Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
I do not cease
to give thanks
as I remember you
in my prayers.
A Look at Joy
Human beings have their own idea of joy. Friedrich Schiller’s well known text “Ode to Joy,” sung at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, allows us to perceive by contrast the peculiar character of biblical joy. The joy that is sung about in the ode is the “beautiful spark of the gods, the daughter of Elysium.” People pass through the doors of her shrine “intoxicated with her fire,” and “all men become brothers where her gentle wing rests.” At the climax of enthusiasm, the hymn declares, “Be embraced, you millions! Here’s a kiss for all the world!”
If we turn from this ode to joy to Mary’s hymn of joy, the Magnificat, we notice the difference: “My soul,” Mary sings, “magnifies the Lord…for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” Schiller’s joy is a subjective joy, a cry that arises from someone’s heart; it is a request, not a response. But Mary’s joy is objective and arises from a joyous occurrence.
The perspective in “Ode to Joy” is mythological (joy is the “daughter of the gods”) and therefore fanciful and unreal; the biblical perspective is historical and based on the actions of God that always and unfailingly have their effect. The joy that people “partake of at Nature’s breast,” in Schiller’s words, is not meant for everyone: “Whoever has the good fortune to enjoy mutual friendship, / Whoever has taken a loving wife, let him join us in celebration!” As for the person who has not known these joys and who cannot rejoice, “let him steal away weeping,” the ode says.
How distant this is from Jesus, who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” Biblical joy is for everyone equally, and even in a special way for those who have not known many earthly joys. Despite all its limitations, the human desire for happiness is nevertheless an extremely positive sign inscribed in our very nature. It bears witness that we are created to be happy. But our hearts will always be restless until they rest in the One who is the font of all happiness.
(Excerpted from “Why joy is this?” by Raniero antalamessa, OFM, December 6, 2017)
May our heart
“always be restless”
until we rest in you, O God.