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The Joy of Life

One of my absolute favorite movies is Life is Beautiful, starring Roberto Benigni as a humorous, joyful, hopeful husband and father through one of the history’s darkest times, the Holocaust. When I found out that this movie was Saint John Paul II’s favorite movie, it made total sense. The young Karol Wojtyla lived through this period in Nazi-invaded Poland where he experienced the death and carnage of many around him. He fled as a refugee with his father (since his mother and older brother had died before Karol was 11), and witnessed bombs dropping around him while he altar-served at Mass. But, just as in Life is Beautiful, even in the midst of this great suffering Karol had faith and hope.

In Jason Evert’s book Saint John Paul the Great, Wojtyla was recounted as telling a friend three months after the Nazi invasion, “At times I feel great oppression, depression, despair, evil. At other times, as if I were seeing the dawn, the aurora, a great light (p. 12).”

Not long after the Nazi invasion, Karol’s father died, leaving him an orphan by the age of twenty. Easily, the young Pope could’ve turned to despair, but instead he turned to daily Mass and constant prayer, allowing the pain of his loss to form an even deep interior life in Christ. Eventually, it was his prayer life that led him to be the man we know today as Pope St. John Paul II. When many of us picture him, we think of him as the strong, ebullient, holy man, but don’t realize that:

“During his pontificate, he dislocated his shoulder, broke his femur, underwent surgeries for his hip and ankle and to remove his appendix, gallstones, and an orange-sized tumor from his colon. He suffered osteoarthritis in his right knee, an intestinal disorder, the loss of hearing in both ears, Parkinson’s disease, and underwent routine colonoscopies and was given a feeding tube—and this doesn’t even include the injuries he sustained when he was struck by a Nazi truck in Poland, the mononucleosis he suffered as a bishop, or the two bullets he took during his assassination attempt! (p. 192)”

One would never know that our beloved Pope was in constant pain by the way he preached, loved the youth, smiled and laughed, and exuded joy everywhere he went. How could one person endure this much physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering and yet STILL be joyful? How could one even bear to see life as worth living? Wouldn’t death be preferable?

It is the paradox of the Gospel that to live we must die. Through our Baptism, we die to ourselves (Gal 2:20) and put on Christ (Col 3:12-17). In Christ, there is no more death, but only life, since, as St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54b-55).

In Christ, we have hope that this life is not the end, but that eternal life awaits those who persevere in running the race (2 Tim 4:7). In Christ, we know that our present sufferings are “as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18). We know from Jesus, Himself, that joy can be found in even the greatest sufferings of life. For it was for the “sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

We know that while happiness is ephemeral and dependent on our state in life, that true joy is not fleeting, but comes from knowing that we have a God who created us, who loves us, who has gone before us (in life, suffering, and death), and is waiting to be one with us at every Mass in the Eucharist, and ultimately in the fullness of Heaven. Knowing this, how could we NOT be joyful? Having this life-blood flowing within us, as branches of the Vine, how can we not live life to its full (John 10:10)?

I know many people who play the victim their whole life, having endured abuse, divorce, being cheated on, betrayed, abandoned, used, or having been chosen as one of the many to suffer through cancer, illness, infertility, the death of spouse or child, etc. But I also know the Saints who’ve gone before us and the many living “saints in the making” who are alive today who have endured and persevered through those same things. These living saints don’t play the victim, living life as one big misery, nor do they suck the life out of the people they meet. No, these amazing holy people claim victory through Jesus Christ, and they inspire all of us to realize that life is beautiful, even in the midst of suffering. I am so thankful to these Saints in Heaven and these saints on earth for showing me how to live and live joyfully. Let us ask our Saints in Heaven to pray for us to know the joy of life, and may we seek out those people on earth who are living it every day.

Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.

Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano, pray for us.

St. Therese of LIsieux, pray for us.

All Holy Men and Women, pray for us.

 

Image via FlickrCC 2.0 Logo added

 

Life is Beautiful is one of my favorite movies. It is appropriately labeled a “tragicomedy” because it has you laughing one moment and crying in the next. Based on a true story, it follows a joyful and lively husband and father who, through hope and humor, suffers through the Holocaust with his wife and young son.

About the Author

Jackie Angel

Besides being a daughter of God, a total goofball, and a logical romantic, I’m a full-time traveling worship leader, speaker, songwriter from Orange County, CA. In 2006, I got signed with Spirit&Song.com/OCP and released two albums with them titled, “Your Kingdom is Glorious” and “Divine Comedy.” I love traveling (40 states & 5 continents down, a few more to go) and eating yummy food, but I mostly love having a husband who is my best friend and thinks my impending muffin top from the prior two things (traveling & eating) is attractive.