Totum Amoris Est: Choose joy steeped in love

This is the final post in a series on Totum Amoris Est, the Apostolic Letter issued by Pope Francis to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Francis de Sales.
Part 1: Summary of Totum Amoris Est
Part 2: Where is the greatest love?
Part 3: The primacy of relationship and charity in evangelization
Part 4: Adapt your missionary message to your audience

Pope Francis finishes this letter with section titled, “The ecstasy of life.” Like his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis regularly points us to the joy that the Christian life should bring. He again points us to this joy through the lens of St. Francis’ writings. 

For Saint Francis de Sales, then, while the Christian life is never without ecstasy, ecstasy is inauthentic apart from a truly Christian life. Indeed, life without ecstasy risks being reduced to blind obedience, a Gospel bereft of joy. On the other hand, ecstasy without life easily falls prey to the illusions and deceptions of the Evil one. 

The joy to which both Pope Francis and St. Francis point us towards is a joy steeped in an authentic Christian love. It is a joy, an ecstasy, that comes from an encounter with the supernatural love of God poured into our hearts. This ecstasy, however, can become a distraction if it isn’t steeped in a love for all that God commands. Love for God should lead us to live as he commands, freely choosing to live the Christian life with joy. It is, ultimately, Christian joy that will be an attractive witness to the faith. Joy can be the spark of curiosity. 

Joy should not be confused with needing to be in a perpetual state of happiness. Life is always marked with suffering and difficulties. Yet, we are called to choose joy in the midst of difficulties. And this takes us back to one of the fundamental principles that St. Francis outlines. Our Christian joy and devotion presupposes God’s love for us, and because of his perfect love, we can know that even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, we can still choose the joy that flows from a deep and intimate relationship with our good and loving Father. It is this joy—joy that doesn’t make sense—that will be the attractive witness that draws others to ask if it is in relationship with God that they, too, can find the greatest love. 

To close this series on Totum Amoris Est, I encourage you to ask yourself: how can I choose joy today in the midst of the circumstances in my life? How can choosing this joy help others discover the beauty of the personal relationship that God so deeply desires with each of us? 

We’ll give the last word to St. Francis, as quoted in Totum Amoris Est:

What is more steadfast than charity, not in requiting injuries, but in taking no account of them? Concerned not with passing things, but with eternity? Since it has an unshakable trust in the promises of the future life, charity can tolerate all things in this present life. It can endure whatever it must here below, because it hopes in the promises of the world to come. Truly, charity never fails. Cultivate it then, and thinking holy thoughts, bring forth fruits of justice. And if you should discover anything else in praise of charity beyond what I have said here, let it become evident in your life.”

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us. 


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