It is a real challenge to read Pope Francis's The Joy of the Gospel, when you are not feeling particularly joyful. It's Monday morning, and I have a big ole stack of work to do and a long week ahead of me topped off by a trip out of town. Am I joyful? Well, more like I'm gearing up to put the shoulder to the wheel. Yet as I continue sitting with Pope Francis, I'm aware of how difficult it is to not give myself over to joy.
In his introductory remarks, Pope Francis writes again and again of joy -- from the prophets' foretelling of the joy of the coming Messiah to the Gospels and that one powerful word of Gabriel to Mary: "Rejoice!" (4, 5). This is not some kind of silly happiness (although that has its place too in life!) -- the joy that Francis speaks of is full of life, even in the darkest moments of life. Writes Francis:
"I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved." (6)
I am struck by how Pope Francis's understanding of joy is not something that is so much of a description of how we feel at a particular moment or period of our life, but that joy is more of a transforming power. Let me see if I can unpack that a bit. Sometimes when we think about joy, we think of it as something we have or don't have. We look at our life on a given day and ask, am I joyful? While this can produce interesting information, there is still a more powerful way to understand joy. Opening ourselves to the very possibility of joy -- yes even on this Monday morning, even with the challenges we each face small and large -- gives joy a chance to transform us. Joy is not a label for how we are but a life-giving energy that can move us, transform us. Allowing for the possibility of joy takes the pressure off of us to evaluate ourselves for joy indicators and gives it over to God to do the transforming, especially when it's a tough day.
"Slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress." (6)
As we make our way through this day, this week, this life, let us keep open to joy, for as Pope Francis says, "Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?" (5) Indeed!