Sally Blount

Choosing joy

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

We’ve been talking a lot about joy at Catholic Charities recently. You see, those of us called to work here truly believe we can make the world a better place — one person, one family at a time.

But as fulfilling as this calling is, our work can be difficult. Each day, we see the harsh realities confronting so many people — whether it be South Side parents, Latino migrants, West Side youth or north suburban seniors. In this time of high inflation and global uncertainty, the scope of need, both material and spiritual, is immense.

So we wrestle with the fact that, as human service providers, we can’t fix everything; we can’t meet every need — no matter how much we dedicate ourselves. There is always more assistance we could offer, if only we had more resources, more funding. This weighs on us.

And yet, God calls us to serve with joy. Not with a sense of duty, or resignation, or even spiritual grit. No, we are called to serve with joy. So where do we find this joy? It can certainly feel elusive at times, especially now, at the end of winter, when each news story seems worse than the last.

A few months ago, when I was struggling through a particularly challenging day, I had a late-afternoon appointment with Cardinal Cupich. As we were settling into our meeting, I said I needed to ask him a question: “How is it that you can stay so joyful and positive amid the hardship you see and carry each day for the church?”

He immediately smiled and answered, “Several years ago, I realized that I had to decide: Who do I really believe is in charge? Is it me or is it the Holy Spirit?” And he looked at me, “It’s your choice — you get to decide.”

That conversation has stayed with me; I have taken his point to heart. If I really believe all of Jesus’ teachings as deeply as I believe I do, there is only one answer. And it is a wonderful one. It is not me — I am not in charge!

As Jesus beckons in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” You see, in those moments, when I allow myself to fully trust, to find that rest, my work is so much easier. I find joy all around me. It is the feeling I have when we help pay a family’s utility bill, or the delight when a teammate surprises us with a cookie bake, or even the awe of an unexpected donation to support our work. I find it, too, in the faces of those who supper with us each night at Vincent Hall.

I love the words of the late poet Mary Oliver, who wrote, “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. … Whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

May we all give into joy in this month, wherever and whenever we encounter it. It is truly a gift from God. Oliver is right: We shouldn’t be afraid of its plenty. God did not make joy to be a crumb!



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