Joy, suffering and ‘Little James’? – Together Paper

We have a page published in the Together Paper at the start of each month. You can always read this article via the Wagga Wagga Diocese website, or catch up on it below:

Saint Teresa of Avila is often remembered for her humour. To her lively wit is attributed: “From silly
devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” And whilst she may have a point – sour-
faced saints are not exactly the most enticing of role models – it’s not always easy to maintain a
joyful persona. Harder still, to remain joyful in the face of trials. Just ask ‘Little James.’

In the series ‘The Chosen’ Saint James the Lesser is depicted with a disability. Whilst this may, or may
not, be historically accurate, this narrative arc has produced a scene that references the relationship
between joy and suffering. Jesus prepares his apostles for mission and, in doing so, explains that
they should:

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come
near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without
payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your
journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or
village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. (Matthew 10:5 – 11:1)
As challenging as these instructions are, it is apparent that something further is troubling Little
James. Later, he asks Jesus directly why he has given him authority to go on mission and heal in His
name, when Jesus has not healed him of his own infirmity.

“But think of the story you will have, especially in the journey to come, if I don’t heal you. To know
how to proclaim that you still praise God in spite of this. To know how to focus on all that matters so
much more than the body: to show that you can be patient with your suffering here on earth,
because you know you’ll spend eternity with no suffering. Not many people can understand that.”
And so the character of Little James is initiated into the reality of Christian joy: a joy that is not
incompatible with our sufferings. A joy that transcends the ordinary, to the extraordinary – the

Saint Josemaria Escriva explains: “Cheerfulness is a necessary consequence of our divine filiation, of
knowing that our Father God loves us with a love of predilection, that he welcomes us, helps us and
forgives us” (The Forge 332). In other words, joy comes from the knowledge that we are children of
God. Of course, it is also a gift of the Holy Spirit and needs to be cultivated in our hearts.

Saint John Paul II took this idea one step further: “God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of
living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.”

Joy is not the absence of sin, or suffering. True joy is found in our relationship with God. That same
relationship is the source of love and concern for others. Because we are made in His image and
likeness, the closer we draw to Him, the more we become like Him. The more He is able to orient us
to a loving service for others.

True joy then, is recognizing our dependence on our loving Creator, prioritising that relationship so
that we might love others as He has loved us. Father Sean Byrnes explains: “Every moment that God
gives to us is an opportunity to love Him, to serve others.” (Living Fullness Podcast S02 Episode 48)

Joy will not, however, eliminate your suffering. Like Little James, we will still encounter trials in this
life. Some will be heavier and more painful than others. When we are in the midst of these storms in
life, it is too easy to lose our peace and with it, our joy.

Overwhelmed by our challenges we dwell more on what we’re struggling with and start feeling sorry
for ourselves. Saint Josemaria Escriva once counselled: “When you feel oppressed by your
weaknesses don’t let yourself become sad. Glory in your infirmities, like Saint Paul” (The Way, 879).
Easier said than done, I know. Escriva was an eternal optimist and once described Confession as the
‘sacrament of joy’. But he has a point. One that is supported by others in the Communion of Saints,
including Saint Thomas More. He wrote the following to his daughter Margaret, whilst he awaited
execution in the Tower of London: “My beloved Daughter, let not your soul be disturbed by anything
that may happen to me in this world. Nothing can happen except what God wills. I am very sure of
that, no matter what may happen, no matter how evil it may seem, it will truly be the best thing.”
Accepting God’s will in our lives means, at times, accepting our crosses. And being thankful for them.
Each cross is an opportunity to draw nearer to Jesus, to offer our sufferings in union with His, and to
become recognisably His. Strengthening our relationship with, and love for, Him will increase our

Perhaps Pope Francis expressed it best when he said: “Christian joy is peace, peace that is deeply
rooted, peace in the heart, the peace that only God can give. This is Christian joy.”
Don’t give into sadness in your suffering. Instead, try and recognise it for the invitation it is: an
invitation to deeper Communion with God and a true joy that is much more enduring than fleeting
worldly happiness.

Written by Emily Shaw

Emily is a former ACPA award winning magazine editor. Emily shares 15 years of marriage with her husband, Ben, and is now stay at home mum of seven and freelance journalist. Emily’s work has been featured in a variety of media internationally, writing on all things faith, parenting and craft. She brings close to 20 years of experience in media — print, online and social — as well as several years in active youth ministry including three years as the Diocesan Coordinator.

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