I recently had an encounter at work. My workplace isn’t anything special; like anywhere, it is a place where people who might not normally come together are placed in the same space for the majority of the day. My coworker animatedly began talking about how much she loved Christmas and Thanksgiving, how important those holidays are to her, and how she ‘doesn’t really feel like there’s anything to look forward to after Christmas.’
I found myself replying that there’s Easter, and that Easter might be my favorite holiday. This statement baffled my coworker. But I proceeded to expand on just how much I love Easter, the beauty of the Triduum, the exultant joy of that first Alleluia.
And it was while I was recalling some of my favorite Easter memories that I began to notice that I was saying more about how great Jesus and His Church is than about anything that people typically associate with Easter, like dyeing eggs or eating chocolate bunnies. I felt warm, alive, and filled with more than myself.
As I reflected afterwards, it felt like the Holy Spirit had burst from me to share the joy of the Gospel to anyone who might listen. I had spoken with joy that I experienced in prayer, in the sacraments, and in knowing our Lord’s triumph. My conversation with my coworker had ended with her commenting that I was maybe one of the ‘happiest Catholics she had ever met.’
Those words stuck with me and gave me a reason to write this blog article, to dive into how prayer and a relationship with the Lord leads to a life of joy that radiates even in the darkest hours.
“That Your Joy May Be Complete”
Joy is a tricky word; when I was a child, I thought that joy was a synonym for extreme happiness. In fact, Dictionary.com defines it as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” Even pop-culture makes joy into a cartoon character in the movie Inside Out, an emotion that can’t always have control.
However, in the Christian context, joy is not just a passing emotion; joy defines the New Testament and plays a huge role in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the eleven are overcome with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost so that they appear to many to “have had too much new wine” (NABR Acts 2:13). Joy is a part of the Christian life and is ever present as the good news spreads among the Roman Empire. It is much more than emotion.
Joy comes from our life of prayer. The Apostles were full to the brim with joy because of the relationship each one of them had with God. Prayer is that relationship. In John 15, Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches to bring to life the relationship He desires to have with each of us. He tells us to “Remain in my love” (9). What a beautiful thought! It reminds me of visiting a loved one and that initial hug you receive right when you walk in the door. Prayer is that embrace. When I spend time in silent prayer, I try to just soak up how much God is loving me right than in that moment. Because I cannot have a relationship with Jesus without first spending time with Him, letting Him embrace me and tell me how much He loves me.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus says these words right after He invites us to remain in His Love. They are definitely powerful words, words that show Jesus as the completion of joy. Jesus isn’t offering to fill us with satisfactory happiness. Jesus desires to fulfill us completely. Taking time for silent prayer is a way to allow Jesus to do just that. A priest once told me that if I devoted just ten minutes a day to silent prayer, I would see my life change completely. Even a small amount of quiet prayer transforms my heart and allows me to receive joy.
A Light in the Darkness
Let’s face it, we need joy now. Our world is very dark, and I personally struggle a lot with that darkness. It is no easy task to keep going day after day when there is so much sorrow, suffering, selfishness, greed, and countless other sins on the rampage all around us. But we cannot let these realities dampen our joy.
The struggle against sin is not news. In the time of the early Church, the Roman Empire remained at the height of its power and influence. Parts of Roman culture encouraged and celebrated lavish partying, over-indulgence, and promiscuity. Greed and corruption in politics resulted in murder and scandal. The Roman Empire reserved the right to mete out justice including public executions.
Despite this environment, the early Church thrived. Imagine how frightening it must have been to know that your very belief could result in your execution. Yet the Apostles and many saints radiated joy and continued to pray and administer the sacraments. Their joy became a light to so many others, an invitation to hope when perhaps there was no energy left to hope.
It is a powerful reminder to us all to live in joy. Lately, I’ve been attempting to bring more prayer into my work environment in simple ways. As well as praying in the morning in silence before I head to my job, I have been saying small words and phrases to remind me of Jesus’ Presence. In these moments, work becomes easier, and sometimes I even find myself smiling. Perhaps that is why my coworker labels me an optimist. But you don’t need to be an optimist to radiate the light of God’s Love.
Joy is contagious. More catchy than a virus. By remaining in the Love of Jesus you become a carrier of joy to the world.
Michelle Schmid is a parishioner of the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.