September 2, 2018

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century theologian who carefully distinguished between different kinds of joy and happiness, wrote at length on joy. He described delectatio (“delight”) over sensory things, but he reserved the term gaudium (“joy”) for the attainment of an object that one regards as good for oneself or another. Later Thomas connected joy with love, “either through the presence of the thing loved, or because of the proper good of the thing loved,” wherein one rejoices over the good fortune of another. The highest joy, said Thomas, is seing God “face to face,” since one has attained all that one’s heart can desire.’

St. Thomas’s writings helped me perceive more clearly the difference between a religious understanding of joy and a secular one. The more I thought about Thomas’s distinctions and researched the question of joy, the clearer the answer became. In popular terminology, joy is happiness. For the religious person, joy is happiness in God.

In contrast to the more secular definition of joy, which may describe one’s emotional response to an object or event, religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object, and that object is God. Contemporary Chrisitan theologians, such as Donald Saliers, a professor of theology and worship at Emory University, often makes this point. In The Soul in Paraphrase: Prayer and Religious Affections, Saliers notes that joy is a fundamental disposition toward God. What characterizes Christian joy in contrast to happiness, he says, lies in its ability to exist even in the midst of suffering, because joy has less to do with emotion and more to do with belief.

Joy does not ignore pain in the world, in another’s life or in one’s own life. Rather, it goes deeper, seeing confidence in God-and for Christians, in Jesus Christ-as the reason for joy and a constant source of joy. Pope Paul VI, in an extraordinary 1975 papal letter called Gaudete in Dominio (“On Christian Joy”), touched on this distinction. Why, in a culture of plenty in the West, he wondered, where there is so much to satisfy uswealth, clean water and readily available food, medical achievements, technological advances-is there so little joy?

It is, said Paul, because we are missing what joy really is. “This paradox and this difficlty in attaining joy seem to us particularly acute today,” Paul wrote. “This is the reason for our message. Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy, for joy comes from another source. It is spiritual.”

Here is one example of what leads me to think that many modern believers often fail to link spirituality with anything joyful or even lighthearted. For the past 20 years, I’ve worked for a Catholic magazine called America. One of our regular features is “Faith in Focus,” mainly stories about a writer’s spiritual life, and each week we get dozens of submissions. Guess what the most common topics are: sickness, suffering and death. How my illness led me to God. How losing a job led me to God. How my pain led me to God.

Now, you might say, “Suffering is a way to God.” And often that’s true. We can sometimes experience God more intensely during times of suffering, since we are more vulnerable and therefore perhaps more open to God’s help. But in my 20 years at America, I’ve rarely seen a funny or even mildly humorous submission for that section.

This is just one indication that, at least in American Catholic culture, suffering is linked to spirituality far more often than joy is. Joy seems to have a disreputable reputation in some religious circles. And that’s odd, because joy is a necessary component for a healthy emotional and spiritual life. In fact, we are drawn to joyful people, I believe, because joy is a sign of God’s presence, which is naturally attractive to us. God’s joy speaks to the joy that dwells sometimes hidden in our hearts. “Deep calls to deep,” as Psalm 42 says.

Or, as St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” Augustine, a 4th-century North African theologian, understood something fundamental about human beings: we naturally desire God, the source of all joy. We are drawn to joy because we are drawn to God.

It’s difficult to measure the extent joy and laughter have been denigrated, downplayed or deemed inappropriate throughout religious history or how this setting aside of lightheartedness may have occurred. But it’s not hard to see the effects of this downplaying. If you’re Catholic, you may know priests who make you wonder how they can “celebrate” (the official term) the Mass when they never crack a smile. If you’re a member of another Christian denomination, you may know pastors, ministers or elders who exemplify the “frozen chosen.”

At one church I attended, always seated in the front pew were two middle-aged laywomen who were sisters. They arrived early every Sunday, never greeted anyone, sat in precisely the same spot and stared dead ahead at the altar during Mass. When it came time for the Sign of Peace, the moment when everyone shakes hands as a sign of Christian fellowship, the two sisters unsmilingly shook one another’s hand, and they never, ever turned around to greet anyone else. They seemed deadly serious about their faith. And when you’re deadly serious, you’re seriously dead. A better goal for believers is to be joyfully alive. That seems obvious, doesn’t it?

To see Week 1 and 2 of this series, see “Bulletins-August 12 and August 19” on our website

+ Giving Thanks for Time and Work +

The Labor Day Holiday Weekend is an appropriate time to give God thanks for the gift of the purpose and meaning of our time and work. Uniquely created, we are called to share of ourselves in many ways with each other. This is our work in the simplest form: OPUS CHRISTI – doing Christ’s work is our mission and purpose. In a word, our work is to LOVE!

For the gift of work, we are grateful in this prayer.
As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we follow in the steps of our first parents who, before their fall, worked joyfully with their hands in Your Garden of Eden, Lord and Creator.
We are thankful for the dignity and creative challenge of our unique tasks.
For the work that ennobles us, that lifts our spirits, we are grateful.
By the means of these labors, we are able to give flesh to our spiritual dreams and to work out the salvation of the earth.
We take time to thank You for those common tasks that we must perform each day, those necessary labors of life by which, according to Your divine plan, we are also able to create the Kingdom here in our midst.
We daily follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, and in the way of Mary, his mother, who gracefully worked at the tasks of her home, as we rejoice in the opportunities for work that form us in Your love.
With St. Paul, the tent maker, with St. Peter, the fisherman, we too labor in love as we proclaim the mysteries of Your Gospel of good news.
Help us Lord our God to use the work of this day-to perform it with mindfulness and attention, with care and devotion-that it will be holy and healing for us and for all the earth.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, who enhances our lives with work.
Amen +
Edward Hays

Our Jubilee Prayer
Rejoicing in you, O Lord, with thankful hearts we pray as . . .
We Remember
gratefully our past companions on the Journey
whose sacrifice inspires us.
We Celebrate
the good news of love in action that empowers
spiritual, service and social ministry.
We Believe
in God’s providence as faithful stewards who continue
Christ’s work using the Keys to the Kingdom.


To read complete bulletin click here