Christianity is the religion of Joy, but few people understand what Joy is or how to gain it. Father Hugh Barbour joins us to explain.
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host. The world is disturbed right now. It seems there’s so much sadness, so many broken hearts, a great deal of almost despondency, fear, all of those things right now in the world and it’s hard to be happy. I think a lot of people are searching around for their happiness. Maybe happiness that was easy to locate even just a few short months ago is hard to find now. It’s not the case for everyone, but it’s certainly the case in many parts of the world and among many people.
And so the question of joy comes up, and the question of what is this Christian joy all about? And if I’m not experiencing it at the moment, I’m not experiencing maybe the usual comforts and happiness that I have in the constellations that I usually have in my life. And it’s a good time to ask about, “What is Christian joy? Where am I supposed to find it? And is it something that can help me through?” And to be a part of even times like these, to help us talk about joy, we welcome actually, a very joyful person, a person who is also a joy to be around, our good friend and chaplain, Father Hugh Barbour, who is also a Norbertine priest and former Pryor of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County. Hello, Father.
Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Hello there. Glad to be here.
Was that too much of a downer?
No, not at all. Joy is just about everything. So you could give an introduction on joy and manage to hit at least one or two points perfectly, and you hit them all except for one, which I will add. Joy is used in two ways in Catholic theology, in the spiritual theology. First of all, it can be used to refer to the emotion of joy, which is when we experience obtaining whatever good thing it is that we are desiring on the level of our feelings or of our bodily [inaudible 00:02:04], which is ordinarily called delight, is the foundation for us to understand a higher kind of joy, which is precisely the joy that flows from divine charity. It is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
So we have our natural human love, which of course experiences delight when it’s satisfied with obtaining whatever it is that it desires, and the higher the thing desired, the closer we come to the notion of joy as opposed to just simply enjoyment or delight. But then it’s used about the supernatural, spiritual quality of the love of God or divine charity as one of the acts, one of the things that charity does. So really and truly, joy is identical in the deep part of our spirit spiritual life, that is where we live the life of charity, where we’re living in God’s grace, joy is basically identical with love. It’s a kind of way in which we express love because of course, when we have the good one whom we desire, then of course the natural reaction is joy and joy is a kind of rest or satisfaction in the good thing that we have been hoping to obtain and finally obtain by the grace of God.
So, joy is not subject to passing events or our moods, which are all part of our bodily nature and our passions and our emotions. But rather, joy is subject to the state of our power of free choice, that is our will. We choose to love God, and we love our neighbor. And in the choice of loving God, we actually, our soul is coming to rest and finding joy in the love of God. Now we say, “Well, you know I love God and I make lots of acts of love for God but it doesn’t make me feel any happier.” Say, “I’m not feeling well,” or, “I’ve undergone some kind of tragedy,” or, “The world is in general just a mess. And so sure, I love God, but I’m not feeling that joy that I would expect to feel if I were possessing the good thing, and in God’s case, the infinitely good thing that I’m hoping for.”
And of course, this is a perfectly understandable as a reaction, but we need to understand too, that joy is a spiritual quality rooted in our spiritual faculty of choosing to love God. And so it doesn’t have to have a physical or emotional or sensitive aspect in order for it to exist. I give you a key example, St. Paul says of our savior in the letter to the Hebrews, “He for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame.” Those are amazing words. “He for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame.” So there, the scriptures tell us of the worst possible worst imaginable spiritual suffering of any kind whatsoever that ever existed or ever will exist. And he says that was endured by Christ for the joy that was set before him. Those are astounding words, but it’s because the love of Christ was so perfect and intense that he was always laying hold of the good thing that he desired, namely the salvation of our souls and the glory of his father.
And so, even his deepest suffering was not incompatible with what could really truly be called a spiritual joy. This is a great mystery, but it’s a fact. And once I give Cy a chance to say something then I will explain how it is that we can join those who have this joy unimpeded. We have it in a impeded way in the course of this earthly life, but how we can join those who have an unimpeded and still have with that the merit and the grace of a deeper charity.
Well, all I would say, Father, is just, if joy is a reality but not a sensible experience, how to be not crass, but there’s no way to not ask this in a crass way. So I’m going to ask it in a crass way. What good is that to me?
It’s a very good question. It’s a perfect question, actually. It’s the one you’re supposed to ask, and I didn’t even discuss this with you beforehand. Of course, I’m saying joy can be, and ultimately in an ideal existence should be also an experience that we feel, but we have to look at the source of the joy and the object and the end of the joy that we’re pursuing and recognizing too, that its limitation, the fact that we can’t feel it is temporary. I mean, for goodness sakes, we say that we believe in the blessed Trinity, but we also say we can’t see the blessed Trinity, we have no idea what blessed Trinity is really like. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor is it into the heart of anyone what God has prepared for those who love him. And remember, joy is the effect of love, right?
