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The Search for Joy

One of my most favorite films is “Shadowlands”, a superb enactment of the autobiography of C.S. Lewis. Anthony Hopkins is cast as the unmarried Oxford university professor fully engaged in the life of the mind. An active mentor to his students he led a quiet life with friends, living with his brother in the quaint village of Oxford, England and in the shadow of the great university. The film is captivating on many levels, the beautiful countryside, the stunning halls of Oxford, the cast of wonderful actors and above all, it is Hopkins, the protagonist, who holds one’s attention.

The serene life of “Jack” (C.S. Lewis) is unsettled when the noted American poet, Joy Gresham (played by Deborah Winger) enters his small world with her child. Joy penetrates Jack’s cerebral armor and turns his world upside down – he falls in love with Joy. The story is powerful as one watches this unlikely couple discover the absolute, undefinable and authentic gift of love. For the first time in Jack’s life, an other becomes his center and he is surprised by joy.

In his earlier life, Lewis was a professed atheist and wrote about the reasonableness of atheism. His conversion to Catholicism was a notable event among the literary elite of England. Lewis had seen combat in World War I and was no stranger to suffering. Perhaps he retreated to a solitary life of academe as a result of his war experience. Nevertheless his emotional self was brought forth and blossomed as he found love.

I recall this film as I wonder about the Gospel we proclaim this Sunday (John 15:9-17). In this passage Jesus speaks of the Love in which you are held and without qualification explains that it is the identical love the Father has for Him. This is an exquisite statement! And for each of us to remain in this Love, Jesus explains, we need to keep His commandments. This is consistent with much we have learned through the years and yet it is ever new.

Also in this passage Jesus offers us an explanation of His motive, the Why He chose to teach and model this truth for us: “I have told you this so that my joy me be in you and your joy might be complete”. Imagine that! The reason behind all of this plan of God the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit is so that you would truly have and know “complete joy”.

I have grown increasingly fond of this passage – I believe it holds the key to actually understanding the very nature of Who our God is and how it is that God has created us. Of course, it is all about love. And is it not impossible to have love for someone and not want for them – joy? In fact, the only way joy can ever be experienced, known at any level at all is through love.

Anthony Hopkins is a truly great actor and never more so than when we find him wrestling out of his academic shell to embrace the unfamiliar experience of love, and the fruit of that love, joy. Every one of us goes through that wrestling in different ways and times – and I believe it is God who is seeking our escape, a release from whatever holds us back. For it is the Son of the Living God who has come among us so that we too, could be surprised by Joy.

Fr. Ronan