Ode to joy

I've been reading Evangelii Gaudium this Lent - the first time I've ever chosen a papal document for my Lenten reading. It hasn't been entirely smooth and straightforward. There have been times when I've needed to stop and re-read something because of the complexity of what is being said, but many more times I've simply stopped and re-read because of the sheer loveliness of what I'm reading. It can be tempting to skim, whereas what I really need to do is take the words in and savour them.

Unsurprisingly, given its title, there's a lightness and a joy which suffuses the whole document - even the bits I've found a bit heavy. If the opening lines of any book or article have an important function not just in setting the scene but in setting the tone and grabbing the reader's attention, the opening lines here are no exception: The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.

But what is this joy? My dictionary gives various definitions, which give two facets of the word. One is externally seen, an outward show of pleasure or delight; the other is more interior, a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment. Thus joy can be quiet - a deep, peaceful savouring - or it can be exuberant and energising. It can spring from or lead to deep trust, hope or peace, even in the midst of trial or pain. What it can never be is manufactured or partial. We can't be "slightly joyful" or "a bit delighted" - to claim we are would be to misunderstand the very nature of the joy we say we are experiencing.

At its surest and deepest joy is a God-given grace. As I wrote last year (here) it is what Michael Ivens SJ describes as ...the joy which springs from a still-more fundamental grace, that of the faith and love that make the risen Christ, though invisible, the very core of the believer's existence. This, surely, is the joy the pope is writing about: a joy poured into us by our encounter with Jesus; a joy which cannot be contained or kept secret, but can only overflow into all our actions and interactions.


  1. Thank you for writing this, Silvana, as I have been finding joy in pondering The Joy of the Gospel, too. It is full of joy but always centered on Jesus.


Post a Comment