I still remember that afternoon. Dressed in her black Ursuline nun’s habit, Mother Mary Edith was on playground duty. It was a very hot day. The white starched collar and scalp covering wrapped around the nun’s face so that only her half-circle face was visible, and on that day, that face was very red from the heat. Some children were gathered around her, chatting, and one of them must have asked her how she felt standing out there in such hot weather. Mother Mary Edith smiled and burst into a little song about joy.
That made quite an impression on me at my preteen age; I still remember that smile and that ditty after so many years. She was joyful, even when she had to have been so uncomfortable. Was she happy in such heat? Probably not. She was joyful, and that leads me to some thoughts about joy versus happiness.
I compare joy and happiness to climate and weather. Joy is more a state of being, a condition, an atmosphere, while happiness is more fleeting, more on the surface, more subject to change. Joy gives us fullness. The Bible has many verses that mention joy, and they are easy to find. For example, Psalm 126:5-6 tells us:
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
A person does not even need to be born to leap for joy at the presence of Jesus. When Mary visited Elizabeth, we read, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy! (Luke 1:44). During that same visit, in Mary’s praise prayer, the Magnificat, we read how she was so overwhelmed with joy. (Luke 1:46-55) Nowadays many of us can feel overwhelmed with stress. Let us move to where there is a climate of joy instead! We can pray Mary’s prayer for some solace.
When we choose joy, as my teacher, Mother Mary Edith, had, we choose to live with a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Mother will never know how much she has influenced my life. Another day, in religion class, we were reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus. When we came to the end of the story, after the voice from the cloud told the disciples to listen to Jesus, and Jesus came and touched his fearful followers, the scripture says they looked up and saw no one but Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8) Mother Mary Edith’s reaction said it all: No one but Jesus! Really? What more could anyone want? Jesus is and always will be the most we could ever want to look up and see! In Jesus we find hope and joy.
It is not magic. To be joyful we have work to do. I think you will agree, though, that it is truly worth the effort:
Mother Mary Edith taught classes of fifty students at a time—to my knowledge, never ruler-whacking the knuckles of even the most challenging young boys—walked with a slight limp, and lived a humble, holy life. I saw her a number of years after I had graduated from grammar school, and she still seemed to be her joyful self. I guess her life motto must have been: The joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10b).
Photo credit: Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.