It seems like we are all on a never-ending search for happiness and contentment, yet it also seems that we never truly find the key to a joyful life. We might find brief periods of happiness in a relationship with others, in some possession, or in a hobby or other activity that we enjoy, but that happiness always seems to be fleeting and brief.
With all our searching, we never seem to think that following Our Lord could ever bring us any joy. In fact, the stereotypical image of a Christian who devoutly follows Jesus is someone who is very dour and bitter, almost austere in their life. Joy seems to be the last thing on their minds, yet the readings today bring us a different picture. They show us that we live truly joyful lives when we use the gifts of the Spirit that we have been given by God.
Today's passage from St. John's Gospel reminds us of the first miracle that Our Lord performed when he began his earthly ministry. It wasn't a healing, or raising someone from the dead, or casting a demon out of someone. Instead, it might seem to have occurred at an insignificant event: running out of wine at a wedding. Our Lord used this occasion to show the joy God our Father wishes to bestow on us by not only producing some wine to continue the party, but producing an astounding quantity of the best wine.
Again, it might seem strange to us that God wants to bestow joy upon us, especially when it seems like our lives are one difficulty after another, but look at the first reading. The description of a newly-freed Israel is one of the joy felt by newlyweds, the buoyant, almost giddy feelings that accompany an important, joyful event in our lives, such as a wedding. The language isn't one of sorrow and pity, but of rejoicing: "as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." (Isaiah 62:5)
This is the joy that will come to us when we follow the spiritual life and exercise the gifts that we have been given by the Holy Spirit. Yes, this once again might be hard to believe, but the Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts that are for the benefit of ourselves and those we meet every day. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, "to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit," (1 Cor 12:7) following up with a list of some of the gifts which the Holy Spirit bestows upon us. This isn't a complete list by any stretch of the imagination, but helps us to understand the Holy Spirit has given us gifts, "distributing them individually to each person as He wishes." (1 Cor 12:11)
The difficulty we face when practicing the gifts we've been given comes when we're trying to figure out what they are in the first place. For some, the gifts are quite obvious, such as someone with a beautiful singing voice or a natural talent with musical instruments. Most of us, however, have to discern where those gifts lie and figure out how best to exercise them. In most cases, we need to work with those gifts once we've figured out what they are, developing our understanding of the gift and improving our familiarity with it.
When we do exercise the gifts we have been given, we can find a great joy in seeing those gifts used successfully. This might not happen at first, and may take many years to fully develop, but when we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the honor of God and to help our neighbors, we can truly find the joy that we are searching for. This joy far exceeds the happiness that we can ever receive through the things of this world. This joy is but a small taste of the joy that we will experience in the next life when we are in perfect union with our Heavenly Father.
In our search for happiness on Earth, may we seek the true joy that comes from finding and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that reside within us.