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Only the Holy Spirit Gives True Joy

General Audience — June 19, 1991

We have already heard many times from St. Paul that "joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit" (Gal 5:22), as are love and peace, which we have discussed in earlier catecheses. It is clear that the Apostle is speaking of the true joy which fills the human heart, and certainly not of a superficial, transitory joy, which worldly joy frequently is.

It is not difficult for an observer who operates solely on the level of psychology and experience to discover that degradation in the area of pleasure and love is in proportion to the void left in man from the false and deceptive joys sought in those things which St. Paul called the "works of the flesh": "immorality, impurity, licentiousness...drinking bouts, orgies and the like" (Gal 5:19, 21). One can add to these false joys—and there are many connected with them—those sought in the possession and immoderate use of wealth, in luxury, in ambition for power, in short, in that passion for an almost frantic search for earthly goods which can easily produce a darkened mind, as St. Paul mentions (cf. Eph 4:18-19), and Jesus laments (cf. Mk 4:19).

Paul refers to the pagan world to exhort his converts to guard against wickedness: "That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph 4:20-24). It is the "new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), which is the work of the Holy Spirit, present in the soul and in the Church. Therefore, the Apostle concludes his exhortation to good behavior and peace in this way: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30).

If a Christian "grieves" the Holy Spirit who lives in his soul, he certainly cannot hope to possess the true joy which comes from him: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Gal 5:22). Only the Holy Spirit gives a profound, full and lasting joy, which every human heart desires. The human person is being made for joy, not for sadness. Paul VI reminded Christians and all our contemporaries of this in the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino. True joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Letter to the Galatians Paul has told us that joy is connected with love (cf. Gal 5:22). Therefore, it cannot be an egotistical experience, the result of a disordered love. True joy includes justice in the kingdom of God, which St. Paul says "is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).

It is a matter of Gospel justice, which consists in conformity to the will of God, obedience to his laws and personal friendship with him. Apart from this friendship there is no true joy. Rather, as St. Thomas explains: "Sadness, as an evil or vice, is caused by a disordered love for oneself, the general root of all vices" [1] . Sin is particularly a source of sadness, because it is a deviation or almost a distortion of the soul away from the just order of God, which gives consistency to one's life. The Holy Spirit, who accomplishes in man the new righteousness in love, removes sadness and gives joy, the joy which we see blossoming in the Gospel.

The Gospel is an invitation to joy and an experience of true and profound joy. At the annunciation, Mary was invited: "Rejoice, full of grace" (Lk 1:28). This is the summation of a whole series of invitations formulated by the prophets of the Old Testament (cf. Zech 9:9; Zep 3:14-17, Joel 2:21-27, Is 54:1). Mary's joy is realized with the coming of the Holy Spirit, who was announced to Mary as the reason for rejoicing.

At the visitation, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy, participating naturally and supernaturally in the rejoicing of her son who was still in her womb: "The infant in my womb leaped for joy" (Lk 1:44). Elizabeth perceived her son's joy and showed it, but according to the evangelist, it is the Holy Spirit who filled both of them with this joy. Mary, in turn, exactly at that moment felt rising in her heart that song of rejoicing which expresses the humble, clear and profound joy which filled her, almost as a realization of the angel's "rejoice": "My spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Lk 1:47). In these words, too, Mary echoed the prophets' sound of joy, such as in the Book of Habakkuk: "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God" (Hab 3:18).

A continuation of this rejoicing took place during the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, when Simeon met him and rejoiced under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, who had made him desire to see the Messiah and compelled him to go to the Temple (cf. Lk 2:26-32). Then, the prophetess Anna, as she was called by the evangelist, who therefore presents her as a woman consecrated to God and an interpreter of his thoughts and commands according to the tradition of Israel (cf. Ex 15:20; Jgs 4:9; 2 Kgs 22:14), by praising God expresses the interior joy which in her, too, takes it origin from the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 2:36-38).

In the Gospel texts which concern the public life of Jesus, we read that at a certain moment he himself "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit" (Lk 10:21). Jesus expressed joy and gratitude in a prayer which celebrates the Father's loving kindness: "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will" (Lk 10:21). In Jesus, joy assumes all its force in enthusiasm for the Father. The same is true for the joys inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit in human life. Their hidden, vital energy directs individuals toward a love which is full of gratitude to the Father. Every true joy has the Father as its final goal.

Jesus invited his disciples to rejoice, to overcome the temptation to sadness at the Master's departure, because this departure was the condition planned by God for the coming of the Holy Spirit: "It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7). It will be the Spirit's gift to provide the disciples with a great joy, even the fullness of joy, according to Jesus' intention. The Savior, after inviting the disciples to remain in his love, said: "I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete" (Jn 15:11; cf. 17:13). It is the task of the Holy Spirit to put into the disciples' hearts the same joy that Jesus had, the joy of faithfulness to the love which comes from the Father.

St. Luke attests that the disciples, who had received the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time of the ascension, "returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple praising God" (Lk 24:52-53). In the Acts of the Apostles, it turns out that after Pentecost a climate of profound joy came to pass in the apostles. This was shared with the community in the form of exultation and enthusiasm in embracing the faith, in receiving Baptism and in community life, as can be seen in the passage: "They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). The Acts notes: "The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52).

The sufferings and persecutions which Jesus predicted in announcing the coming of the Paraclete-Consoler (cf. Jn 16:1 ff.) would come soon enough. But according to Acts, joy lasts even during trials. One reads that the apostles, brought before the Sanhedrin, were flogged, warned and sent home. They returned "rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus" (Acts 5:41-42).

Moreover, this is the condition and the lot of Christians, as St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians: "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess 1:6). According to Paul, Christians reproduce in themselves the paschal mystery of Christ, whose foundation is the cross. But its crowning glory is "joy in the Holy Spirit" for those who persevere in the time of trial. It is the joy of the beatitudes, particularly the beatitude of the mourning and the persecuted (cf. Mt 5:4, 10-12). Did not Paul the Apostle say: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake..." (Col 1:24)? And Peter, in his turn, urged: "But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly" (1 Pet 4:13).

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit that he may always enkindle in us a desire for the good things of heaven and enable us one day to enjoy their fullness: "Grant us virtue and its reward, grant us a holy death, give us eternal joy." Amen.

[1]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 28, a. 4, ad 1; cf. I-II, q. 72, a. 4