Category Archives: joy

Joy in the Lord

A good laugh is a sign of love…
Karl Rahner, SJ

Today is the feast of St. Philip Neri who was a practical joker. Part of that was a defense against those who wanted to adulate him as a saint when he was alive. Part was an expression of the joy he found in God.

As he wrote:

Perfection does not consists in such outward things as shedding tears and the like, but in true and solid virtues, Tears are not a sign that a man is in the grace of God, neither must we infer that one who weeps when he speaks of holy and devout things necessarily lives a holy life. Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. When a man is freed from a temptation or any other distress, let him take great care to show fitting gratitude to God for the benefit he has received.

In the last few years here in Honduras I have experienced the grace of joy, of cheerfulness. Also, I have become more “picaro,” mischievous, and more of a “bromista,” a joker.


I find myself becoming more like my father whom I remember as a great joker, a man with a great heart.

Being able to joke around with people and to be a little mischievous helps break down barriers. It helps us establish bonds.

It also can lead us deeper into the love of God, as we set aside our pretensions and rejoice in the good gifts that God gives us.

It was the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote this about a sense of humor:

Not everyone has a sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. . . . A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us. . . . God laughs, says the Bible. When the last piece of human folly makes the last burst of human laughter ring out crisp and clear in a doomed world, is it too much to imagine that this laugh will resemble that of God . . . and seem to convey that, in spite of everything, all’s well?

I have been blessed with a hearty laugh, but I think I saw one of the most amazing manifestations of joy last Friday night, in the midst of torrential rains, as I joined the vigil before the beatification of Monseñor Romero.

There were may moments of joy that night, but one stands out.

For almost two full hours, between 1:00 and 3:00 am, young Franciscan friars from Central America led a crowd in song and dance – and moments of reflection on the witness of Romero.

Their joy was contagious. Here’s a short video which, though it’s shaky in places, gives you a sense of the joy in the Lord that many felt with the beatification of Romero – a sign of the presence of God.


If the video doesn’t load on this page, you can find it here.

Tears of joy

“The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks I undertake for God are springs of spiritual joy, so much so that these islands are the places in all the world for a man to lose his sight by excess of weeping; that they are tears of joy.”
St. Francis Xavier

 Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier (Francisco Javier), one of the first Jesuits and a missionary to the Indies and the Far East. He died on this day in 1552, almost alone, on an island off the coast of China.

The right arm of St. Francis Xavier, the Gesù, Rome

The right arm of St. Francis Xavier, the Gesù, Rome

He was an indefatigable missionary, baptizing tens or hundreds of thousands, so many that he once wrote a letter complaining about the failure of the European universities to send missionaries:

In these lands so many people come to faith in Jesus Christ that many times my arms fail me because of the painful work of baptizing them.

The arm that he used for baptisms is preserved in the Church of the Gesú in Rome.

For his years spent in mission, he is the patron of foreign missionaries.

But what struck me about San Francisco Javier this morning was the quote that heads the entry for his feast in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, which I quoted above.

There is a joy for me in mission, here in Honduras. Yes, there are days of loneliness, days when I’m frustrated by the lack of response by some people, days when I’m cursing out the drivers who nearly hit me on a mountain road, days when my stomach is “upset,” days when I worry about my car which is again being repaired because of the terrible roads.

There are days of sadness when I hear of deaths and killings in the parish, when I hear that a promising young man left, trying to reach the US, when I hear of the mental crisis a young leader recently experienced, when I see the poverty, especially the houses of tin or mud as I drive through the parish.

But despite – or maybe even because of – these experiences, I have found a deep peace and joy here.

It’s a joy that is a gift.

I find joy when I see 101 young people seeking to be baptized, as I saw last Sunday at the entry into the catechumenate in the Dulce Nombre parish. I was especially moved when the sponsors knelt before their godchildren to sign their feet with the cross.


I find joy when I listen to a young widow speak of how she would like to help the unmarried couples in her village.

I find joy when I witnessed more than 500 confirmations in the parish earlier this year.

I find joy when I can joke with people and provoke a smile – as I did yesterday in a bakery and as I often do with the workers in the house under construction.

I find joy when I see that the workers on the house, without my instructions, put my name in broken ceramic in the floor of the utility room.


I find joy when I work with the catechists who devote hours each week to share the faith with the young people of the parish.

I find joy when I can give someone a ride in the countryside. I find joy when they smile at my response to their question, “How much do I owe you?” I used to say “Nothing,” but now I say “Pray an Our Father for me!”

