When Joy is Wrong
According to St John of the Cross
We’re all aware we shouldn’t take inordinate pleasure in earthly/temporal goods (which remains a problem for most of us).
Affected by the original sin of Adam and Eve, we tend to focus too much on the things of this world. The clichés of women craving shoes and men drooling over cars is rooted in reality. We like stuff.
Again, it’s not that any of these things are intrinsically evil. When God created the world, he called it “good” [cf Genesis 1]. The problem is that these earthly things can easily distract us from heavenly matters. We know that.
But what is John talking about with regard to other, less “worldly” goods? Isn’t marriage always good? Aren’t we always to be proud of our children (except, of course, when they start screaming at the top of their lungs after you’ve settled into the front row of a packed Mass).
In one sense, the answer is yes. Marriage is good. Children are good. They’re amazing gifts from God.
But John makes a very important distinction in his masterpiece The Ascent of Mt. Carmel:
“One should rejoice in them if they are serving God…It would be vanity,” for example, “for a husband and wife to rejoice in their marriage when they are uncertain whether God is being better served by it.”
Earlier in this passage, he says there is no reason to rejoice in children “because they are rich, or endowed with natural talents and gifts, or because they are wealthy.” True joy in them comes only when they are serving God.
In other words, whatever isn’t giving glory to God needs to be worked on or helped along until it does, because that’s what life is all about. How do we do that? The basics. Prayer, fasting, instruction, etc… St. John is basically encouraging us to take a hard look at ourselves, our family, and our relationships, so that all areas of our lives bring more joy to ourselves and Christ.
Like all the saints, he desires nothing less than the best for all of us.
Editor’s Note: For more of Matthew Leonard’s practical Catholic wisdom, check out his book: Louder Than Words – The Art of Living as a Catholic.
Art for this post on when joy is wrong: Parental Joy, Karl (Kirill) Lemoh (1841-1910), undated, PD-US; Detail of St John of the Cross from The Virgin of the Carmen with Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, Juan Rodríguez Juárez (1675-1728), undated, PD-US published before January 1, 1923; both Wikimedia Commons.