It hasn’t entered our minds even, what the fruit of love, the joy that we’ll have in possessing God, it hasn’t even enter our minds yet even though we believe in it and we know that we have it, but we just simply are not at the level of the experience. This is so true that St. Thomas says that in fact, the only way for us to understand having the joy of divine charity, which is the same as God’s own joy in himself in our own limited measure, but God’s own hoy in himself, the only way for us to understand it is to think of it as something not that enters into us, but that we step into or enter into ourselves as our Lord says in the gospels. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
It’s something we enter into and not something that necessarily fills us up in the other direction, because it’s so far beyond the normal course of human experiences where we are gathering what we need in order to feel happy or content or rested or pleasured or whatever, because that’s the simplest human level that we’ve had since we’ve been babies, to take joy in the things that we desire that make our imagination and our senses feel pleasure. But on a spiritual level, of what we know and what we love, there the joy is something that is not perceived directly until it’s possessed directly. And that is only folks, would like to tell you otherwise maybe just for a few seconds each day, only in heaven. Okay? Be nice i we got just a little like three seconds for taste every day, just to keep us moving, but the God has great things in store for us and so he’s just giving us the grace of waiting.
Well, is joy like a virtue in the sense that it can become habitual?
Well, first of all, joy is nothing other than the virtue of charity in act regarding the one whom charity [inaudible 00:10:06] namely God and the spiritual good of our neighbor, which is also of course, a source of joy, love of God and neighbor. So it’s the same as divine love, but it’s the act of divine love whereby we experience possessing the supreme good and experiencing it, not on the level of our sensations or emotions necessarily, but with the conviction of the choice of our will. And this is a power that we have. Anything that we have by love can be shared. All that we have by charity can be shared. For example, if I perform a charitable action of the love of God, I can offer the value of that action for you, Cy, for your salvation or the remission of your temporal punishment due to sin, or we can… The gifts of charity are communicable. They can be shared according to the intention of the one who has the charity.
And so the fact is that we can choose to participate, since we don’t have perfect joy here below, we can choose to participate in the joy of the saints who do have it perfectly. We can, so to speak, congratulate and choose their happiness. We could pray in this way, “Lord Jesus, I choose the infinite happiness and joy of the blessed Virgin Mary and I choose the happiness and joy of all the angels and saints, that I love that as you love it and I love them with the same love, and I can actually share,” you could say vicariously, if you want to, “In the joy of the saints in heaven.”
We can make acts of joy, in other words. We can choose to, just like when you committed a sin and you’re sorry you committed it, but you don’t feel all that bad about it, but you know that you should make an act of contrition and get to confession, so you do. And that’s real. Even if you don’t feel that bad about it, you know that you’ve done something wrong and you want to be pardoned and so you make an act of contrition, and that’s true sorrow for sin pleasing to God and it assists your soul mightily. The same when we’re in, say in the dumps spiritually and we’re praying and we don’t feel anything, we can choose just like with our act of contrition to choose to be sorry, we can choose to participate in the joy of the saints and we can second their joy or choose it or accept it as God’s will for them and therefore congratulate them and share in their happiness.
This is a beautiful fact to Christian life. It was taught to me by a Jesuit father, a very well-known scholar of the Fathers of the Church, Father [inaudible 00:13:05] Marjorie, who was also an expert in devotion to the sacred heart. And I knew him for many, many years, he died in 2002, and he made this practice something that he taught to others to make acts of joy, to tell your will to rejoice, not necessarily in worldly things or the things that you want right now or the things you wish wouldn’t have happened and you could change and make go back. But rather, to choose that right now. In the heights of heaven, there are billions of angels and saints who are ecstatically adoring and worshiping God and enjoying themselves by the joy of the divine grace in the blessed Trinity and we can choose to second that and participate in it.
In fact, that’s what we do when we say, we say the Glory Be at the end of the Mysteries of the Rosary, we give glory to blessed trinity, we’re simply ratifying the splendor, the joy, the perfection, the goodness of God, even though here we are just saying our little Glory Be, you know? That’s what we’re actually doing and that gives us a great increase in charity and it’s something we can also do for others. We can offer that for their sake.
