Ave Maria Meditations
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven.” (Mt. 5:12)
Reflection of Fr. Alfred Delp while in prison in the Advent of 1944, after months of torture, shackles, and confinement: he reflected on joy. He would be martyred by the Nazis two months later, on February 2, 1945.
The Conditions for True Joy
Well now, what is joy, true joy? The philosophers say it is satisfaction and emotional uplift in response to the goods at one’s disposal. That may be true of some phenomena of joy, but it is not joy itself. Otherwise, how could I attain to true joy in these times and in this situation? Is there any point in bothering about joy? Is joy not among those luxury items of life that have no place in the meager private area tolerated in wartime conversations? Certainly it has no place in a prison cell where someone is pacing back and forth, his hands in irons, his heart swelled by all the winds of longing, his head filled with worries and questions.
Someone must experience such a situation, must have it happen time and again, that suddenly the heart no longer can grasp the abundance of inflowing life and happiness, that suddenly, and without knowing why or how, the flags are in place once again over existence, and promises are valid again. One time or another, it might be the self-defense mechanism of existence fighting against crushing abuse and violation but not every time. It was so often a presentiment of good news on the way-such things do happen in our Monastery of the Hard Life. And often, soon afterward, resourceful love found a way to us with a gift of kindness at a time when this was not customary.
However, that was not all. There have been, and continue to be, times where one is comforted and spiritually uplifted: times where one sees the facts of the case exactly as real and hopeless as ever and yet is not grieved by it, but truly manages to turn the whole thing over to the Lord.
Joy in human life has to do with God. Creatures can bring us joy in various forms and can provide an occasion for joy and rejoicing, but the actual success of this depends upon whether we are still capable of joy and familiar with it. And that, again, is conditional upon our personal relationship to the Lord God. Only in God is man fully capable of life. Without Him, over time, we become sick. This sickness attacks our joy and our capability for joy. That is why man, when he still had time, made so much noise about joy. In the end, even that was no longer permitted. The prison (of the) world took him over so completely that even joy was valued and presented only as a means to employ for a new end. In order to be capable of true life, man must live according to a specific order and relationship to God. The capability of true joy and of living joyfully is itself dependent upon specific conditions of human life, upon particular attitudes regarding God. Where life does not perceive itself as taking place in community with God, it will be gray and gloomy and drab and calculating.
How should we live so that we are capable–or can become capable-of true joy? This question should occupy us more today than it has in the past. Man should take joy as seriously as he takes himself. And he should believe in himself, believe in his heart and in his Lord God, even through darkness and distress-that he is created for joy. This really means that we are created for a fulfilled life that knows its meaning and is certain of its capabilities. Such a life knows it is on the right path to perfection and allied with the angels and powers of God. We are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent, and touched at its deepest center by God Himself.
How should man live so that this happiness begins to grow in his heart, giving his eyes and face a brilliant shine and his hands a satisfying ability and success?
(There are) five conditions for true joy and the capability of joy named in (the) Gaudete Sunday liturgy. The meditative reflection upon these conditions for true joy is, at once, both a personal examination of conscience and a historical consideration of the development of joylessness in modern life. How could the substitute for joy spread itself so broadly that people now call “joy” what they never would have looked at or touched when they were healthy human beings? Perhaps we can regain a sense of what was within the saints, those great people who were capable of joy and whose eyes seemed made for the discovery of sources of joy everywhere. Saint Francis’ “Canticle to the Sun” is not mere lyrical rambling. It expresses the great inner freedom that enabled him to observe the intrinsic value and discover the fulfilling assignment within all things.
The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with conditions of our exterior life, but consist of man’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for him to sense, even in adverse external circumstances, what life is basically about.
Holiness and happiness intrinsically belong together. To the intellectual and challenging perspective of one who seeks to understand the whole, both the question of religiousness, as well as the question of joyous fulfillment versus joyless emptiness and desert wilderness, present themselves in an inseparable manner-whether applied to an era, a culture, or a personal life.
Moreover, they present themselves in a double sense. The first sense is that of the First Commandment. Life is ruled by eternal lordship and eternal order. It has to do with eternal values and attitudes. “Dominus prope est [The Lord is near]” must then mean that people have let this nearness sink into their consciousness, not merely into their memories, or into the repertoire of truths of which preachers regularly remind them. Then man can maintain the necessary tension, which is the only way a moral-eternal being can live. Then the abundance of reality is not a jumble of variables to which man attains, according to the various values he assigns to them; instead, it follows a hierarchically established order. Then man escapes the greedy imposition of a value that tries to own him, or at least he finds a fixed standpoint from which he can afford defense and resistance.
In order for men to attain to this destiny of life and ascend to this capability of deep breath and deep joy, a great conversion is needed, a great transformation of his being. This will be the result of individual exertion and the result of a great liberation that God will work in man… By ourselves and with our own strength alone, we will not manage it.
“God does not need great pathos or great works. He needs greatness of hearts. He cannot calculate with zeroes.” (Fr. Delp)