Understanding the Bible Series:
Joy - Part 1
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Now our present class
is on joy, because today as you know, in the middle of Advent is who knows what
name, Latin name the Church gives? It is? Gaudete Sunday. There are two principle
words in Latin for joy, they are gaudium and laetitia as nouns
and the verbs, gaudare, to rejoice and laetare, to rejoice. In
general, thats why the Church even made that decision, in the middle of Advent
there is Gaudete Sunday, in the middle of Lent there is Laetare Sunday, both
are the operative of the verb rejoice. However, between the two, gaudere
in Latin means to rejoice, but especially to rejoice internally. Whereas laetare,
or laetitia for the noun, means joy, but that is somehow manifest and shown.
I thought therefore that for our class today we would talk on joy, this being
well, Joyful Sunday, Gaudete Sunday.
Our next class today
will be on conversion as found especially in the New Testament. We ask ourselves
why should we go into the subject, why go into the subject of joy? Well as
your charts tell you, I have five basic reasons. There are so many unhappy
people, angry people, suicidal people, discouraged people, even despairing people.
I told you my record at Western Michigan was three suicides in two weeks. In
other words, given a nation in which there is so much tragic sorrow, we believers
in Christ, wed better know, wed better know what joy means and wed better
know how both to be happy ourselves and pass happiness or joy onto others.
And not coincidentally,
of all days to publish this issue of the Detroit News, Saturday December 11.
This is the man inside, Dr. Death. Most of the front page is on him. Scouts
for Kavorkian at Hearing. In other words, this
front page publicity to promote either suicide or murder or both by legalizing
what is hypocritically called mercy killing. Why do people take their own
lives or take the lives of others? They are most unhappy. And then on top
of that, the same front page, New Book Disputes Sayings of Jesus. Some twenty-two
self-identified scholars in Scripture and the editor of the book is a teacher
at the quote Catholic, un-Catholic University of DePaul in Chicago, denying
the historicity of the New Testament. The hatred of Christ, the hatred of His
Church, the hatred of Christianity has reached titanic proportions in our day.
Thats why, thanks for being here, thats why Im here. As Ive said more than
once, Im sure to you people, if the Gospels are not historically trustworthy,
fine, so they are not trustworthy, well then theres nothing of equivalent antiquity
that can be trusted. In other words, there is no literature in the world whose
historicity and therefore authenticity is more clearly and strongly convincing
than that of the New Testament.
The Subject of Joy
In any case, our subject then is on joy. Again, why go into the subject.
Because everyone wants to be happy but (how obvious) so many people are
very unhappy. And by the way that includes us. We should always be happy.
We are, in fact, we are to grow in happiness. There is no subject under
heaven that we should more clearly understand than the meaning of joy
and how to achieve it.
Why go into the subject?
Because God wants us to be happy. And of course the moment you say that you
imply, if you want to be happy as God wants you to, then you must, theres no
choice, you must follow Gods own directives and the conditions for becoming
or becoming more happy. Who is the happiest being in existence? Who? God.
And the most fundamental reason why God made us is that we might share in His
Why go into the subject?
Because Christianity is the religion of joy. Theres a sure way of turning
people off or turning them away from the true faith if we who profess the faith
are obviously unhappy. That is something by the way you can never mask. You
can pretend to be happy. You can claim to be happy but if youre not happy
youre going to reveal yourself.
And finally, why go
into the subject? Because even people who are more or less happy ought to be
Why is There Not More Joy in the World?
Then, why is there
not more joy in the world? Why so many unhappy and therefore sad people? Sadness
is a vice of unhappiness. Do you hear me? Sadness is the vice of unhappiness.
We have an obligation, a duty to be happy.
Now before we go any
further, the basic reasons why more people are either not happy, or even those
who are, are not more happy. Either because people do not understand the meaning
of true joy and the key word which I have underlined is true joy.
The most demonic lie in the world is the claim which the world makes, you will
be happy if you do, what, if you do whose will? Your own will. Thats how
the devil became a devil. The angels, before they were rewarded, were tested
and those who fell were those who insisted on doing their own will and refused
to, whatever the commandment was, to do the will of God. People dont understand
the meaning of true joy. Again, they do not know how to acquire and grow in
true joy. Notice the first two are still on the level of knowledge.
But finally, people
can be unhappy because they are not willing to pay the price of true joy.
What is True Joy?
