Inasmuch as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
John 15: 9-11
By now it has become almost tedious to hear repeatedly that our culture is distinguished by an attitude of entitlement. Yet, it is an unavoidable truth that at least in the affluent segments of western society, there is a relentless seeking, and even demand, for satisfaction and gratification. The relative comfort that has come with a level of affluence in which concern for our basic needs has disappeared has not necessarily led to increased attention to the higher levels of our hierarchy of needs but instead to a mad pursuit for an increased quantity of satisfaction of the lower levels.
Some years ago a very highly educated professional person who was working over 80 hours per week spoke to me of how he was driven to work even more hours so he could provide a “style of life” for his family that he deemed necessary. After we had spent some time together, however, it became apparent that for all the abundance he had provided, his own experience of life was joyless. He was unable to identify even a single moment of experience in which he had experienced enjoyment.
Today, Jesus tells us that the gift he gives of the Father’s life and love is given that we may share the joy of that life and love. When visiting our Brothers in Likasi, DRC we attend together the morning Mass in the parish church which adjoins the poorest sections of the city. Each morning many from the area join for the daily liturgical celebration. From the singing during the Mass to the animated and friendly conversations afterwards, one witnesses and is drawn into a joyful milieu, a joy which exists despite the hard work and struggle for survival that will constitute the hours of the day ahead for most of those who are gathered.
One reason that the message and person of Pope Francis has resonated so deeply is his attitude of joy. In his person he demonstrates the inextricable link, of which Jesus speaks, between joy and love. Moral and religious words ring hollow when uttered by joyless persons. As Jesus makes clear, keeping the commandments is the way to remain in love, and remaining in love is our source of joy. Satisfaction and gratification are not joy. Joy is a disposition of spirit, not of body and not of ego. This is why we can experience sadness and joy at the same time. On the other hand, while we can be joyful in the struggles of life, we can be miserable in the ease. A sense of “entitlement” develops in us because the more we are gratified the more we demand greater gratification. Love and joy, on the other hand, is sheer gift for which we can only be grateful.
It is only the person that recognizes her or his own life as a gift that can experience enjoyment in the deepest sense. Adrian van Kaam teaches that the primordial human disposition is awe. At some level, awe always includes the experience of a sense of awe in our own being. “I praise you that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) Until we realize that we are a gift from the One who loves us, we shall never know joy, no matter how much we succeed and how much we accumulate. Jesus’ joy lies in his abiding in the love of the Father; it is that same joy that he longs to share with us.
“Let us rejoice, Beloved.”
That is: Let us rejoice in the communication of the sweetness of love, not only in that sweetness we already possess in our habitual union but in that which overflows into the effective and actual practice of love, either interiorly with the will in the affective act or exteriorly in works directed to the service of the Beloved. As we mentioned, when love takes root it has this characteristic: It makes one always desire to taste the joys and sweetnesses of love in the inward and outward exercise of love. All this the lover does in order to resemble the Beloved more. And thus she continues:
Let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty,
This means: Let us so act that by means of this loving activity we may attain to the vision of ourselves in your beauty in eternal life. That is: That I be so transformed in your beauty that we may be alike in beauty, and both behold ourselves in your beauty, possessing then your very beauty; this, in such a way that each looking at the other may see in the other their own beauty, since both are your beauty alone, I being absorbed in your beauty; hence, I shall see you in your beauty, and you will see me in your beauty, and I shall see myself in you in your beauty, and you will see yourself in me in your beauty, that I may resemble you in your beauty, and you resemble me in your beauty, and my beauty be your beauty, and your beauty my beauty; wherefore I shall be you in your beauty, and you will be me in your beauty, because your very beauty will be my beauty; and thus we shall behold each other in your beauty.
John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 36, 4-5