Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Do you want your joy to be complete? Before you answer, think about what it means for your joy to be incomplete. What is this “incomplete joy”? Isn't joy just joy. . .happiness, delight, positive thinking and feeling? It is. So, what is “complete joy”? We'll let Jesus answer that one, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. . .” Lots of love-talk but nothing in that answer about joy. Well, he continues, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” He tells us to remain in his love by keeping his commandments so that our joy might be complete! Almost. We left out one important part. He tells us to remain in his love by keeping his commandments so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete! In other words, our joy alone is incomplete. Complete joy is our joy joined with Christ's. OK, to quote a Tina Turner song, “What love got to do with it?” But before we answer that, let's ask one more time: do you want your joy to be complete?
If you want your joy to be complete, then you will keep Christ's commandments, the first of which is: love God with your whole heart, mind, body, and soul, with all your strength. The connection btw love and joy is the connection btw virtue and act, btw thinking about a good habit and actually acting upon that habit. Thomas Aquinas gives us this definition: “. . .virtue is an operative habit, wherefore by its very nature it has an inclination to a certain act. . .love of God is accounted a special virtue, namely charity, to which joy must be referred, as its proper act” (ST II.II.28.4). When we run that through our translator we get: virtue naturally inclines us to do good deeds. . .loving God is a very special kind of virtue called charity and the good deed that charity inclines us toward is joy. Joy is the proper act of loving God. So, when Jesus says that he places his joy in us so that our joy might be complete, he's saying that he is placing within us his own love for his Father so that we can love the Father along with him. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.” He tells us this so that we know that our love for God is no longer incomplete.
Now that we know this, let's reexamine joy as the proper act of loving God. The first thing to notice is that joy is defined as an act, not an emotion or an attitude but an act, something done. We never use joy as a verb. I'll joy you tomorrow after Mass. Y'all come on over, we joying. We say “joyful acts,” or “joyous singing;” we also use enjoy and rejoice but never joy as a verb. In what sense then is “joy” an act? As the proper act of loving God, joy is an act of the will. Joy is the movement of our heart and mind in the love of God. When we “joy,” we intend to place ourselves fully into, to wholly surrender to the boundless Truth and Goodness of the Father. Joy isn't a physical act like shaving or washing dishes; it's the free and deliberate act of the whole person in cherishing God: to treasure Him for His own sake, to seek His friendship and counsel, and to emulate His love for us by loving all others. Our joy is complete b/c Christ gives us his own joy. With our joy completed, we are vowed to go out and “joy” all over the place, all over everyone we meet; “to proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations,” and to do so for no other gain than to see God's joy—His act of love for us—complete among His creatures.___________________
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