Joy and happiness are indeed two different things


Judge Frank Caprio is something of a Rhode Island institution with a storied career in public service and law. He is also a man of humor, integrity and compassion. Recently, I was sorry to hear his announcement of a serious diagnosis and I was moved by his humble request for prayers. I have met Judge Caprio several times and I appreciate the wisdom he brings to conversation as well as the way in which he reflects on the human experience. It was very clear to me that in these qualities, he is a reflection of his family, and his parents in particular. He shared a meaningful story of his first day on the bench and how proud he was that his father was present. Afterwards, his father surprised him by critiquing one of his decisions. His father gently taught him that he had applied the law properly but failed to fully see the suffering of the human being in front of him. Judge Caprio credits that moment as having a tremendous influence on his work in the law. His father, a hard-working immigrant, did not have his son’s advantages of education and opportunity. Nonetheless, as a man of faith and integrity, the judge’s father taught him about basic humanity and compassion.
This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, a day when the Scriptures command us to rejoice: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks…” (1 Thess 16-18). This Sunday marks a shift in the Advent season as we draw nearer to the great Feast of Christmas. The Church uttered this summons to rejoicing from the very beginning of her life. During the fierce persecutions of the early Christians, during years of war and famine, through great plagues and years of want and misery, through all these centuries on this Sunday in Advent we have called out “rejoice!”
All this leads me to the conclusion that happiness and joy are two different things. If we consider that happiness is really an emotion, then we must acknowledge that joy is something else, for joy may fill us even in moments of fear, suffering and unhappiness. Joy flows not from the circumstances around us, but from the truth that we are loved. The birth of the Christ child into the world changes everything. He was born into poverty and brought the richness of God’s presence. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus draws us close to the heart of God. This new and renewed relationship with God by the gift of God’s beloved son transforms our earthly relationships as well. We see in his holy family the model and truth that even in difficult circumstances, it is enough to be together. When we love as we have been loved, when we participate in the Lord’s own compassion, then we know joy. For all the challenges around us, we can indeed “rejoice always.”
Judge Caprio, as you have requested, I will be praying for you, and I encourage all reading this to do the same. Over decades, you have lived the lessons taught to you by your good father. And perhaps it is that witness which offers you the most important assistance as you face tough news at Christmas. Your father knew struggle and want, but trusted God and gave himself to build a life for you and your family. Think of that gift and the family and friends who surround you and walk with you now. May that truth of love help you, and all of us, to rejoice always.