By Anthony English"Man is more himself, more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him."
- G. K Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
In his apostolic letter Dies Domini (on the Day of the Lord), Pope John Paul II spoke of the seventh day of creation, when God "rested".
The divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God, but emphasizes the fullness of what has been accomplished. It speaks, as it were, of God's lingering before the "very good" work (Gn 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight. This is a "contemplative" gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved.
That ability to see the good where it is there─rather than to focus too much on the real (or imagined) evil in people, in things─is, I think a divine gift and the secret to happiness. A contemplative gaze, a "gaze full of joyous delight", requires a day of rest, a time to stop and be thankful for the blessings God has given us. And they are many.
Gratitude and Joy
It's tempting for many to spend their time and nervous energy meditating on what has gone wrong, or what might go wrong. Sometimes God throws someone in our path to remind us to count our blessings. Sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us we've got a beautiful family. So many others are telling us "you've got your hands full", or "you've got your work cut out for you." People can spend so much of their time pointing out others' difficulties, picking out their faults. It's a recipe for misery. Our hearts were not made for such petty thoughts.
It's true that others will know we are Christians by our love. God has given us so much that is good, in both the natural and supernatural spheres, that the marks of Christianity could just as well be joy and gratitude.
In times of sorrow it is difficult to see the good, the touch of grace. But those who have done it, those who have the ability to see the goodness and blessings around them have a deep peace and joy. And with that peace which the world cannot give, they are able to share their peace and joy with others.
Joy is the fundamental thing
Chesterton spoke of this joyous outlook in his wonderful book Orthodoxy:
Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent position of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.
There are so many of us overwhelmed with anxiety and fears, living in a world of the imagination, that we miss the goodness which God has poured into everything. "What if this [insert your favourite fear] happens? What if everything goes wrong?" Even our imaginations can benefit from penance from time to time. Stewing over the possible evils we may face rarely leads to peace of heart.
For those who are overwhelmed by financial or emotional insecurity, a day of rest seems to be just what the Divine doctor ordered. It is a time to embrace God's "gaze of delight", to step back and see that life is good, full of blessings. It is those who manage to see the finger of divine providence in all the circumstances of life who are most happy.