So we go into our subject,
and ask ourselves first, what is true joy? First, the standard theological
definition of joy. Joy is satisfaction, or the satisfaction of having
ones desires fulfilled. Let me tell you things that we may have in class,
things we put on papers, in this case, an outline of the lecture, in most cases,
theyre not things Ive learned from books. One reason you write books because
things you want to say are not yet in books. It took years of the life of a
priest to have met so many, God knows, so many unhappy people. Let me tell
you there is just no proportion between suffering and happiness. Ive heard
many things in the priesthood, a great deal of which I can never talk about,
even reveal, but one thing I can tell you, the happiest people are not those who
are not suffering. Do you hear me? Theres no connection, zero, between suffering
and not being happy. It all depends on what your desires are. Now, just a
short list of desires, food, clothing.
Im sure Ive told
you this more than once, the shoe salesman, he had two shoe stores in greater
Washington. Hows business, we talked. He said, Okay, but let me tell you,
except for women Id be out of business in two weeks. And men can be as attracted,
dare I use the verb, seduced, by the claim that the advertising industry makes
for being more happy by, well, wearing, wearing clothes, different clothes not
just for each day but even different times of the day. This I know is one reason
why so many nuns secularized. As one Mother General who had removed her habit
told me, she just became convinced she could not remain happy by being in a religious
garb. And she was a very unhappy woman and became more unhappy after she secularized.
Health, theres no
connection. Are the happiest people the most healthy people? No. Over the
years, again, how many wonderful people Ive met. When I was ordained in Southern
Indiana, I would periodically do some chaplaincy work at a nearby hospital,
a girl in her thirties, seventeen years bedridden but very happy.
Wealth. I mean this.
The most unhappy people Ive ever met have been the most wealthy, I mean it.
Possessions. There are, as you know, expensive homes, say in the suburbs I
know of Detroit. Talking to a person the other day, they are planning to sell
their home and theyre asking $455,000. The last potential buyer said, I like
the location, my plan is to buy your property and then tear down the building
and build my own. Its a new, a new home. But I was told this couple would
not sell their home to this character. So what did he do, he found another
home in the same suburb even more expensive and he tore it down. There is no
madness like the insanity of wealth.
Knowledge, oh how this
needs to be said, can a person be addicted to reading? Can that be a disease?
[Yes] Especially you men, shake your heads. Acquiring knowledge and more knowledge
and still more knowledge and still more knowledge. The worst kind of obesity
is having not just a stout or fat body, but, you supply the noun, a fat
with all kinds of knowledge, thats idiocy. But once you get into that habit
its very hard to break it. And I think our universities in the United States
thrive on that passion. The passion to acquire more knowledge, so much of which,
for many people, most of which is not only useless it is positively dangerous.
Desire for advancement, the desire for recognition, the desire for acceptance,
the desire for friendship, the desire for love, and Im speaking specifically
of human love. Our desires can be so strong for having people love us, well
do anything, well compromise even our faith to attain the friendship of a person
who, if we think about it and pray over it, will tell us we should give it up.
So all kinds of desires.
True joy is the result
of having these desires satisfied. But notice, and the word is only
those desires satisfied which are truly good. What then is truly good which,
once we get it and possess it, we are happy? Your desire corresponds with what
God wants. Thats why one of the greatest blessings for the United States would
be if the psychiatric profession closed shop. I know, there are some still
sane and God fearing psychiatrists, but their number is very small. Happiness
does not consist in desiring or acquiring what we want but what God wants.
And remember, God does not exist, God does not exist to satisfy our wants,
we exist to satisfy the wants of God. And the wants in the word want
is meaningless when applied, as we ordinarily use the word, to God. God does
not want anything in the sense of need. In English the two words are practically
synonyms. Am I clear? Is it what I want is what I need. Is that true? [No]
That what I want is what I need? No. Can I want what I dont need? You mothers
with your children, do the children always want what you know they need? Thats
why over the years, in taking medication, the label on some of the bottles childproof.
But Im told its almost impossible to manufacture a container which is childproof.
Children will swallow anything swallowable and sometimes even things that are
not swallowable. True joy then is a result of having those desires satisfied
which then we desire what leads us to heaven. And then, by the way is the most
fundamental meaning of the adjective, right. What is the right thing to do?