So what might be those things that we could do to increase our joy? And first of all, I wonder if that’s a selfish thing to say, “I would like to experience this joy and I like to experience more of this joy.” And I think that you’ll say, “No, it’s not a selfish thing,” although I’m not sure. But then if it’s not a selfish thing, if one says, “I want to participate in this joy that the saints participate in,” what are the things in a practical that I might do today to start participating in it? And what are the things that I might avoid that I might not notice? “Really you should avoid those, those kill joy in you.”
That’s a very good question. And it amounts simply to this, that joy is the first act of divine love. The fruits of the Holy Spirit; joy, peace, mercy. Joy, peace, and mercy are the principle acts of the love of God in our soul. And so if we want to increase our joy, we have to strive to grow in divine charity and love of God and neighbor. And first we pray for that. God always answers the prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me love you more.” Or, “Oh, Mary, please help me to love Jesus more.” That prayer is always and infallibly answered. You’re asking God for something he cannot possibly not give you. I mean, you can ask for a better job or for a better income, and of course, that’s very important and that may be why you’re not so joyful at the moment some of us. But the fact is, if you ask God for that pure spiritual gift of love, you will receive it.
So as we grow in charity, we know that the fruit of joy will be increased in us and that will be a particular power that will show forth in its good time. Our Lady, when she appeared to Saint Bernadette, she held the rosary as Bernadette held a rosary. Our Lady said the rosary along with her, but she didn’t say the Hail Marys. Our Lady wasn’t praying to herself, but Bernadette notice that Our Lady said the Glory Be at the end of every decade, because of course that’s a prayer that Our Lady would naturally be saying all the time in heaven, glorifying and rejoicing in God. And so even in our rosary, when we pause for that Glory Be, we’re setting aside us sinners, and at the hour of our death, all those temporary things we’re going to have to go through in order to reach happiness. But then we end it with, “Glory be the father and to the son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever, amen.”
And that love, which never passes away and the joy, which is the act of love is precisely what the Glory Be is referring to. It always was, it is, and it always will be. It can’t be taken away from us if we cling to it. And so that might not change your mood, but it will make you wise and little by little and change your mood because our habits, our spiritual habits, our moods, our imagination, our memory, they’re very unruly. We often have not done a very good job of trying to bring them into line and so we got get started if we’re in the dumps by simply lifting our hearts to God, asking for the increase of his love and glorifying him. That’s where we start. St. Paul says, “If anyone sat among you, let him pray.”
All right. So a little bit of prayer goes a long way here. So the person then who now in the midst of all these current sufferings, where many people have suffered real losses, I mean, have lost loved ones, have suffered because they were sick themselves or have just suffered the losses of jobs, the losses of being able to engage in social life, which for many people is extremely important. Well, I guess for all of us, to some degree, it’s extremely important, but some, it’s a more immediate need than others to be able to socialize and they don’t have it. And you just feel… Let me just add one dimension to that, because people keep talking about this, people will call the show and ask about this. And then there’s not recourse to the sacraments in the usual way that there is. Can’t get to confession like you could before, can’t get to mass like you could before and so you feel also a kind of spiritual, I guess, I don’t know, frustration, but also maybe dirtiness.
Like, “All my usual sins have come back to the fore and I can’t get to confession.” How is that person? I think in some ways, maybe people start to feel unworthy and distant from God. And I want you to talk about, in this moment of those kinds of feelings about reestablishing the joyful connection with Jesus and with God, the Father.
Well, absolutely. Our Lord says to us, “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” The fact is that anything, and I’m speaking to you, whoever you are listening right now, anything that discourages us, that makes us feel like we are unable to have access to the mercy and the love of God in some kind of habitual way. I mean, we can have a passing feeling like that, of course, like we’re not able to get to mass. Okay. But the fact is a discouragement in our spirit life that moves us not to take action or not to continue in our struggle, that’s all from the devil. That’s all there is to it. He is the father of lies and he wants discouragement, he wants self-accusation, but not for peace and contrition. He wants us to be diverted from our following of Christ.
The fact is we’re taught to say, as the apostle says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,” and we know that prayer for an increase of God’s love and for perseverance in his grace, that those are infallibly heard. No matter how many times we slip up and fall, if we rise and ask for God’s pardon and continue, then the devil is vanquished every single time. And that may be why God allows so many slippery sinners, because he likes watching the devil be conquered, not one big time, but many, many little times because of many, many falls.
