Joy-wielding lives

St. Symeon the New Theologian

This quote from St Symeon the New Theologian really captured my attention this morning:

Towards God, it is an obligation to keep your conscience clear by avoiding the things you are aware that He neither likes nor give Him any joy.

What a compelling way to think of one’s moral life — not as the mere avoidance of evil, as conformity to the divine law or adherence to some abstract idea of being good or just or virtuous, but rather as “bringing joy to God” and avoiding all that might steal his joy.

Though it is true that within our philosophically constructed notions of divine self-sufficiency and all-completeness (e.g. God is pure actuality, incapable of being “added to”) such a way of thinking might seem mere poetic play, a biblical vision of God allows our theological imagination ample space to marvel over the truth that God’s joy has forever bound itself to human joy (think Luke 15:7); and all that by means of His unspeakably com-passionate love.

And what is joy but the delight born of loving and being loved?

I think here especially of St. Maximus’ theologically daring manner of expressing this mysterious tension in God between His transcendent perfection and His untamed desire to implicate Himself in the vagaries of human existence:

…the Cause of all things, through the beauty, goodness and profusion of His intense love for everything, goes out of Himself in His providential care for the whole of creation. By means of the supraessential power of ecstasy, and spell-bound as it were by goodness, love and longing, He relinquishes His utter transcendence in order to dwell in all things while yet remaining within Himself. Hence those skilled in divine matters call Him a zealous and exemplary lover, because of the intensity of His blessed longing for all things…in other words, He thirsts to be thirsted for, longs to be longed for, and loves to be loved

When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters taught me a phrase that was meant to mark all my work with the residents of their home for the dying: “Our work is to bring God’s joy to the joyless and by so doing to bring joy to God. This is the work of love.”

Pray today that you might bear well the burden of this marvelous mandate: in all you do, call God’s heavenly joy down to earth so that you might then lift up to Him earth’s echoing  joy and give Him fresh cause to be surprised by joy anew.

Sursum corda!

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