As I haven’t managed to write a post here for over a week, I would just like to take the opportunity now to tie together a couple of the strands of the last seven days, which happen to have a shared theme of joy.
First, there is a talk by Pope Benedict XVI that I have been wanting to read for a while and that I finally got to last night. It is the first sermon he gave after the start of the Year of Faith, where he sets out to - what else - talk about the nature of faith. Amongst other things (and I encourage you to read the original in full), he says that “[f]aith is a gift of God, but it is also a deeply human and free act” and he asks himself how we can get “that openness of heart and mind […] to believe in the God.” The answer Benedict puts forward comes from Dei Verbum (§5): “To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it” (Second Council of Orange, Canon 7, 529 AD).” And this makes him conclude: “To believe is to trust freely and joyfully in God’s providential plan” and saying “yes” to God “transforms life, opens the way towards fullness of meaning, thus making it new, full of joy and of reliable hope.”
Second, this joy and freedom of choice (also supported by the ultimate emphasis placed on the freedom of conscience in the Catechism (§1790)) then lead to lives like those of the saints, whom Benedict considers to be “the greatest apologetic for our faith,” alongside art. The accessibility and attractiveness of the joy that another person has, was then one of the topics that I spoke about with my bestie JMGR - a (in my opinion accurately) self-proclaimed “born-again agnostic” :). While our beliefs and views cannot be transferred to another and can remain the subject of doubt and suspicion, the joy and goodness of another’s life is accessible to us regardless of what we think about their beliefs. We can recognize the goodness of the fruit and as a result be more receptive to listening to the tree. A related theme that came up during our chat was also the role of uncertainty in the context of building personal relationships. Acknowledging the fundamental limitations of knowledge (which make it impossible to go beyond one’s self epistemologically) can lead not to indifference or nihilism (which is exhausting) but instead to openness and a greater readiness to hear out those who hold other beliefs.
Third, preceding these explicit instances of thinking about joy as the primary focus, was my reflecting on the activities of aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins and realizing that I should be grateful for them! On this blog alone, I have confronted their claims repeatedly (about goodness, rationality, science, cosmology) and have always come away from the process enriched both because I read up on the relevant science or philosophy and because I have discovered that the views held by the Church (through the Catechism, the teaching of the Popes or the insights of the Saints) are eminently rational, warmheartedly open and very much my own. There is also no denying the fact that the Church’s teaching has become what it is today also in response to attacks from militant atheists, which have meant that it had to think more carefully about how faith and reason relate and to clean itself from some aberrations that have crept in over the centuries.
Fourth, a very good friend of mine – MK – has been a constant source of joy to me over the last months, during which he has been battling with a serious, life-threatening disease. Throughout this time he has been sharing his experiences on Facebook and on a blog, where he chronicles his battling with the disease, while firmly keeping his sight set on God and on loving his neighbors. His blog is such a source of light for me that I could pick a paragraph at random and share it with you here. In fact, I am just going to share the beginning of what he wrote today:
“I am a child of God not by merit but by a gift of love from Him. Not only that, everybody else is a child of God and if God is our father, we are brothers and sisters, equal! Sounds obvious, but from my, our behaviour, we don’t treat each other as equal. How many times do I put me before loving God in my neighbour. I have all the experience in this and that, I know best, because I have done it before, I have a talent from God! More and more I discover that all these things are given into my hand to make his love visible! When I and my talents, inspirations and gifts from God get in the way of taking time to love my neighbour, it is always me. Where there is me there God can’t be! Here is the challenge: To love the way Jesus loved when he was on the cross, giving everything, becoming nothing out of love!”True joy is rich, rewarding and all-encompassing. It is not a matter of only the good, easy times, but an insight and gift that transforms challenge, difficulty and suffering. My bestie Margaret once wrote the following to another bestie of ours - DF - and me: “Hope all is very very well (I mean, of course all manner of things are always well because we are loved immensely, so maybe I should wish that you are in the state where you are able to see that it is).” That too is joy and I couldn’t put it any better myself.