Jesus said that he wanted his joy to be in others. (John 15.11) Can we “give” experiences of joy to people, or, can anyone cause another to become joyful? While we might not literally be able to take our joy and directly initiate the same response in someone else, true joy is positively infectious. That is, when we spontaneously manifest an experience of joy in the presence of people who are aware of the circumstances to which we are responding, they are quite liable to become joyful themselves.
When we desire to share joy, not as a projection of control, we certainly cannot cause harm, whether or not anyone actually resonates with the positive energy that moves within and beyond us. Joy is an honest and whole-hearted response to external and internal perceptions of reality. Joy is of God. We cannot directly cause it even for ourselves, but our attitude of openness, and even our expectation of God’s goodness to us, has much to do with how often and to what degree we experience joy. And if we are joyful persons, we want others to share in the goodness that is not under our control to either receive or to give.
God not only made us capable of experiencing joy, but also arranged that our bodies, minds and spirits would, unless we deliberately restrain ourselves, give witness to the movement of grace within us that we call joy. The flow of the living water from the gift we have received readily irrigates nearby hearts that are receptive. We do not have make a special effort to inform people that our joy overflows, though we surely might give voice to our experience, and freely express it in some of the many ways that we communicate with one another.
When Jesus remarked that he wanted to share his joy, what might that mean for us? Clearly, he must be experiencing joy, much joy, if he desires that we have the same gracious movement of the Spirit within us. We could imagine that one source of continuing joy would be his relationship with “Abba” as he called God the Father, in which the ongoing communion is so personal as to be identified as the Holy Spirit. We cannot exactly share in that particular joy, since we are not God. But Jesus also takes great joy in every least bit of trust and love that we have for him and for one another. To share his joy would be for us to consciously engage in thoughts, words and actions of trust and love.
If we cannot create joy directly, we certainly can make decisions that are within our present capabilities of trusting God’s love for us. We can reflect on the daily small and occasionally great gifts of God’s love at work in us, and open ourselves to the “ordinary mysticism” of inspirations that move us in creative love for others.
The words of Jesus about sharing his joy become real and effective in us the more we accept the reality of his love directed towards as if we were dearly important to him – which we are.
Father Randy Roche, SJ, Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has an M.A. in Theology from Santa Clara University, and an M.S. in Counseling from San Diego State. He has served as LMU Director of Campus Ministry, Rector of the Jesuit Community at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Director of Studies and Spiritual Director at the Jesuit Novitiate, and as Pastor, Superior, and Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry at the Newman Center in Honolulu.
Throughout his years of ministry, he has continuously deepened his own experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, while also acting as a guide in the Exercises for lay people and religious. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Ignatian spirituality as a tool for discernment in decision-making.