The Gift of Sheer Joy

Acts 15:7-21; Ps 96; Jn 15:9-11


 “God is sheer joy, and sheer joy demands company.”

That comment by St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian, and today’s gospel, invite us to join in God’s joy through love.

Another famous person, this time a philosopher, Henri Thoreau, famously stated just the opposite: “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.”

How do we move from that “quiet desperation” to experiencing “sheer joy?” The answer is simple – learn to love others as Jesus has loved us, and we will experience that elusive joy.

St. Paul’s comment on this reality has to do with the reign of God in our lives, which he describes as not a matter of eating or drinking, but the “peace, joy and justice of the Holy Spirit.” (Rm 14:17)

As I have often stated, peace is not a passing emotion like pleasure or happiness, but a gift of the Holy Spirit that we can claim as Christians who are doing the will of the Father, which ultimately is keeping the commandments that Jesus gave us.

Those commandments can be summarized as: loving God with our whole being; loving others as we love ourselves; loving others as Jesus has loved us, and finally, loving our enemies, especially by forgiving them.

There are two reasons why Jesus could call his commandment new. One is that he equated a law buried in Leviticus 19:18 (love others as you love yourself) with the Grand Shema of Israel in Dt 6:4-9 (love God with our whole being). From now on, the best way to love God, is to love others as we love ourselves. There is a newness to be found here.

The second reason lies in the commandment to love others as Jesus himself has loved us. That is brand new – his love for us was total, complete, exhaustive, unrelenting, and took him through the passion to the cross, without a trace of resentment of bitterness. That forgiveness, that unconditional love, is the key to the kingdom, and to peace and joy.

Joy is also not a passing emotion, but a gift of the Holy Spirit that we can claim when again we are doing the will of the Father, which is basically keeping the commandments that Jesus gave us. Joy is a by-product of loving selflessly. The best way to experience joy, is to help others find joy in their lives.

The late Gerald May, a psychologist, stated that “Joy is altogether beyond any consideration of pleasure or pain, and in fact requires a knowledge and acceptance of pain. Joy is the reaction one has to the full appreciation of Being. It is one’s response to finding one’s rightful, rooted place in life, and it can happen only when one knows through and through that absolutely nothing is being denied or otherwise shut out of awareness.”

Former Oblate Eddie Hecker, at an exhibition of a replica of the Shroud of Turin in Los Angeles, shared the experience of a pathologist, who had done autopsies on hundreds of violent deaths. This pathologist told Eddie that the violence of their deaths was written on every one of their faces. Looking at the shroud, he said it was obvious this man had died a violent death, but his face was totally at peace.

In the light of that information, I believe we can correctly claim that Jesus, on the cross, was at peace, and perhaps even experiencing some joy, because he knew he was doing the Father’s will to reveal to the world the depth of the Father’s love for our lost and wounded humanity.

This way to joy through loving and being loved is a message our world desperately needs to hear, given the epidemic of addictions prevalent almost everywhere. Addiction is basically a futile attempt to medicate one’s pain. Lacking faith in God’s love for them, and too wounded and insecure to love others when many cannot love themselves, they are driven to soothe that raw painful reality with drugs that will numb the pain and provide an illusory artificial high – a far cry from any semblance of joy.

Our task is to take at face value the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “I said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. Let us place our faith and trust in God’s love for us, then keep the commandment to love as Jesus has loved us, and joy will be ours.

The Eucharist is a humble faith experience of God loving and hugging us, through word and sacrament, forgiving and healing us even as we celebrate. We are then commissioned, sent out to spread the message of St. Thomas Aquinas, that God is sheer joy, and sheer joy demands company.

Updated: May 11, 2023 — 2:33 am

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