The secret to making a true ‘season of joy,’ even in the midst of suffering by Evan Stambaugh for Life Site News
Our enjoyment of participating in the divine good is ‘obtained according to the measure of one’s charity,’ as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it.
Joy to the world. Joyful all ye nations rise. O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.
The lyrics to some of the most popular Christmas songs make conspicuous mention of “joy,” as you can see in the examples above. You may have even heard Christmas described as the “season of joy.” That’s because Christmas is a time to rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in the promise that He will come again.
But what exactly is “joy”? Is it an emotion? A virtue? How do we go about making this Christmas a true season of joy, especially if we’re falling on hard times, struggling with habitual sin, suffering through the “holiday blues,” or dealing with the pain of losing a loved one?
Per usual, Saint Thomas Aquinas can offer us some remarkable insight here. He writes in the Summa Theologiae that joy is a passion of the soul caused primarily by the theological virtue of charity (sacrificial love) but also that of hope. He argues that this spiritual joy can be compatible with an “admixture” of sorrow or sadness, insofar as joy pertains to “the divine good as participated by us.” This is because the circumstances of living in a fallen world can and do hinder our participation in the divine good, or the participation of our beloved.
These hindrances include any number of natural or moral evils, such as sin, illness, and death. They cause us to grieve because they separate us or our beloved from enjoying the divine good. They remind us the human race was not created to suffer evil and loss but to blissfully know and love God in His unmediated presence.
Thankfully, God the Father gave us His only begotten Son because He loves us and wills us to know and love Him. Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection opened the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in Him, and as believers we can be confident we will eventually take complete joy in that unmediated presence of God in the beatific vision. But His passion, death, and resurrection could not have taken place unless He first became man. The Son’s taking on human flesh and being born of a woman is God’s supreme act of love for us. We didn’t merit or deserve it, yet He still freely chose to make it happen. The birth of Christ in time is an indescribably magnificent gift, and rejoicing in this gift is a most fitting response on our part.