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Ministries, Charisms, Fruits - 15 Joy

Monday, June 01, 2009
Joy comes second in St Paul’s list of the ninefold fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). And, indeed, joy should be the prevailing mood of Christians. The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy, for Christ announced and fulfilled what was promised in the Old Testament, the kingdom of God. In Rom 14:17 St Paul writes that the kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Christians have therefore good reason to be joyful.

But we can ask whether every form of joy is really a fruit of the Spirit. Christ says “you will know them by their fruits”. Is joy therefore an unmistakable sign? The Book of Proverbs (14:13) states that laughter sometimes hides sadness; and we know also from our own experience that not every “joy” – as, for example, malicious joy (cf. Proverbs 24:17) – deserves this name.

For St Thomas Aquinas joy is something only human beings can experience. An animal can have delight but no joy, because “we do not speak of joy except when delight follows reason; and so we do not ascribe joy to irrational animals”. There is no joy in merely sensual matters. The object of joy, however, is an apprehended good. There is so much good around us and we are invited by God, the creator of all that is good, to enjoy it: the beauty of nature, art and music, but also science and our knowledge of it. All this can be grasped and enjoyed by a rational human mind and can impart to us a deep joy.

When St Paul writes about joy he has primarily another, even higher form in mind, namely a spiritual joy which comes from communion with God himself whose redeemed children we are. It brings about not only a delight but also peace in our hearts despite all difficulties and even sufferings in this world. St Paul writes to the Church in Corinth “I am overjoyed in all our affliction” (2 Cor 7:4). This is the kind of peace only God’s Spirit can give in the firm belief that there is another world of which this life is only a foretaste.

But we can assume that St Paul also had a natural human expression of joy in mind when he wrote “my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3:1). As God’s beloved children we do not have to be afraid, because we know that we are redeemed through Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore we should not feel gloomy but enjoy what God has given us and share this joy with others.


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