In my presence and in the presence of others, try to be always joyful, for it is not fitting that a servant of God appear before the brothers or other men with a sad and glum face. —Saint Francis
The encounter with the living Jesus…fills the heart with joy, because it fills it with true life, a profound goodness that does not pass away or decay. —Pope Francis
Saint Francis called himself God’s court jester—the Jongleur de Dieu—as he went about singing the praise of God. Pope Francis brought the house down the night of his election, telling his brother cardinals, “May God forgive you!”
One can’t help but notice a kind of effervescent joy that spreads happiness to others. These men have shattered the stereotype of rigid, grim, calcified piety. They radiate something entirely different: the joy of Christ.
Jesus was attractive, in the literal sense of the word. People wanted to meet him and hear him and follow him. Saint Francis had a similar effect, and if the three million people who showed up at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro are any indication, Pope Francis does too. The wisdom and faith of these men make them intriguing, to be sure, but their spirit of joy goes a long way in drawing these crowds.
Christians, of course, are supposed to be joyful (and attractive, for that matter). As mentioned in the last chapter, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is joy. Saint Paul prayed for believers, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).
Joy and peace appear to be at their best when they come in tandem. If peace is an absence of turmoil, strife, and discontent, joy is the presence of delight, fulfillment, and happiness. Though peace is no guarantee of joy, joy cannot subsist without peace.
But Christians have access to both. At the very “birth” of the faith, on the night of the Lord’s Nativity, the angel announced not only peace to men on earth but joy as well: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2:10). Indeed, “The kingdom of God…[means] peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
The good news of the Gospel, the cause of Christian joy, is that this kingdom of God “is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Jesus declared that he “was sent for this purpose,” to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:3). He told us, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21). Through our baptism, we are members of royalty, and that is cause for rejoicing!
Joy in Suffering
But Jesus’s kingdom doesn’t operate like an earthly one; his kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18:36). Thus, as opposed to the usual riches and power promised kings and queens, Jesus speaks about poverty and persecution: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). How strange that there should be a blessing in all of this! Yet this joy in the midst of suffering is part of what Christ won for us on the cross. As it says in the book of Hebrews, Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
One of the greatest gifts of the Christian faith is the ability to unite our (inevitable) sufferings to those of Christ and thus share in his glory. He told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…. So you have sorrow now; but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20, 22).
Christians believe that through Christ we can find joy in the crosses we must carry in our lives. Not only are we able to bear them, but we can actually rejoice in them! Jesus told us as much when he said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22–23).
Saint Francis had a habit of leaping for joy at the most unexpected moments, and Pope Francis speaks clearly of the reality of joy even in the cross. In this, they resemble the early Christians. The New Testament epistles refer time and again to being joyful during persecution:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4–7)
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials. (James 1:2)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12)
The early Church didn’t just talk about joy in trial; she experienced it. After some important and influential Jews threw Paul and Barnabas out, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). When the Christians in Macedonia faced affliction, “their abundance of joy…overflowed” (2 Corinthians 8:2). The Thessalonians “received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
The Joy of Jesus
Jesus, too, “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). And he wanted us to share in his joy. “These things I have spoken to you,” Jesus told his disciples, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Twice again Jesus speaks in these terms: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24), and, “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
This fullness of joy is our inheritance as Christians. And it doesn’t always have to come with suffering! The gift of knowing Christ, being subjects of the King of Kings, is a great joy in and of itself. This is what Jesus taught: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
Saint Francis and Pope Francis have given everything, dedicating their entire lives for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. And in this they have found great joy.