A Supersubstantial Joy [Pope Francis Bookclub]

A Supersubstantial Joy [Pope Francis Bookclub] January 21, 2014

In 2014, I’m reading and blogging through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus.  Every Monday (except this week, because of MLK Day), I’ll be writing about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.

Pope Francis opened his book with joy, and he returns to it again in only the third chapter.  The word that came to mind, reading this section, was epousios.  Epousios is the word in the Our Father that we translate as ‘daily,’ but it’s a difficult word to pin down.  The word is a hapax legomenon — it has only been found, in the whole corpus of Greek writing, in the Lord’s Prayer.

St. Jerome translated epousios as supersubstantialem in his Vulgate.  In English, it’s exactly what it looks like: supersubstantial.  So the one word describing God’s gift of bread can be as literally quotidian as ‘daily’ and as odd but promising as ‘supersubstantial.’

That seems to be the kind of joy that Pope Francis writes about and is alight with.  It’s more that we could imagine asking for, and yet it is available to us daily, woven throughout the normal parts of our lives.

We need to be faithful to this joy and not just “enjoy” it as something that belongs only to us.  The joy is there for our astonishment; it is there for us to communicate it to others.  This joy opens us to the freedom that comes with being children of God.  By placing us in God, this joy separates us from things that confine and imprison us and from situations that take away our freedom.  That is why the joyful heart is always growing freer.

As a sign of Christ’s presence, joy shapes the habitual state of the consecrated person.  We therefore naturally seek out consolation not for its own sake, but as a sign of the Lord’s presence.

Six or so years ago, when I was just starting college, I would have been terribly suspicious of that last paragraph.  I was terribly enthused about Kant and Stoicism, and both taught me to be suspicious of lusting after joy.  I preferred duty and serenity.  I liked, unironically, “Falling in Love with Love” from Cinderella.

Enjoying joy too much seemed self-indulgent, and liable to lead to corruption.  How could I trust myself to act rightly if my actions were swayed by the feelings I had about the people I was interacting with?  Joy or resentment, each was suspect as a distraction from moral law, or, at least my best approximation of it.

Oddly, I never imposed or thought to impose this rigidity on the joy I did feel.  I had what Pope Francis describes as one of the fruits of joy, “missionary enthusiasm,” but only for books, plays, mathematics.  I showed them to people, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to show off people to people, or to love someone with that kind of fierce particularity.

I still have moments of suspicion or misgiving about joy that’s linked to something as fallible or confusing as people, but, luckily, I feel it mostly when I’m ruminating on it in the abstract, not as a distraction from joy when it occurs.

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