Joy: The First Fruit of Love
“These are the unmistakable signs of the true Cross of Christ: serenity, a deep feeling of peace, a love which is ready for any sacrifice, a great effectiveness which wells from Christ’s own wounded Side.
And always — and evidently — joy: a joy which comes from knowing that those who truly give themselves are beside the Cross, and therefore beside Our Lord.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
The Forge, 772
Saint Josemaría Escrivá is known for being a particularly joyful Saint. He preached Gospel joy, radiated joy, and encouraged it among all Christians, no matter what trials they might be suffering. In his filmed “get-togethers” from the early 1970s, one sees in him a strikingly spontaneous, unaffected joy, which was the fruit of his deep interior union with the Lord.
But St Josemaría was clear about the particular kind of joy that Christians should cultivate: “The cheerfulness you should have is not the kind we might call physiological good spirits — the happiness of a healthy animal. You must seek something more….” (The Way, 659). That “something more” is a supernatural Christian joy, found only in union with the crucified Lord: “a joy which comes from knowing that those who truly give themselves are beside the Cross, and therefore beside Our Lord.”
After charity, St Paul lists joy as the first fruit of the Spirit in the Christian soul (cf. Galatians 5:22). In fact, St Thomas Aquinas teaches that joy, although not a virtue, is caused in us by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love. Joy, in other words, is the first effect (or ‘evidence’) of having the virtue of charity (cf. Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q 28).
Personal experience teaches us why this joy is so crucial to Christian living: When we are joyful, sin and temptation have very little appeal; we are patient with all; we are not easily offended; we have lots of energy to do good and be kind. On the other hand, anxiety strips us of our ability to think straight, act rightly, and makes sin seem like the solution. This is why St Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. … Have no anxiety about anything…” (Philippians 4:4, 6a).
“Virtue that is ‘sad’ is not attractive, not apostolic, and therefore not evangelical.
Souls are not drawn to the Lord unless they see that those who follow Him have been renewed by Him.”
It is important to be busy about rejoicing. Sometimes we can be very busy about finishing this or that work in God’s name, but with hardly any joy. Work done in God’s name demands joy. Faith demands joy. Love and hope demand joy. Chastity demands joy. Obedience and poverty demand joy. As St Josemaría says, “True virtue is not sad or disagreeable, but pleasantly cheerful” (The Way, 657). Virtue that is “sad” is not attractive, not apostolic, and therefore not evangelical. Souls are not drawn to the Lord unless they see that those who follow Him have been renewed by Him. “Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee” (Psalm 51:12-13).
Christians profess to find joy where most people do not think to look for it: in giving ourselves in every possible way to the Lord. This is the “joy which comes from knowing that those who truly give themselves are beside the Cross, and therefore beside Our Lord.” The Lord has given us a grace to understand that Joy is possible and superabundant if I open myself to receive the gift of joy from the Lord, “from Christ’s own wounded side.”
In the end, our joy cannot be grounded in the absence of evil and misery. It must transcend even the worst that this world has to offer. This is because God’s only Son endured and transcended the worst that this world has to offer by means of the Cross. The Cross stands at the heart of God’s love for us and the world–and it must be central in our love for Him and in the witness we give to the world. True Christian joy can only have one source: God’s saving love in Christ crucified and risen.
If we are not experiencing all of the joy that we think we should, it is because we are not allowing Christ to triumph in us by means of the cross. We have to ask ourselves: Are we facing our problems honestly? Are we putting off a battle that we really need to fight right now? Have we come to believe that the demands of the Gospel are more burdensome than liberating?
We can have joy if we look for it in the right place. If we look away from the cross, we will find only small fragments, and they will never be enough to make us truly joyful. True joy comes from suffering faithfully borne with Christ. It is quiet, serene, and always present within us.
We must be possessed by an enduring joy—a joy that enables us to be loving to all at all times, so that we will embrace that “greater love” to which our Lord invites us in the Gospel. Joy detaches us from our sad impulse to cling to things, to ourselves, and to have everything go our way. “If things go well, let us rejoice, blessing God who makes them prosper. And if they go badly? Let us rejoice, blessing God who allows us to share in the sweetness of his Cross” (The Way, 658).
Only a supernatural joy, the fruit of the Spirit within us, can bring us to rejoice in the Lord always, with “serenity, a deep feeling of peace, [and] a love which is ready for any sacrifice….”
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author ©Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2013.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.