I find joy when I see the young man who had a mental breakdown at Mass as a sponsor for a catechumen and when I see in church the young man who tried to go to the US.

I find joy when a young catechumen asks me if I was in the Viet Nam War, surprised at his interest in history. I find even more joy when I can tell him that I was among those who protested that war.

I find joy when I can be present to the joys and sorrows of the people here.

I find joy here and at times I find myself close to tears – seeing the workings of God among the people.

For all this, I give thanks for the grace to have been called here, to Honduras, to the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.

Gracias a Dios.

Joy and tenderness

There is a proverb that “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

There is the saying attributed to Saint Teresa de Avila that “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”

Even the theologian Karl Rahner noted that “A good laugh is a sign of love.”

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of joy for the follower of Christ. His Apostolic Exhortation is fittingly entitled The Joy of the Gospel.

Today is the feast of Saint Philip Neri, the sixteenth century apostle of Rome. Born in Florence he studied with the Dominicans at the Convent of San Marco – a house noted for the beautiful frescos that Fra Angelico and his followers painted on the walls of the friars’ cell. But it is also noted as the convent where Girolamo Savonarola lived.

Savonarola is noted for his fierce and severe call for reform in Florence, even setting up a sort of holy republic. For his efforts as well as for his biting critique of the papacy, he was burned at the stake in the center of Florence.

According to Paul Burns in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Philip Neri revered the memory of Savonarola. “He [Philip] aimed for a return to the apostolic simplicity of life, as his early hero Savonarola had, but encouraged people to embrace this without using hell-fire sermons and without deliberately upsetting the church establishment.”

Despite this he got into trouble at least twice – at one point Pope Paul IV prohibited him from preaching.

But what is striking is that he kept up a cheerful spirit in all this. As he said:

Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.

He also used humor to undercut the efforts to idolize him as a living saint – going around with half his beard shaved, wearing outrageous disguises, and playing practical jokes.

I was reminded of the place of joy and tenderness in our spiritual lives when I read the reflection this morning in Give Us This Day. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn recalled that

In the novel Adam Bede, George Eliot wrote, “When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.”

God wants us to be people of joy. Severity may have its place, but ultimately we are called to nurture tenderness and joy.


Playful Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas statue, detail, Ames, Iowa

St. Thomas Aquinas statue, detail, Ames, Iowa

Though the church celebrates the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas on January 28, Thomas actually died on March 7, 1274 – 740 years ago today.

I think Thomas is one of the most maligned theologians of the Catholic Church.

In part this is due to the scholasticism that reduced Thomas’ dialectical method into a set of propositions – forgetting the serious questions that pervade Thomas’s Summa Theologica.

We also forget that Thomas, though steeped in the scriptures and in the writings of the fathers of the church, was not adverse to seek inspiration in the writings of the pagan Aristotle as well as in the texts of Jewish and Islamic philosophers.

But I think we also miss that Thomas was a person steeped in the love of God and seek to live this out in his daily life.

He could be a little absent-minded – or, rather, super-focused on a problem. There is the story of his attending a banquet with King St. Louis where, in the middle of the banquet, he pounded the table and stated that he had just found the perfect way to respond to a heresy!

But I think he was also practical.

In grad school a friend told me that Thomas had a three-fold way to respond to feeling bad: a good meal, a bath, and sleep. I have no idea where this is found in Thomas’ works, but it’s rather good advice.

But what I really like about Thomas is what I found this past year in Timothy Radcliffe’s Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation:

St. Thomas Aquinas believed that an inability to play was a sign of moral weakness: ‘Therefore, unmitigated seriousness betokens a lack of virtue because it wholly despises play, which is as necessary for a good human life as rest’.

So, today, on the anniversary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ death, let’s play!

Dorothy Day on joy

The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives
of all who encounter Jesus.
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, ¶1

 On November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day died in Mary House, a Catholic Worker house in lower Manhattan. Since 1933 she had lived with the poor, served them, and been an advocate of nonviolence and voluntary poverty.

Her life was not easy. Living with the poor can be very difficult. She liked to quote Dostoevsky who wrote the “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

Her journals, published in The Duty of Delight, reveal that, even though she struggled both with personal “demons” and with those who came to the Catholic Worker, she found great joy, nourished by her faith.

As she wrote on December 25, 1961:

It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child 35 years ago, and that joy is constantly renewed as I daily receive our Lord at Mass.

