St. John Paul II had already been bishop in Cracow for some years and in a non-stop struggle with the Polish Communist regime to protect the rights of God and his flock when he received a phone call from another bishop asking how he was doing. The saint replied, ‘I am joyful, and I will continue to be joyful.’
If joy was merely something that happened to you, a bit of luck regarding to the various circumstances in life – health, family, career – then you could not say with conviction that you would continue to be joyful. You do not know what the future holds. Our saint realized that joy is not contingent on external circumstances. We must decide to be joyful.
This decision occurs on two levels.
Firstly, on a simply human level, there is something to having an optimistic outlook on life. We have all met people with apparently everything they could want and yet were still miserable. Inversely, we have met people who though poor or suffering still exuded peace and contentment. There is real benefit to recognizing the glass as half-full as opposed to half-empty. You can choose to have a positive outlook on life. A melancholic personality or difficult circumstances do not determine you attitude. Cognitive therapy for the clinically depressed even recognizes that people can choose to retrain pessimistic habits of thought into positive ones.[i] Abraham Lincoln stated this truth succinctly, ‘Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.’[ii]
Secondly, this decision also occurs on a supernatural level. Joy transcends the human happiness of a positive attitude. Joy is rooted in our hope in God. The disciple of Christ is joyful because Christ is faithful. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again: rejoice!’ [Phil 4:4]. This message from St. Paul is all the more impressive when we recall that he wrote it from prison [cf. Phil 1:7]. St. Paul is simply trying to communicate to the community of believers in Philippi the hope that he found in Christ.
Amidst the cultural and moral upheavals of our society, it would seem that many faithful Catholics and Christians are tempted to discouragement or despair. We must decide to be joyful. This is not an invitation to remain blissfully ignorant of the real problems and challenges facing our culture. The saints always faced the challenges of the world straight on. However, we do so convinced that God is still in charge and is bringing good from this [cf. Rm 8:28].
We must pray and seek to fulfill God’s will for us on a daily basis. Let God do the rest. If you are open to his grace and inspirations, he will guide you when you make important decisions about how to address personal or societal situations. To bear fruit, our decision to be joyful must be rooted in wanting God above all things. As Mother Angelica writes, 'Jesus conquered the world by not permitting it to be the source of his peace. The world would not determine when he had or did not have peace. His peace was a sure, ever-flowing river, coming to him from the Father. He wanted his followers to find their peace in him, just as he found his peace in the Father.’[iii] Supernatural peace and joy are both rooted in our union with Christ.
Following are a few suggestions to strengthen your decision for joy:
Consume media judiciously. By nature media focuses on the spectacular and emotional. Even conservative outlets can make you lose your peace. Limit the time you spend watching or reading media.
Frequently pray with praise and thanksgiving. All prayer reminds us of God’s presence, however praise and thanksgiving are very potent antidotes to worry and complaint. They help us focus on the goodness of both God and his gifts.
Personally and publically state your decision to be joyful in the Lord. Frequently remind yourself and others that Jesus is faithful and in charge.
Frequently renew your decision to have a positive attitude. Perhaps this could happen during your morning prayer routine.
Conquer evil by doing good. The smallest acts of kindness are much more fruitful than simply complaining. Do this on a daily personal level. If possible, also do this by helping, or starting, some ministry. Think outside of the box. ‘How and where can I serve society with the message of Christ?’
Ask for the grace to want Jesus above all else, and in that context, decide to be joyful.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
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[i] https://positivepsychology.com/positive-cbt/ [ii] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/69-folks-are-usually-about-as-happy-as-they-make-their [iii] Living Prayer: In the Silence of the Heart, Jesus Helps Us to Pray. Mother Angelica. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books) 1985, 55.