For our joy to last, we must share it with others. Unfortunately, in modern society people too often seek antidotes to sadness and loneliness as if these two plagues weren’t related. We ward off sadness by medication and seek companionship by various types of social media. It is, however, a mistake to try and treat these two weaknesses individually. Rather, by spending time with friends and family, we share joy, and by sharing our joy, we prolong it. And do we not want to be joyful at all times? Indeed, if we could prolong our joy so that it should never end, then we would desire nothing else. And this never-ending joy properly belongs to God who wishes to share it with us so that as Jesus says, “[his] joy may be in you, and . . . your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).
Today marks the Feast of the Visitation, the second of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. At the annunciation, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant. Immediately following this, we see Mary hurrying to visit Elizabeth. Mary’s selflessness is evident here, having just become pregnant herself. And sharing in the joy of God, she immediately rushes to help her six-month pregnant cousin. Upon her arrival, she brings the joy of God to both Elizabeth and to John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. Joy desires to spread.
Joy is persistent and humble. Consider the famous parable of the prodigal son. When the son returns, it is not enough for the father to be happy and rejoice alone or only with his son. Rather, he slaughters the fatted calf and throws a party such that when the elder brother “came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing” (Lk 15:25). This same elder brother was unhappy at the return of the younger brother and failed to share in the father’s joy. So the father, in a show of humility, pleads with him to join the party and accept the joy.
Joy does not turn to sorrow when it is spurned but instead perseveres and seeks more receptive hearts. Call to mind the parable of the wedding banquet, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” (Mt 22:8–9). The wedding banquet could not be celebrated without guests, but there was no thought of canceling the feast. Perfect joy cannot be had by an individual in isolation, but rather, true joy inspires generosity and a desire to share joy. In these three examples we sees joy being shared—with a beloved cousin, with a reluctant son and brother, and with strangers on the street. Joy pours forth from God through men to men.
If then we have received joy, we also must share it. Even St. Anthony, the father of monks, took time to visit St. Paul the Hermit in the desert. If these hermits visited with each other even after having been called by God to a life of solitude, we should more frequently visit our neighbors to share our joy. We can always share the joy that St. Anthony and St. Paul undoubtedly shared with each other—the joy of being loved by God. This is the abiding joy that cannot be lost or taken away but is ever present in all men, and most particularly in Christians. It provides a firm foundation for friendship to push back the loneliness of our present life.
Image: Matthias Grünewald, St. Anthony Visiting St. Paul the Hermit in the Desert