The scriptures lived among the poor helped her uncover the sources of her joy and faith, as she wrote on September 24, 1968:

People need to be rediscovering the Gospel. They have to find them [the Gospels?] thru people who find their joy in them, and who accept the crosses of this life as preparation, as the inevitable in the way.

The spirituality which sustained her was incarnational. On March 26, 1972, she wrote:

We had a wayfarer who accepted our hospitality for a few years who used to kneel down and kiss the earth on that day (March 25 [the feast of the Annunciation]) each year, because Christ in putting on our human flesh which came from the earth, had made the earth holy.

God has become flesh and so holiness surrounds us.

But I find one short remark of hers, on December 19, 1976, particularly helpful to sustain joy:

Find beauty everywhere.

To find beauty everywhere, because God has lived among us, and gives us joy.

Dorothy Day thus reminds us to keep our hearts open to God, to the beauty of everyday life, to the sufferings of the poor. That’s one way to be raptured by joy.


The Duty of Delight

On November 8, 1897, Dorothy Day was born.

Her life, her conversion, and her founding with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker have moved many to devote themselves to the poor.

A few nights ago I finished the collection of her diaries, The Duty of Delight, which provide a glimpse of the complexities of this woman.

She was not a plaster saint. In fact, she regrets her impatience and reveals how difficult it was for her to live with some of the Catholic Worker guests – and staff.

She was fairly critical of some of the staff and guests, especially in sexual matters. But this came not from a puritanism but from a deep sense of the marriage act as sacramental – to the surprise of some people.

She was also remarkably open to young people, though not in an uncritical way.

But what comes through in her diaries is her delight.

“Find beauty everywhere,” she wrote on December 29, 1976.

She found it in nature: “Nothing is more beautiful than the soft sound of waves on the beach.” (December 12, 1953)

She rejoiced in music, listening to operas on the radio.

She loved to read. The works of Dostoevsky especially appealed to her.

She loved to pray – especially the Psalms, which nourished her daily life.

She loved to travel – visiting the Catholic Worker houses and speaking across the US. as well as visiting Rome, Cuba, India, and other parts of the world.

And she wrote. The Long Loneliness is a classic, in which she writes of her conversion. (She, however, was rather insistent that it was not an autobiography.) She also wrote a regular column in The Catholic Worker, until the last months of her life.

Hers was not an easy life. But she found a joy in it that opened her to God, and a relation to God that opened her to joy. As she wrote on December 25, 1961,

It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child 35 years ago, and that joy is constantly renewed as I daily receive our Lord at Mass.

And in a long meditation on June 26, 1971, she reiterated the source of her joy:

If it were not for Scripture on one hand and Communion on the other, I could not bear my daily life, but daily it brings me joy in this sorrow which is part of our human condition, and a real, very real and vital sense of the meaning and the fruitfulness of these sufferings.

She found joy amid suffering, living among the poor. Robert Ellsberg very fittingly chose The Duty of Delight as the title of this compilation. It reflects the spirit and spirituality of Dorothy Day. In fact, she had thought of this phrase from John Ruskin for the title of a sequel to The Long Loneliness.

This duty of delight is indeed a challenge, but a challenge that brings joy. It was a challenge for her, too. Her February 24, 1961, diary entry notes:

I was thinking, how as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving.

May we learn to live the duty of delight, the joy of love, the holiness of sharing in the suffering of all God’s people.


Last night I slept at Dulce Nombre, because the Parish Council meeting lasted until about 9:00 pm.

It’s not uncommon for me to stay there for a night – in a nice room with a good bed.

But last night I had trouble sleeping – and I woke up early, serenaded by the roosters and chickens right outside the window.

In a dream I recall seeing the face of a little girl. As she got closer to my face, she had such a beautiful smile – and I smiled in return.

At that point I woke up, but with a deep sense of peace and joy. I realized that I’d been blessed with joy – and the smile of the little girl opened up my heart to the joy that was already there.

How often do we fail to see the joy and peace in our hearts. Sometimes it takes a dream – but more often it takes the smile of a child, the hand on the shoulder from a friend, a word.

Help me, Lord, see that joy and peace that are offered to me every day.




The Playfulness of Wisdom

…then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the children of humans.

 The closing verses of today’s first reading from Proverbs 8: 22-31 are about Wisdom – another name for God.

What strikes me is the playfulness of God. Some versions translate this as rejoicing, but I think we need to be playful, as God is playful.

Pope Francis has insisted on the importance of joy in the Christian life. There is a proverb, “A sad saint is a sorry saint” or, in Spanish, “Un santo triste es un triste santo.

