The theme of joy kept coming up in my morning readings today.
"Joy? But it's Lent. Aren't you supposed to be sour-faced and serious?"
Not at all. One saint remembered today is Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother:
Baptized as Francis (after his hometown saint in Asissi) in 1838, he was from a family of thirteen children. Though fun-loving and well liked, Francis was bored and felt like something was missing. During two different illnesses he promised the Virgin Mary that if he recovered he would become a religious. He recovered, but didn't fulfill his promise.
During a procession he saw the icon of the Sorrowful Mother and she looked right at him. Then he heard a voice say, "Francis, the world is not for you anymore." He entered the Passionist monastery at the age of eighteen and took the name "Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother".
St. Gabriel spent most of his time thinking about the passion of Jesus and how much the Lord had suffered for him. He loved the Holy Eucharist and the Virgin Mary. You would think that his constant meditation on the suffering of Christ and sorrow of His Mother would make him gloomy, yet he was always happy and spread that happiness to those around him.
"Innocence alone gives true joy," declared Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus (another Passionist Father and contemporary of St. Gabriel), "Those who seek to serve God, to please God, and to despise the world, feel a joy very different from the poisoned joy of worldlings. Their joy is the joy grounded on religion, altogether spiritual, all conformable with the nature of the soul; and this alone is able to content and satiate it. Their joy is a sweet joy, a tranquil joy, an abundant joy, which nothing can disturb, which must be possessed in order to form the right idea of it. Join yourself to good people in their practices of piety, in their spiritual exercises, in visiting churches; but keep from profane amusements, where there breathes nothing but profligacy and licentiousness. Fly from noise and dissipation; love solitude and retirement; for there God speaks to the heart and gives real gladness" ~From The Christian Armed Against the Seductions of the World and the Illusions of His own Heart (1865)
Frederick William Faber explained that Mary's sorrow was caused by her love, "O Mother! we cannot tell how it was, only that so it was! You were all joy, and being so near God, how could you help but be so? You were all sorrow, and what else could you be in those dark abysses of the Passion? And your sorrow had no power over your joy; but your joy had power over your sorrow, and gave it a brisker acid, a more volatile and pervasive bittreness! Glad creature! sorrow crushed you, and then a joy, like that of heaven, sat upon your burden, and made it tenfold more hard to bear!"
~The Foot of the Cross (1858)
Cardinal Suenens of blessed memory said that suffering does not destroy hope, "...joy lies at a depth beyond the reach of man. Joy is something Christ Himself expressly promised to His disciples: 'Your gladness will be one nobody can take away from you.' (Jn. 16:22) The promise was explicit, the pledge sacred. Every Christian who is obedient to the law of God holds the key of serenity and joy in his hands, if he submits to the filial way to all the demands of that law. Christianity is in itself a source of happiness to the individual, tha family and society."
~Christian Life Day by Day (1964)
"O my God, when shall I begin to be wise, and seek real joy in Thee only and in Thy love? This very day--yea, this very moment!" ~Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, C.P.