Spiritual joy is, as its name denotes, the joy that the heart of man experiences in the possession and enjoyment of spiritual gifts. He is joyful because he knows that God has deigned to call him His friend and His child, that he lives under the protection of the Most High, and that he hopes soon to be united to God his Father in eternal bliss. All those who follow the path of perfection are in this state; and as there are no riches to be compared with those they possess, they ought to be the most joyful of mankind.
And yet many are not so, and few are so always, because they do not sufficiently consider what cause for joy they possess. I feel an interest in them; and as all they need is to know their own happiness, I wish to draw their attention to it, to induce them to remember what they are — children and friends of God and heirs of His kingdom. This beautiful subject is always fruitful, and it will confirm the truths I have been speaking of, and show still more clearly how mistaken people are in thinking that humility is always sad — who look on the joy that the servants of God experience as presumption and try to disturb them by putting fear into their hearts.
This mistake arises from a want of discernment in confounding worldly happiness with the divine and supernatural joy that, having infinite good for its object, can never be too great and becomes more and more perfect as we know God more. The blessed ones in Heaven experience this; and if I can persuade anyone to believe this truth, either from reason or authority, I am certain they also will understand it.
There is not a word in Holy Scripture that forbids the servants of God to rejoice in Him. It is true that Solomon said that “the heart of the wise is where there is mourning, and the heart of the fool is where there is mirth” (Eccles. 7:5); but he evidently meant to praise a wise gravity and modesty, and to blame frivolity and dissipation.
As for spiritual joy, I would never end if I were to quote all the passages of Holy Writ that praise it. I will merely mention some of the most striking. David speaks most beautifully of it, sometimes declaring it to be the heritage of God’s servants: sometimes entreating the Lord to infuse it into his soul for his nourishment and delight. At one time, he proclaims the blessedness of those who have drunk at its source; at another, he invites all the just to rejoice in the Lord:
The just shall rejoice in the Lord. Let Israel rejoice in him that made him, and let the children of Sion be joyful in their King. The saints shall rejoice in glory: they shall be joyful in their beds.
O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden from them that fear thee! Give joy to the soul of thy servant, for to thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul: for thou, O Lord, art sweet, and mild, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon thee. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. Blessed is the people that knoweth jubilation: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance, and in thy name shall they rejoice all the day.
Glory ye in his holy Name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Serve ye the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with exceeding great joy. O taste and see that the Lord is sweet: blessed is the man that hopeth in him. Come, let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully sing to God our Savior. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye just, and glory, all ye right of heart.
After the holy king comes Solomon, who says of sadness: “As a moth doth by a garment and a worm by the wood, so the sadness of a man consumeth the heart” (Prov. 25:20); and of joy: “I have known that there was no better thing than to rejoice” (Eccles. 3:12). And again: “The joyfulness of the heart is the life of a man, and a never-failing treasure of holiness, and the joy of a man is length of life” (Sir. 30:23); and again: “Give not up thy soul to sadness, and afflict not thyself in thy own counsel . . . for sadness hath killed many, and there is no profit in it” (Sir. 30:22, 25).
St. Peter and St. Paul treat the subject in the same manner. The former, in his first epistle, exhorts the faithful, “as newborn babes, to desire the rational milk without guile . . . if so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet” (1 Pet. 2:2–3). And this Cardinal Hugues interprets: “You will have this ardent desire if you have already learned the grandeur and the beauty of divine sweetness.” St. Paul strongly urges his converts to preserve interior joy as their only defense against sadness and scrupulosity. “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,” he writes to the Romans (15:13); to the Colossians: “Let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts” (3:15); to the Philippians: “May the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ” (4:7). To the Galatians, enumerating the fruits of the Spirit, he mentions, first: charity, joy, and peace; to the Thessalonians: “Always rejoice” (1 Thess. 5:16); and again to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (4:4). Once more to the same body of Christians: “My brethren, rejoice in the Lord: to write the same things to you, to me indeed is not wearisome, but to you is necessary” (Phil. 3:1).
And to this convincing evidence we may add the authority of our divine Lord. When the Pharisees censured in His presence the joy of the apostles, He replied: “Can the children of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). You whom He has espoused in love, fear not, therefore, to displease Him by your joy. Has He not said besides: “Rejoice in this, that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20)? And again: “Be glad and rejoice, for behold your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Holy Confidence: The Forgotten Path for Growing Closer to God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.