we will not be crushed by the burden.
This also does not mean that we have to enjoy the suffering. Jesus and Mary did not enjoy the crucifixion, but they rejoiced in it, knowing that the glory of God to be revealed would far exceed the dear cost. They gave it their “Fiat!” and in that word, God’s glory was spectacularly revealed. Our “Fiat” too has immense power. It is a profession of trust in the divine plan, of hope in things unseen and unimagined. This joy fills us with grace and strength. “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)
One of the most important ways to prepare for uncertainty in these tumultuous times is to cultivate holy joy—a joy that is rooted in trust and abandonment to the perfect will of God. We know that God has a plan. While he rarely divulges the details to us, we can trust that he always has one, and that the victory is always his. He asks only that we trust him and that we remain faithful to the end, like the Blessed Mother, John and the women at the foot of the cross.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jer 29:11) The future of hope, my friends is not referring to this life, but to an eternity of joy and peace undreamed of in this life. That is the source of our joy.
“But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” (1 Pt 2:14-15)
Jesus is our hope. Rejoice and be glad!