That which leads to heaven. And this is where, my own father in God, St. Ignatius,
was so emphatic at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises that we daily examine
our consciences and ask ourselves, for example during the past day, all the
things that I have chosen to do, have they all been things that will lead me
to heaven. If theyre not, I examine my conscience and then I tell myself now
this afternoon for me is twice a day. Then I remove from my life things that
I may find very pleasant but which faith and sound reason tell me would not
lead me to my eternal destiny. So then finally we desire what leads to our
destiny and God is the only One, the only One who can tell us what we really
(Now second page of
We dealt with this
somewhat last class. We come back to it again. I want to be very open with
you, because the ability to discern, which means to distinguish between desires
that come from God and those that come from the evil spirit, is the bedrock condition
for being happy. Both God and the devil want us to be happy, both. But God
has His conditions the devil has his. So the good Spirit inspires good desires,
the evil spirit instigates sinful desires. But lets be clear, is every good
desire, is every good desire pleasant or pleasing to us? [No] Is every sinful
desire displeasing to us? [No] Ive said this before but I want to be as clear
as I can, if theres one thing we must, at the risk of our salvation, must do
is to daily examine my conscience on my desires. Not everything in the Jerusalem
Bible, do I agree with but it is by and large a good translation. But I like
the text in the Beatitudes where the Beatitude reads Blessed are they who hunger
and thirst for what is right
Who can finish the sentence, Blessed are they
who hunger and thirst for what is right, they
they shall be satisfied. Isnt
that wonderful? Our happiness depends on us. You desire the right things and
your desires will always be satisfied. Always, in German, immer; in Latin,
semper. In the language I spoke at home with my mother, (?German - to know
where you stand?) every day. In other words, our desires will always be satisfied
and we will never be unhappy even in this life, provided what we desire is what
we should desire. What should we desire? What God wants us to desire. I think
we mentioned this book before about a Jesuit confrere who wrote the book on
Abandonment to Divine Providence, who remembers the author? Who? Caussade,
either Divine Providence or Abandonment to Divine Providence, a little book.
See Gods providence in every situation in your life. Never, never even for
a moment think, if youre married, and dont you dare ever say, tell your wife
you husbands, or you to your husbands you wives, Gosh whatever possessed me
to marry you No. And if he is painful to live with thank God. And most couples
dont have to ask each other, Jim youve been causing me pain for three days.
These are not rhetorical flourishes. Either we see Gods will and therefore
our happiness in pain or were living in an unreal world. We go on.
Good desires are those
which conform to the teaching of the Church. For example, I think I told you
Im working on a manuscript to be called The Question and Answer Catechism
of the Catholic Church, using the French and Spanish and Italian as my base.
Well, I was writing, todays what? Sunday, yesterday on the Eucharist, Im
over half finished. And it was a long paragraph in the Catechism about the
tabernacle and neither the French, or Italian or the Spanish had what I found
in the English. The English said, the tabernacle should be reserved in a separate
chapel outside the church or in the church building. I thought to myself,
so I checked again, not in the official French. Isnt that nasty, putting the
chapel outside the church in the Catechism, clunk. In other words, what does
the Church teach? Wed better know the Churchs teaching. And theres even
a pious footnote to the alleged reference. Am I clear? So the Churchs teaching
is indeed under God, our principle source of happiness. But it had to be the
Churchs teaching which is one reason and for so many of you who dont come
from Latin class, if you cant possibly make it when we start classes in February,
we need the Latin, to work out some kind of a system so that you may be able
to learn some Latin. Without knowing some Latin you are at the mercy of the
nearest, pardon me, Podunk translator.
How do We Discern What is God's Will?
Then, how do we discern
what is Gods will? Otherwise, we wont be happy. The Holy Spirit gives us desires
which are good, which conform to my state of life. And this is where both sides
have got to keep their heads on. Those who are in the world, the laity, youve
got your responsibilities. And for more than one wife and mother, whatever
her name is Mabel, Jean or Gargonia, youre not a nun, youre not a nun. It
means therefore that no matter how pious a person may be, is there such a thing
as restraining or controlling ones pious desires. Sure. Or for example, men
who have always wanted to be a priest, well, so Im doing the next best thing,
but my state of life is to determine what God wants me to desire. Again, what
does God want? He wants us to have those desires which lead to morally good
actions. And the surest way of knowing whether our desires are pleasing to
God is whether they, shall we say, end up in good actions. If we are depending
on the desires that we want, our life and the actions we have will reveal how
really good internally we have been.
Finally, Good Desires are Those Which Bring Interior Peace
Assuming that I want
to do Gods will, this by the way is St. Ignatius norm which Ive been recommending
over the years. And let me tell you, Ill be very open with you, the situation
in the world today is so complex, so unpredictable, so evil-uted, there are
situations into which any one of us may find ourselves. Where do you go for
counsel, whom can you ask that will tell you to explain the situation, the crisis
would be over. And this is where Ive told so many people, especially those
who, say, want spiritual direction in teaching priests, I warn them, by all
means give counsel to people, thats why youre a priest, but watch yourself
on whom you direct because priests can be used, and I have to say this, especially
by women. So then, a woman will say, my director says this or my director
says that and the poor priest, he can spend hours of his precious time, where
the principle spiritual director we should all have is Jesus Christ. And in
my life where do I go, who can I consult in so many issues and areas facing
the Church today? So, the peace that I will have if I want to do Gods will,
but be very honest with Him
(end of cd)
Copyright © 2005 Institute on Religious Life
Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon
gave to the Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
PO. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641