Religious practice does mean considerable discipline and human effort. There comes to mind images of parents and elders telling younger members in the faith with a stern face "say your Rosary" or "put away your phone, we're entering a Church". Many of us grow up with a false notion that religious are sad, gloomy, uncool and downright boring, but this is simply not true. At the surface, it may seem so but when you drink deep of the Sancta Fe, literally translated the "Holy Faith", you realise a sense of humour in the holiest and most adversely suffering servants of Christ, needless to say the Lord himself.
A leading example of this holy joy is the apostle Paul. A man who as he says in his second letter to the Coritnhians, chapter 11:
24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
This man, wrote the letter to the Philippians from the prison in Rome while facing a death sentence, a letter that speaks of joy several times. I became consciously aware of joy in this letter, through attending a session by Anand Pillai, a man born into Hinduism, rated as one of the top 10 influencers in India and among the top 50 in the world and now a believer in Christ and the Gospel. This man survived the loss of his father and mother in a closely knit family within a span of few years. Driven to despair, he picked up the New Testament out of curiosity and the rest of his life is a living testimony of the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ. Being no stranger to suffering in his own life in various ways, this man bears witness to Joy in the midst of suffering.
Going back to the first century Rome, where Paul and several others like him suffered extreme pain, loss and suffering under a Roman regime that opposed the Christian faith and denied them the basic freedom of worship. Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 1, verse 4 of his letter:
I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
And again in verse 18:
Here is a man who not only has come to terms with suffering in his life, he is at this point not wallowing in self-pity, but writing to people in Philippi a joyful letter of encouragement, unashamed of his suffering for a just cause. Therefore my dear friends, I'd like to emphasize this lesser know aspect of true piety - a joy unlike the passing joys of this world. A joy which no money can buy. A joy of knowing you are right with God and with people despite what has passed and what may come in the future. We enter into the holy week where we meditate on the Passion of our Lord Christ. Let us always remember that without the cross, there would not have been a Resurrection and the joy in the Lord who has overcome sin, death, evil and sorrow for ever and given suffering a new, Redeeming power and meaning; this Lord is with us and is the source of eternal joy. Amen.