The joy of the early Christians – and this is true of Christians in all ages who understood the essence of Christianity and lived accordingly – was a truly new joy, one never experienced before. It had nothing to do with merriment, cheerfulness or light-heartedness. Nor was it “the exultant joy of living and being alive” – as Paul VI said, or “the calming joy of nature and silence”. It was not the joy or “satisfaction of a job well done” nor simply “the transparent joy of purity” or that of “chaste love…” These are all wonderful examples of joy. The joy of the early Christians was different: it was like the exhilarating joy of the disciples at the descent of the Holy Spirit. It was the joy of Jesus.
For just as Jesus has his peace, he also has his joy. He said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you…” (Jn 15:11). The joy of the early Christians, which welled up spontaneously from the depths of their being, truly satisfied them. They had found what people of all times search for: God, who – as we have seen – satisfies them completely. They had found fellowship with God, the essential element for self-fulfilment.
In fact, love, charity, with which Christ enriches the hearts of Christians through baptism and the other sacraments – can be compared to a little plant. The deeper its roots go into the ground of fraternal charity (that is, the more people love their neighbours), the higher the stem grows up towards heaven and love of God and fellowship with him grows in their hearts. It is not something simply believed in through faith, but is a real experience. This is happiness: loving and feeling loved. This was the happiness of the early Christians, both old and young. It was expressed in liturgical celebrations filled with hymns of praise and thanksgiving.
Joy grew in their hearts also because, with love and through love, they received light. They could see; they could begin to understand the things of God that in themselves are impenetrable (cf. 1 Cor 2: 19-16). Mysteries that they accepted through faith were not as obscure as one might think. They were able to enter into these mysteries, savouring them and seeing them in a light that made them feel they understood and possessed them. This made them rejoice even more, and the joy of truth was added to the joy of love. Armed, therefore, only with love and light, and clothed with joy, they spread throughout the entire known world in a short time. As Tertullian wrote, “We were born only yesterday, and we have already invaded the world…” (Apologetics 37:7). …
The early Christians even rejoiced in being persecuted and sang even as they went to martyrdom. They had understood a paradox of Christianity: that joy, the supernatural joy of Christ, can be found precisely where there is no joy, in suffering, but in suffering that is loved.
Source: Chiara Lubich Centre