Yeah, I like-
Yeah, maybe God is enjoying watching them. Now, that doesn’t justify sins, but the fact is that we have no reason for discouragement. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” That’s the words of St. Paul, [foreign language 00:21:33], “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice.” All right, “That’s because God is near, he says. “Rejoice because the Lord is near. He’s near to you than to yourself.” But we have to exercise those strong spiritual powers of faith and of hope and of love. It’s not something that is like taking a gin and tonic or a beer, or taking a nap or distracting yourself with a show and taking your mind off your troubles. Faith, hope and charity, they don’t take your mind off your troubles, they direct and channel everything for the good. “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his promise.” That’s what Saint Paul says. And so that’s what we need, especially in these difficult times.
Our Lord, as I quoted before, “For the joy that was set before him,” the apostle says, “Endured the cross.” None of us, I don’t care how bad off things are, has endured or come close to enduring what our Lord endured for us. And yet he views us with great compassion and will lift us up. But we need to have recourse to him to pray to him, to his blessed mother, to our guardian angel to join in the happiness of the saints by saying the Glory Be maybe over and over again, just say the Glory Be 50 times, thoughtfully and prayerfully using your beads. But just with the confidence that if we love God, then really and truly, and we know we do if we ask for this grace. It’s not a scientific proof. It’s just a fact. What I want, I want. I think that’s a safe assumption. When I want something, I want it. When I say, “I would like to have the love of God,” then I have it, and not worry about it. “And I want more love of God.” “Okay, then you’re going to have it.”
Now, you may not feel it right away, but you’re going to definitely have it because God does not refuse good gifts to his children, especially not the Holy Spirit and the spirit of charity.
I almost feel, Father, I’m not sure if I’m completely convicted in this, that this also is a more effective presentation of the faith. That when we present the faith primarily as a moral system or as, I don’t know, as a kind of a just white-knuckle it and try not to commit a mortal sin till you die so you can go to heaven. Instead of presenting it as a life of joy here and now and in the next life, I think we might be short changing what real evangelization is.
Absolutely. Think of how our Lord characterizes himself. What does he say? He says, “There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous men who have no need of repentance.” Now, joy in heaven, what does joy in heaven mean in the first place? Who’s the most joyful being in heaven?
God himself, Jesus. So when he says, “There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous,” and he means the righteous, the Pharisees and all that. All right, that, “There’s more joy over one sinner than all those 99 who always kept the rules and are perfectly Orthodox.” And he says, “There’s more joy over one repentant sinner,” that should tell us everything about what kind of religion he revealed. That’s his religion he’s talking about, because that’s the purpose of it, is the joy of heaven. So you’re spot on because even if you feel like you’re just white-knuckling it and trying to avoid getting into hell and getting into heaven by the skin of your teeth, that’s not actually, you will find in the end, I promise you, when you look in the other direction, you will find that that is not what was going on when you were being upheld and protected and pardoned and strengthened all the way along. And it was just your nervous [inaudible 00:25:51] human nature and the malice of the devil who likes to make something beautiful miserable. That’s all it’s going to be.
There’s a great Negro spiritual called How Did I Get Over. It’s a great… You can hear Mahalia Jackson sing it. Just go on Google and put How Did I Get Over. And she’s singing the song from the point of view of getting over Jordan into heaven and then looking back and saying, “How did I get over?” We’ll find out that we have had very beautiful and secret sometimes and hidden, but real causes for joy throughout the course of our life that will be shown to us in their fullness in the world to come. But believe me, that when our Lord says he has more joy over one sinner than over 99 righteous, that’s Catholicism. I mean, he’s the founder of our religion. Is that a minor saying of his, and the part [inaudible 00:26:51] ones is one the major one? Is that how we believe? I hope not.
Sometimes it’s easier to believe that, Father. I don’t know what it is about human nature. It’s easier to believe.
I won’t make any interpretations as to why it’s easier for somebody to believe that way, but let’s just say Jesus has come to be the savior and not the judge yet.
It really is a joy to get to talk with you, Father. It always is joy. I feel like you are one of those people who spreads joy wherever you go, and I’m sure that that has to do with your commitment to the very gospel that you preach. A gospel of joy, a gospel of joy in heaven over the repentance of sinners. Father Hugh Barbour has been our guest. This is Catholic Answers Focus. Father, thank you so much for doing it with us again.
Thank you. God bless you.
You said that you can get joy even from the achievement of the temporal goods, that when we get the thing that we’ve been wanting, we experienced joy. Well, I tell you what would give us a little joy, is some five star reviews for this podcast. So if you want to give us a five star review wherever you get your podcasts, that helps to grow the podcast, in addition to making us a little bit joyful around here. And your financial support is welcome. You can go to givecatholic.com, givecatholic.com and make your donation there. It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for being with us on Catholic Answers Focus. We’ll see you next time right here, God willing, when we do another Catholic Answers Focus. I got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Take it.