He dwells among us: Intoxicating joy

What a different world it would be if Catholics lived with the joy of the new wine

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

They have had too much new wine. — Acts 2:13

The mocking reaction of some toward the Apostles following the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost speaks to a beautiful truth of Christian living that the saints describe as “sober intoxication.” For it was St. Paul who said, “Do not get drunk on wine…, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).

What a different world it would be if Catholics lived with the joy of this new wine!

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who declared “God is dead,” perhaps came to this conclusion because of the observation he made of Christians of his day — “They have no joy.” St. Teresa of Avila observed something similar in her religious community when she said, “God protect me from gloomy saints.” What a tragic thing to be said of any Catholic whose outward life should be a reflection of their heart’s joy in Christ.

When I think of someone I know who always seems to express the joy of Christ in his heart, I think of my dear friend Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. His episcopal motto—Ad Quem Ibimus, “To Whom Shall We Go?” (Jn 6:68)—is well chosen for it directs people to look to Christ for what they are searching for in life. “To whom shall we go…” for the joy we long to have in our hearts?

Though I take pleasure in watching a Cardinals baseball game and eating foods I probably shouldn’t, and find happiness in a good winning streak and especially a World Series championship, joy is something far beyond even these. I am reminded of this joy every time, by virtue of my office as a bishop, when I lay hands upon those to be confirmed or ordained and invoke the Holy Spirit upon them. As a bishop, this is my special joy.

But joy is intimately connected to our ongoing conversion in Christ and is therefore a demanding joy. Here I think of the rich young man’s encounter with Christ who went away sad after Jesus told him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me” (Mt 19:21).

He was invited to follow Christ but departed in sadness to follow his own path because he valued and loved the finite treasures of Earth more than the promise of a far greater treasure and love.

But even people who have given their lives to following Christ experience obstacles to joy in their daily spiritual journey, even in the small choices we must make. St. Teresa of Kolkata noted this among her sisters, saying, “When I see someone sad, I always think she is refusing something to Jesus.” Indeed, joy necessarily means a deeper praying of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane—“Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).

To be sure, there is sadness to the degree that we withhold anything from Christ, or worse, seek our fruitfulness apart from Him. This was the grave sin of Adam and Eve who sought a fruit apart from their communion with God.

But Jesus reminds us, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). As such, frustration and sadness are but the natural consequence of searching for divine fruit among the sterile fields of the material and earthly. And as Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, “To a man who has never rooted the soul in the Divine every trouble exaggerates itself.”

St. Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and lists it immediately after the first and most essential fruit—love (see Gal 5:22). Joy is caused by love and the consequence of joy is peace. Who of us would not want in their relationship with Christ the fruits of love, joy, and peace? And let us not forget the other fruits that St. Paul and the Church remind us of: patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

These fruits come from a divine seed that Christ Jesus sows, for He is the gardener of souls (cf. Jn 20:15), and it is the Holy Spirit who makes our field fertile and capable of receiving the seed and giving it growth. But for our field to flower and produce its fruit, the Holy Spirit needs our consent and cooperation. So a great question to ask of ourselves is, “What kind of soil am I?”

Any reflection on joy, therefore, will benefit tremendously by a prayerful reading of Matthew 13, as well as John 15-17. Jesus wants His joy to be in us that our “joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11) and our fruitfulness abundant, “a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold” (Mt 13:8).

In your examination of conscience, which should be a daily discipline, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to see more clearly what keeps you from experiencing the fruitfulness that Christ longs for us to have. A laudable practice that I recommend is to reflect upon the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit, listed above, as you prepare for the sacrament of confession.

Among the beautiful titles the Church celebrates in honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of my favorites is “Cause of Our Joy.” For if sadness entered our world through Eve’s disobedience, Christ Our Joy enters into our hearts through Mary’s total “yes” to God’s love.

As it was Mary at the Wedding at Cana who told Christ, “They have no more wine” (Jn 2:3), so, too, she asks Christ to give us the wine of His joy—the “fruit of the vine” that becomes “our spiritual drink” in every Mass.

In the beautiful prayer Anima Christi, we pray, “Blood of Christ, inebriate me.” May you drink to intoxication of this most wonderful wine!

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