Today is the feast of a saint who was far from sad. He was a practical joker, not only to try to prevent people from calling him a saint but to reflect the playfulness of God. He would go around Rome with half his face shaved or in strange costumes. He at times would tweak the ears or nose of friends he met in the street.

Philip Neri, who was born in Florence (and who, by the way, respected the memory of Savonarola), was the apostle in Rome and founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. He was a friend of many saints of his era, including St. Ignatius Loyola and was also a confessor of Palestrina (who, I believe, wrote oratorios for Philip’s Oratory.)

As St. Philip once wrote,

Perfection does not consists in such outward things as shedding tears and the like, but in true and solid virtues, Tears are not a sign that a man is in the grace of God, neither must we infer that one who weeps when he speaks of holy and devout things necessarily lives a holy life. Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. When a man is freed from a temptation or any other distress, let him take great care to show fitting gratitude to God for the benefit he has received.

I have been blessed with a crazy sense of humor – a heritage from my father. This has served me well, for I am less myself when I get too serious. And so I need to pray for playfulness and be grateful for this gift.

Today, may the playfulness of God, who created our world and delights to be with us, nourish our sense of humor, our playfulness.


“Fools, for Christ’s sake”
1 Corinthians 4: 10

It’s probably in my genes but I have a wry sense of humor; my dad was the ultimate punster.

laughing meI’m not as good a punster as he was but I’m pretty sure I inherited his puckish spirit.

I am also noted for my laugh. When something strikes me funny, I laugh, sometimes loudly. There have also been times when I laughed so hard that people were worried about me, as my face turned red.

But some people are so serious, especially some religious folk. It’s as if they forget that the resurrection is God’s joke – his way of showing that the seriousness of death is not the final word.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the joy I experience here among the poor in Honduras. But I find myself smiling and looking at things in playful ways – and at times being quite playful with kids.

What a gift! Maybe this will help me be a better follower of Christ and a more fully human person.

And this is not just my idea.

Timothy Radcliffe, notes, in  Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation, p. 16, that

St Thomas Aquinas believed that an inability to play was a sign of moral weakness: ‘Therefore, unmitigated seriousness betokens a lack of virtue because it wholly despises play, which is as necessary for a good human life as rest’.

So, today, April Fool’s Day, be playful – and if someone pulls your leg (or as we say here, pulls your hair), remember to laugh and to find a way to make that person laugh.

Be foolish, for Christ’s sake.


Joy in the midst of suffering

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Dominic Guzman, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Friars Preachers, better known as the  Dominicans.

There is much to admire in Dominic. As a student he sold his books and furniture to feed the poor in a time of famine. As a missionary preacher among the Albigensians in southern France, he admonished the warrior Bishop Fulk that the weapons to convert these heretics should be prayer and humility, not the sword and fine clothes. As a preacher among the Albigensians he lived austerely,  traveling on foot, begging for sustenance in contrast to the papal legates who arrived in fine clothes and were aligned with the political powers of the day. As a traveling preacher he had more success with the austere and inspiring Albigensians.

But what struck me as I read about him this morning was his joy in the midst of suffering. As Blessed Jordan of Saxony, one his early followers, wrote:

 Nothing disturbed his equanimity except a lively sympathy with any suffering. A person’s face shows whether he or she is really happy. Dominic was friendly and joyful. You could easily see his inward peace.

This reminded me of a chapter in an inspiring and challenging book by Mary Jo Leddy, The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, that I’m reading.

She writes, reflecting on her life with refugees in Romero House in Toronto. “To discern the presence of Christ we need to look for that mysterious gospel sign of joy in the midst of suffering.”

Reflecting on “The Smiling Christ” in Xavier, in the Basque region of Spain, she notes that the crucifix was fashioned in the midst of the Black Death and church corruption of the fourteenth century, “a time of great suffering and spiritual confusion.”

 And yet. And yet. Christ is smiling in the midst of his own suffering and the suffering of the dark age of Europe. When we can smile like that. we know we are where we are meant to be.

The spiritual life is not joy or suffering. It’s joy in the midst of suffering, allowing the suffering and the joy of the poor and marginalized we meet – Maria, José, Samara, Omin – to touch our hearts and reveal the joy that God has placed deep within us that can be unveiled in the often disconcerting presence of the other person whose suffering we share.

That is the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection – not joy alone, not suffering alone, but joy in the midst of suffering.

And I have been blessed with this grace here in Honduras.