By Most Reverend Joseph R. Cistone
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart…Down in my heart to stay!”

Children sing this song with great enthusiasm and proclaim: “I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.” Herein lies a deep truth about the gift of “joy.” True joy has, at its root, the love of Jesus, the confident conviction that we are loved by God and, because of that love, we can always be joyful.

The words “happiness” and “joy” are often used interchangeably; but, I have found it helpful to view a distinction. Happiness, in a worldly sense, is a passing feeling. It is rooted in one’s own pleasure at a given moment. Happiness comes from without and is something we look for as a result of an experience or event. The challenges of life often have a way of diminishing our happiness.

Joy, on the other hand, is lasting and contagious. It is rooted in Jesus Christ and desires the well-being of others. Joy is something we carry with us to every experience and event. Disappointment may dampen my happiness but not my joy.

Think for a moment. People go to parties to have a good time. Most parties are enjoyable and you leave in a happy mood. Some parties, however, have a way of quickly going sour. An off-hand comment, a crude joke, an obnoxious guest or an uncomfortable conversation. On these occasions, you are actually happier when the party is over!

Joy is rooted in our Christian Faith. It relies not on the accidents and fleeting happiness of this life but on the abiding presence of God and the love of Jesus, our Savior, within us. There is a story of a wealthy native of India who became a Christian. Immediately after being baptized, all his possessions were taken from him. Even his wife and children disowned him. One day, the man was asked: “Are you able to bear your troubles?” The poor man replied: “Many people ask me that but never ask me whether I am able to bear my joys. Since I have known Christ, I enjoy a happiness in my heart which no one has been able to take from me!”

Recently I helped serve lunch at St. John’s Hospice for homeless men. Talk about a reason not to be happy. These men have lost their jobs, homes, all worldly possessions, even their families. They search for their next meal and cannot afford the smallest indulgence. Yet, in many of these men there was an obvious inner joy. One man in particular kept coming back just to tell me another joke. Others were quick to talk about their relationship with God and to wish me a “God Bless You.”

Jesus came to earth to proclaim joy. At His birth, the angels announced: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” Throughout His life on earth, Jesus brought joy: to the sorrowing, the poor, those facing death. On the night before He died, Jesus spoke intimately to His disciples about His Father’s love and promised to be with them even after His death and resurrection. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”

True joy is not naive. It is fully aware of the dangers of life but also the grace of God at work in us. “You will grieve but your grief will become joy…and no one will take your joy away from you.” Certainly, life’s trials can, at times, obscure our joy. Prayer and the sacraments are ready means to rekindle the gift.

In Advent, we wait with “joyful anticipation” for the coming of our Savior; but, we do so in a symbolic way because Christ was born in Bethlehem. He is already in our hearts and minds and lives. It is that joy of knowing the Lord is with us which we carry with us wherever we go.

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart…Down in my heart to stay!”