Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a friend of a friend of mine. He assumed that since I was a Sister, I taught in a classroom. After I explained what my ministry actually was, he asked, “Do you miss teaching?” I responded, “I still am! My classroom is not merely a single room within a school building, but rather, through the written word, retreats and presentations, I teach within the boundaries of the Diocese of Harrisburg.” Intrigued, he continued, “What’s the difference in teaching in a classroom and your ministry now?” Beaming, I answered, “I loved teaching in the classroom, but what I do now is all joy! Through the written and the spoken word and the aid of technology, I illustrate as well as explain Jesus’ amazing love for each and every one of us!”
I was reminded of this conversation as I reflected on the recent Fiat Days that the Diocese of Harrisburg conducted within the sacred walls of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg July 5-7. Father Brian Wayne, Director of Vocations, in his opening address to the parents of the young women attending the retreat, said that when you find consecrated women, you experience true joy.
So, what is this joy all about? I came across a blog by a group of Dominican Friars from Scotland and England that explained it this way: “First of all, joy is a sign of authenticity. It is almost impossible to feign joy. Usually, after a while, we recognize if someone is really happy or sad, even if that person feigns a smile. But of course, joy is something deeper than being cheerful. It can also come from some activities, commitments or a way of life, and that is even harder to feign. Joy is neither an aim nor a means to an end. Joy comes as a result of good actions, good choices, or good things which happen to us. A Dominican philosopher, Józef Maria Bocheński, once wrote: ‘A wise man is doing what he has to do, and joy is a by-product.’ … St. Thomas Aquinas adds: ‘Joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity: for which reason it is numbered among the fruits.’”1
In other words, joy is found by living with and for God. It is discovered by living in relationship to God, who is Father and Beloved. We see it at the moment when Mary greets Elizabeth. Mary sings out the prayer of the Magnificat as John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. We experience it as Jesus goes down into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized and the Father announces, “This is my beloved Son, my favor rests on him!” We experience in the words of a song that I sang as a child: “And the Father will dance as on a day of joy! He will exalt over you and renew you by His love!”
Joy is something that you can’t turn off like a light switch. It just is! In fact, it is a fruit that emerges from the Source that is much deeper than happiness. Joy comes from the ability to give self to another that is rooted in love.
As I prayed and played not only with the young women attending the Fiat Days retreat but also the diverse women representing various ways of living consecrated life, I experienced a joy that can be found within the warp and woof of consecrated life; self gift. The young women honestly sought out how God wanted them to serve him. The Sisters that were present represented the diversity of such a life; contemplatives, as well as those in active apostolic life, those who live within a cloister, convent or in apartments, those who wore traditional habits, modified habits or “regular” clothes and even a consecrated virgin!
Each and every one of the women present truly lived out what Pope Francis wrote: “We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness.”
To live this, to see this, to experience this, is truly all JOY!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness