Joy

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Adapted from the homily given during the Easter vigil at the Church of the Gesu, Ateneo de Manila, 8 April 2012
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

When we were novices, we led a structured life. We woke up at 5am, prayed, went to mass, ate, studied, worked the fields, played, and prayed again till the sun went down. In the evenings, after supper and after doing the dishes, we even structured our recreation. We called it organized joy or orjy for short. That meant board games, bingo, charades, cards, whatever.

However you structure it, joy can be a fleeting, manic, moody, transient thing. Good wine is a joyful thing for me. It is best when taken in the company of friends. That’s why I can commiserate with the guests in the wedding at Cana when the wine ran out. It was our Lady who saw that first. With keen maternal sensitivity, she tells it straight to Jesus: they have no more wine. They have no more joy.

Like anger or depression, there are thresholds for joy. Sometimes we say, mababaw ang kaligayahan, not to mean the joy is shallow but that it only takes so much really to draw a smile. The poor and Jesuit novices have a low threshold for joy. I remember leaping for joy when, instead of organized joy, we were told by our novice master that we were going to the movies. I see this low threshold when I visit the homes of poor people. It only takes a visit to make them happy.

What determines this threshold? Is it parenting or psychology? What we have? What others have? What they have that we don’t have? What we see as gift? What we see as entitlement?

Is faith a joyful thing for you? Or is it more a burden? Is it something that’s freeing? Or is it rather stifling?

Is the future a joyful thing for you? Or is it more laden with anxiety and fear?

In today’s Gospel, when Jesus goes through doors that are locked out of fear, we are told somehow that our faith has something to say about that future. “Peace be with you” is his sentence to them, the sentence he sets for their fear and guilt and sin. It is reconciliation not regret that he presents to them. It is peace he offers as a balm not so much for the wounded past as it is for the scarred graciousness of the present and future.

The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann noted that some languages (like German and Latin) have two words for “future.” William McDonough elaborates further: “in Latin, futurus is that which develops in a predictable way out of the present. Moltmann said that to think of the future only in this way is a failure of hope; by itself this is “the planner’s future,” a way of trying to control life and thus a way of posing as God. The other Latin word for future, adventus, indicates the future as coming toward us from God, as breaking into our plans and making a claim on our lives. We are not in charge of this future, but seek to embrace it as part of God’s providential care for us.”

Interestingly, we have two words in Filipino for “future”. Hinaharap is about what is in front of us, what faces us. Kinabukasan suggests openness, which is also the word we use for tomorrow.

Joy that is based on futurus or hinaharap or the “planner’s future” is nothing more than a charade. True and lasting joy comes from being open to God’s future breaking into our present. To be joyful is to be open to adventus, the adventure that is God’s future for us.

Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, we are asked to let go of our predictive pasts and calculated futures, and be open to God’s future today. Being open to that future can be a joyful thing because it comes to us laden with God’s mercy and peace.

The icon for Divine Mercy is the risen Lord with blood and water flowing from his heart. These are symbols as much of our humanity as they are of our deliverance (i.e. through the parting of the waters and the blood of the Lamb). We celebrate with these symbols in Baptism and the Eucharist, through which sacraments God inaugurates and consummates the saving work of Christ in us. It is through water and blood, through our humanity and cruciform love that we grow into the likeness of Christ.

You can organize joy all you want. The joy that matters is the joy that sends us to God’s future today, a future that breaks upon us daily with God’s peace and abiding mercy.

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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