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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, that’s 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, we’d better know, we’d better know what joy means and we’d better know how both to be happy ourselves and pass happiness or joy onto others.

Mercy Killing

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. That’s why, thanks for being here, that’s why I’m here. As I’ve said more than once, I’m sure to you people, if the Gospels are not historically trustworthy, fine, so they are not trustworthy, well then there’s 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, there’s no choice, you must follow God’s 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 happiness.

Why go into the subject? Because Christianity is the religion of joy. There’s 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 you’re not happy you’re going to reveal yourself.

And finally, why go into the subject? Because even people who are more or less happy ought to be more happy.

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. That’s 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 don’t 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 one’s 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, they’re not things I’ve 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. I’ve 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? There’s 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.

I’m sure I’ve told you this more than once, the shoe salesman, he had two shoe stores in greater Washington. How’s business, we talked. He said, “Okay, but let me tell you, except for women I’d 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, there’s no connection. Are the happiest people the most healthy people? No. Over the years, again, how many wonderful people I’ve 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 I’ve 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 they’re 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. It’s 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…mind…stuffed with all kinds of knowledge, that’s idiocy. But once you get into that habit it’s 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 I’m speaking specifically of human love. Our desires can be so strong for having people love us, we’ll do anything, we’ll 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

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. That’s 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 don’t need? You mothers with your children, do the children always want what you know they need? That’s why over the years, in taking medication, the label on some of the bottles ‘childproof’. But I’m told it’s 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 they’re 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 need.

(Now second page of your notes.)


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 let’s be clear, is every good desire, is every good desire pleasant or pleasing to us? [No] Is every sinful desire displeasing to us? [No] I’ve said this before but I want to be as clear as I can, if there’s 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.” Isn’t 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 God’s providence in every situation in your life. Never, never even for a moment think, if you’re married, and don’t 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 don’t have to ask each other, ‘Jim you’ve been causing me pain for three days’. These are not rhetorical flourishes. Either we see God’s will and therefore our happiness in pain or we’re 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 I’m 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, today’s what? Sunday, yesterday on the Eucharist, I’m 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. Isn’t that nasty, putting ‘the chapel outside the church’ in the Catechism, clunk. In other words, what does the Church teach? We’d better know the Church’s teaching. And there’s even a pious footnote to the alleged reference. Am I clear? So the Church’s teaching is indeed under God, our principle source of happiness. But it had to be the Church’s teaching which is one reason and for so many of you who don’t come from Latin class, if you can’t 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 God’s will? Otherwise, we won’t 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, you’ve got your responsibilities. And for more than one wife and mother, whatever her name is Mabel, Jean or Gargonia, you’re not a nun, you’re not a nun. It means therefore that no matter how pious a person may be, is there such a thing as restraining or controlling one’s pious desires. Sure. Or for example, men who have always wanted to be a priest, well, so I’m 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 God’s will, this by the way is St. Ignatius’ norm which I’ve been recommending over the years. And let me tell you, I’ll 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 I’ve told so many people, especially those who, say, want spiritual direction in teaching priests, I warn them, by all means give counsel to people, that’s why you’re 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 God’s 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

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