Reading (Acts 18:9-18) Gospel (St. John 16:20-23)
We see once again in the Gospel reading today the movement of the spiritual life, that there is going to be grief and there is going to be joy. And the interesting thing is the Lord tells us that we will grieve while the world rejoices, which means that what the world immerses itself in and thinks it finds joy in – including ourselves, at one point in our lives – suddenly we will realize that this is really a cause for grief. These sins that we committed, that we thought we were going to find some kind of joy in, that we were looking for some kind of consolation or whatever it might have been, that we took some sort of illicit pleasure in or selfishness or whatever the case might be, the day will come when the world, of course, continues to throw itself deep into its sinfulness, but with the conversion of the heart we will find it now a cause for grief rather than any kind of joy or any kind of consolation because we recognize that we have violated the Lord.
But then Our Lord tells us that the day will come when we will see Him again and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take that joy from us. Certainly, that is the description of Heaven, but it is the description also of this earth. After one goes through the purification in the spiritual life, the soul is united to Jesus and there is absolutely nothing that can take the joy away. All we need to do is look at the various apostles and all of the saints who have lived and we see the exact same pattern. When we look, for instance, at Saint Paul, in today’s reading you see that initially he was afraid. He had not yet been perfected. But the Lord told him just to hang on, that there would be no problem for him, and he continued to preach the Gospel. Eventually, it got to the point where he was rejoicing in the sufferings that he endured for the Lord. Saint Peter told the people to do the same thing: “Rejoice in the degree to which you share in Christ’s suffering.” Saint James says, “Count it pure joy when you are involved in any sort of trial.” The very things that we find to be a matter for grief are the very things that the apostles – after being purified enough – found to be the cause of their joy.
When we see this, we need to keep in mind that the people writing these things were the same ones who locked themselves in a room because they were terrified. And now they were rejoicing that they were found worthy to suffer on behalf of the Name. Any suffering that they endured became a cause for joy. So the things that the world finds a cause for grief saints find a cause for joy, and the very things that the world finds a cause for joy the saints find to be a cause for grief. This is the natural movement of the spiritual life: the ways of God on one hand, and the ways of the world on the other.
For most of us, at this point, having gone through initial conversion, we have probably one foot in both camps. We want to serve God and we want to rejoice in what God rejoices in for us, but yet we still find that we seek the worldly comforts and pleasures. For whatever odd reason, even though it has been proven to us thousands of times over that we are not going to find joy in the worldly things, we still are convinced by the old boy that we are going to do so and he keeps finding ways to trick us. But God will use that to help us see that it is all empty and it does not bring joy. It brings a momentary selfish sort of pleasure; it brings no lasting joy. Then once the selfish pleasure has ended, it drives us even deeper into the hole that we were trying to find some pleasure to get out of. We all know the pattern all too well and we keep falling into it.
But when we find the Lord then we find a lasting joy. There is momentary grief for times when we go through various purifications. When the soul is not yet perfected, it hurts, and we think that this is not the way we want to do things. But when we persevere through it, we will find that in fact these are the very things that are a cause for joy. And it is a joy that no one will ever be able to take from us because we are united with Jesus, the heart is focused on the Lord, and the things of the world are then meaningless because all that matters is God. When one is united with God it is pure joy, true joy – not pleasure, not momentary consolation, but a deep abiding peace and joy that no one can ever take away.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.