Sunday, September 25, 2011


[A]t heart, Christianity is not about alleviating physical misery or imparting an exciting and consoling message. At heart, Christianity is a communication of life

--Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Love’s Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited

My friend Tensie lives up on the Central Coast of California with her husband Dennis and their two kids, Rozella and Thomas. Tensie and Dennis run the Guadalupe Catholic Worker: distributing food, running a small free clinic. The kids go to public school and are voracious readers, music lovers, group singers, jokesters, creative, generous and almost unbelievably well-mannered (as in they stand when you enter the room, serve you at table, and when you leave go stand on the porch and wave goodbye until your car is out of sight).

At night the four of them gather in the living room, light a candle, and have a period of evening prayer. (If you stay with them, you get to participate in this sublime event). They read from the Gospels, maybe, or a poem, or a bit of a story, and reflect on it. They go around the room and everyone tells something they were grateful for that day.

A few Advents ago, they'd been faithfully sticking to their prayer schedule. They'd done their evening prayer the night before, but the next morning was hard. There'd been a lot of hard mornings, the way Tensie tells it. And suddenly she saw a sheet of paper scoot under her and Dennis's bedroom door. Right away, she recognized Thomas's handwriting. She bent down, picked the paper up, and read: "WHERE IS YOUR JOY?"


Fr. Luigi Giussani notes: “Charity is the law of being and comes before natural likes and dislikes and feelings. Therefore, we can “do for others” while lacking any enthusiasm. There may very well be no so-called “concrete” result. For us, the only “concrete” attitude is attention to the person, that is, love for him.”

Joy is not necessarily exuberance, in other words. Joy does not necessarily even much show itself externally. Joy is a kind of trust maybe.



  1. I've been thinking lately about what I experience when I pray for Christian virtues. If I feel a lack of love or joy or peace or patience in my life, I pray for those things. My hope is that God will magically fill me with the good feelings that accompany those virtues. Instead I find that God sends the very things that tax my capacity the most. I've learned when I pray for love to expect injustice, when I pray for joy to expect suffering, when I pray for peace to expect tension and conflict, when I pray for patience to expect trials. The exercise of virtues requires resistance just as much as the exercise of muscle. I grow in joy when I can maintain joy in suffering. Anyone can be happy when he's healthy, well-fed, and pain free.

  2. I like this a lot:
    Joy is a kind of trust maybe.

    I want to carry this into my whole day.

  3. Thanks, Carie! And Chip, you are so right! We ask for tolerance and what happens is a whole ton of unendurably annoying people materialize...I know I'm in for a really hard run as I've been praying lately for "Charity to enter my heart!" as it entered St. Therese of Lisieux's (at the age of 13..)...I might have to write a post about this in conjunction with "Anything you ask in my name, I will give you"...the thing is we have to open to receive it in a form that is often very much not what we'd pictured...

  4. "But joy, unlike pleasure, always seems to have suffering--and a cognizance that other people suffer--in the middle of it."

    This is parenthood. Joy and suffering together, unable to be unbound: Mary giving birth to Jesus in the stable at bethlehem and Mary at the foot of the cross at His crucifixion. Mary at the wedding feast at Cana and at the scourging at the pillar.

    Beautiful reflection, Heather. I'm still formulating a response to your post on the scourge of being overworked. Your thoughts reflect my very counter cultural decision to homeschool my five younger children this year. If I don't want the rat race to be the goal, I need not teach them how to be an avid 'rat'. Pray for me.

    God bless you.

  5. Your beautiful reflection reminds me of these lines from William Blake:

    "It is right it should be so:
    Man was made for joy and woe;
    And when this we rightly know
    Through the world we safely go.
    Joy and woe are woven fine,
    A clothing for the soul divine.
    Under every grief and pine
    Runs a joy with silken twine."

    Your writing brings joy to me!

  6. This post hits me right where I am today. Thank you for expressing me so well!

  7. Colleen, better a late response than none: yes! Motherhood is in a way the female counterpart of the crucifixion. That's clumsily put, but I can't think of a place where joy and pain so graphically, sword-through-the-heart meet. No accident the Gospel story begins with the star hovering above the already-beleaguered Holy Family...I will pray for you, and thanks to everyone else as well.

  8. Your son only slides the paper under the door when he misses the joy he has lost. The parent loses the joy because the responsibilities of life (usually self-inflicted) conspire to distract one from the gratitude that comes with awareness, especially the awareness of the precious gift that is the son, and the daughter, and most of the really important things in life. It's not surprising that a child brings us back to that gratitude. I'm grateful to be invited to the party too! Thank you for the reflection....


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