Choose Joy…Alive in the Spirit

Every September, I very much enjoy celebrating Mass for our three Catholic high schools in order to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the new school year and to have the opportunity to welcome the students back to school. I also enjoy granting an extra holiday for the school year which has become a tradition during the past years. We are blessed in our Diocese with three outstanding Catholic high schools — Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach, John Carroll in Fort Pierce and St. John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton. All three have different characteristics but they truly represent what the best of Catholic education is all about and are a model of why it is important to support Catholic education. We have very good reason to be proud of our Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach, of the faculty and staff which take care of them and of the young people who represent the spirit of the schools, the promise of today and the hope for the future.

John Carroll High School decided on a theme for the year which is a very good one for all of us, no matter what our age or background, to reflect upon. The theme is Choose Joy… Alive in the Spirit. What is striking to me about the theme is that it calls us to choose joy. We usually think of joy as something that takes hold of us or something that we possess. We may choose a particular thing because it is going to bring us joy but we usually do not think of choosing joy in itself. Yet, if someone wants to be joyful in life, it is a concrete choice to make and from that, everything else falls in place. When we wake up in the morning, it is good for us to decide each day to choose joy in itself and, no matter how important or significant they may be, not to choose the things in themselves which will bring us joy.

When we think about it and look around the world today, not everyone chooses joy. As we reflect upon this, we realize that some people choose the opposite of joy by being cynical, critical, somber and un-trusting in general. In this regard, certain people choose things they think will bring them joy even if, in themselves, these things are not good. They seem to find joy in being unhappy. As hard as it may seem to believe, it is possible to choose unhappiness. Perhaps we all know people who choose to complain rather than complement, to criticize rather than critique and to distrust rather than to evaluate. This brings a distorted sense of joy in which some take delight in the misfortunes of others. This is what Jesus refers to when he says, “John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Lk 7:33-34).

The best example of not choosing joy is at the very beginning of creation when Adam and Eve, made in the image and likeness of God to be joyful as God himself, chose the opposite of what would make them happy. They gave in to the temptation that God was holding out on them and they could find a better way than God’s to be happy. Adam and Eve were not happy to be the persons God made them to be and chose to be something else which would place them over others in a domineering way. Their choice was the original sin which disrupted God’s creation and brought unhappiness to Adam and Eve. God would not destroy them because of His love for them and His desire for them to be happy even though they disrupted creation. Ultimately, he sent his own son, Jesus Christ, into the world who came to bring us joy by our choice of him.

The first day of October has brought with it the celebration of a saint well known for her joy. That saint is Therese of Lisieux, known as “the Little flower.” Therese was joyful not because happy things always came her way but because she always chose to be joyful and to find, even in the most difficult aspects of her life, the joy which God brought to her. St. Therese lived in the latter part of the 19th century, died at the young age of 24 after an illness that brought her great suffering, but through which she continued to choose joy and to be a model of joy for others. She entered the monastery at a young age and because of her joyful attitude became the center of the monastery and her joyful spirit spread beyond the monastery. The influence of this simple child of God who lived a short life made a tremendous and speedy impact upon the lives of popes, bishops, priests, religious and those of every other vocation in life. Of Therese’s simple but profound works are a number of poems she wrote. One is titled, “My Peace and my Joy.” It begins, “How many souls on earth there are, who vainly seek for peace and rest! With me, ‘tis otherwise by far, joy dwells forever in my breast. No fading blossom is this flower, of its decay no fear have I; like a fragrant rose in springtime’s bower so fair it is, yet shall not die.”

The poem goes on to describe the joy that was at the heart of St. Therese’s life and that caused her to be a source of joy for others. She truly chose joy knowing that it was not what she thought would make her happy but what God knew would make her happy.

Another saint, recently canonized, known for her joy, is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa took her name after that of St. Therese and truly was a model of joy in our world so much in need of true joy. St. Teresa of Calcutta stood among the rich and famous of our world, not as one of them, but with the poor and those in need. She exuded a joy in her life and always a smile for everyone because she chose joy and not things that she thought would bring her joy. She was an extraordinary model of joy, compassion, understanding and love for the dignity of every person made in the image and likeness of God. Mother Teresa expressed that, “You give the most when you give joy.” She also expressed the wise words, “Be happy in the moment —that’s enough—each moment is all we need—not more.” Choosing joy means accepting the moment before us and not dwelling on the past or the future, for it is in the present moment that we live where God is present.

As we move through October, dedicated to Mary, she stands before us as the perfect model of joy because she chose joy and not which she thought would bring her joy. The perfect example of Mary’s joy is her acceptance of God’s will to be the mother of his son when she did not completely understand what this meant but knew that accepting God’s will would bring her joy. As she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, she did so with a joy that filled both Elizabeth and John the Baptist in her womb with joy. Mary is the one who always chose what God wanted and not what she wanted. As we make a concerted effort to choose joy in our lives, Mary stands before us as the one who began the process of reversing the sin of Adam and Eve.

Choose Joy… Alive in the Spirit. We thank the students of John Carroll High School for choosing this theme for their year and we thank all of the students of our Catholic high schools for their choice of Catholic education that truly will bring them joy.