I sometimes think that Lent is a little easier to live out than Eastertide is, perhaps because we are so much more familiar with suffering than we are with joy. We’ve all experienced suffering, probably more than we wanted to, but joy doesn’t seem to be as obvious in our lives.
One major barrier to expressing true joy is the feeling of guilt that we should have it when others are suffering. How can we feel joy when others are suffering? How can we look at the world, with the endless news of war, death and terrorism, and rejoice? It seems that despair is actually the most respectful response to these situations. Anything else would seem insensitive.
When he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI addressed this very issue in his book “Salt of the Earth: the Church at the End of the Millennium”. What he writes about joy is game changing. He explains that we struggle to express joy because we feel guilty when we do. In the following quote he identifies why we feel guilt, and how we can think differently about it. This quote is well worth reflecting on, but more than that, it is worth acting on!
“Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice. I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better – and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good.
Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. In this connection, it always strikes me that in the poor neighborhoods of, say, South America, one sees many more laughing happy people than among us. Obviously, despite all their misery, they still have the perception of the good to which they cling and in which they can find encouragement and strength.
In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.”
In the world of bad news, how needed is the message: “that the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being!” When our joy comes from trust in God and not mere optimism, when our joy comes from a confidence in God and not mere positivity, then we can discover the greatest mystery, the ability to feel joy even in the midst of suffering. So dig deep and find that “primordial trust” in God, and have the “courage to rejoice!” so that you may always have a reason ready to explain the “hope that is in you” to others. (1 Peter 3:15)