The joyfulness of giving

A few weeks ago I spent some time working with several Carmelite nuns. When I announced that I was doing this, a Benedictine friend replied Excellent - there's always so much joy when you are with Carmelites! I expect you've laughed a lot. And indeed yes, there was joy, and indeed, I - we all - laughed a lot, in between more serious, reflective and prayerful times.

To a casual observer, the words Carmelite and joy might not seem to belong in the same sentence. Theirs is an uncompromising, radically austere vocation; a life, as one sister put it, of total exposure to God. The online discernment programme on their Association website makes this clear, in the very direct questions it asks discerners to ask themselves, around prayer and silence, enclosure, asceticism and sacrifice. But this programme also states, quite clearly: A Carmelite is called to make known, by her life, the possibility of intimate communion with God and to bear joyful witness that God alone is enough. 

That, of course, is the mystery which lies at the heart of any call to religious life: that God alone is enough - more than enough - and the more generously and faithfully we are able to live and surrender to this, the greater and deeper our joy. This too is the joy to which Pope Francis referred, when he opened the Year of Consecrated Life, exhorting us to rejoice and be glad, and to live the truth of the ideal that where there are religious, there is joy. 

I was reminded of all this this morning, when, having digested the dismal and despairing headlines about Brexit and the state of our country, I opened my daily email from 40 Acts. Joyful Joyful leapt out at me, followed by the reflection, which began with Joy is the gigantic secret of the generous, before the reminder that ...God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9.7), and the challenge for the day: to go out and immerse yourself in the joyfulness of giving.

Joy is the gigantic secret of the generous... and likewise, generosity is the gigantic secret of joy! And herein lies the answer to that central mystery of religious life, and indeed of any life lived for God, and in total, uncontained self-giving in service and love. The more we give of ourselves, the more space we create for God to fill plentifully with himself, to become our enough - and as Pope Francis wrote to religious: God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness... we need not seek our happiness elsewhere... and our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment.

So here I am this evening, writing and thinking about joy and generosity whilst watching the BBC news coverage of the latest instances of parliamentary Brexit chaos. And I realise that being reminded of generosity and self-giving, and seeking to live them fully won't make whatever is happening with Brexit or austerity or xenophobia or anything else any less dismal or unstable... but hopefully, it will make me a better, more joyous and open-hearted person to be around in these sadly desperate times...

With God's grace, wherever this particular religious may be, there will be joy.