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Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers   

God and the Padres Bring Light to Reporter’s Life 

May 21

            Two things were staples in Marie Coronel’s home when she was growing up: Catholicism and rooting for the San Diego Padres. You could make the argument that one is an extension of the other, but regardless, they both remain integral parts of her life. Admittedly, though, the practice of faith took precedence, guiding Marie as she pursued a career as a broadcast journalist. More importantly, it served as her foundation through her father’s diagnosis with a rare progressive neurological disorder, as well as her own medical crisis. Marie joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss her life and faith.   

            As the daughter of Filipino Americans, Marie grew up in a home where the Catholic faith was as integral to life as eating and drinking. Her father was an usher at their church and a member of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name Society. He always made sure the family got to Mass on time, and he encouraged his shy daughter to be a lector at her Catholic school’s Masses. In addition, San Diego Padres games, either on TV or the radio, served as the soundtrack in their home. Father and daughter would always enjoy them together. 

            When Marie left home to attend college, it was the first time she was truly on her own with the freedom to make her own decisions. She recalled, “It was up to me to decide, ‘Hey, are you gonna get up early Sunday morning and go to Mass? Are you gonna make sure you’re there for the holy day of obligation?’ And shockingly – I think it was just because I was raised in that – the choice was pretty easy. I knew I had to go. I credit my parents because if they didn’t instill that foundation in me, I don’t know if I would’ve been, as a college kid, 18 years old, spending [my] Sundays at church…And being Filipino has helped in terms of keeping my faith alive.” 

            Marie’s early days in broadcast news took her far from San Diego, so she followed Padres games from afar to give her a taste of home. After several years, she was grateful to land a job at ABC 10 News back in her hometown. Life continued on the upswing when Marie met the man she would marry. But her joy came to be intermingled with sorrow when her father was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that “affects body movements, walking and balance, and eye movement.” 

            Doctors didn’t think Marie’s father would live to see her wedding, which was just two months away. Mr. Coronel, however, had other plans. She said, “My dad…was a fighter, and there was nothing that was going to stop him from being there for his daughter’s wedding. But a big part of that, again, he relied on his faith…Then, after that, they didn’t know if he was going to meet his first grandchild. Eventually at the end of this, he met all three of his grandsons.” 

            During this time, Marie juggled her career and her own growing family, with being a caregiver for her father. She admitted it was a lot to deal with physically, mentally, and emotionally. But again, she turned to the lessons she had learned in childhood and relied on her faith for strength.  

            What she had endured so far, however, was nothing compared to what was to come when a tree fell on her and broke her neck. That part of the story in my next column. 

A Light on an Angel Wing 

April 30

            When she needed it the most, Sister Ave Clark believes that a stranger brought the light of an angel into her life. It happened nearly 20 years ago, when she survived a debilitating accident in which a runaway train hit the car she was driving in Queens, New York. After a year of hospitalization and rehab, Sister Ave was finally able to return to her work giving talks and retreats as the founder of Heart to Heart Ministry, which offers hope and help to suffering people. One day, she was giving a talk in a parish when a man approached her and said he was glad she was doing well. She didn’t recognize him, so he revealed that he was a volunteer ambulance worker who was on the scene of her accident. The paramedics told him that she was in shock and her blood pressure kept dropping, so he needed to talk with her to keep her spirit going so she could fight for her life. He kept telling Sister Ave, “I’m with you. You’re not alone. You are going to be alright.” 

            Sister Ave believes that message registered in her subconscious because she survived the experience. She now sees that man as having been “a light on an angel wing,” which is also the title of a book of reflections that she’s co-authored with Paula Santoro. It’s a phrase she coined to reflect the people who bring “hope, comfort, and encouragement” into our lives.  

            Another term for these types of people are “peace givers,” whom Sister Ave and Joe and Peggy Clark write about in another book titled “Peace and Compassion…Holy Threads.” During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Sister Ave told me, “Peace, to me, is [experiencing] God’s love no matter what you’re going through. Peace is an extension of God saying, ‘Love one another into life.’ Does that mean we’re going to disagree [sometimes]? We can, but I think we need to disagree in a much better way without this harshness, cruelty, putting people down…The whole idea of peace and compassion, you can’t have one without the other, because when you’re compassionate, you either give or receive peace…That doesn’t mean all your problems or worries are gone. Maybe we learn to carry them better and be that little beam of light in the world that we can be.” 

            As an example of living that truth, Sister Ave points to a formerly homeless man named Albie. He lived in College Point, New York, and made sure that his homeless friends all had a bench to sleep on. If there were any homeless women around, he made sure they got “the safe bench” and that everyone looked out for them.  

            “One of my [fellow] Sisters helped Albie,” Sister Ave continued, “and he’s now in an apartment in Brooklyn. But Albie was just diagnosed with cancer. [The Sister] put him in New York-Presbyterian Hospital getting care. All the doctors there say, ‘This is an extraordinary man.’ Now who is Albie? He’s the man that was on the street that drank vodka a lot. But who is he? He’s a peace giver. See, sometimes we think you have to have it all together in your head, [but]…if you have it together in your head and it doesn’t move down to your heart, [that’s a problem]. I think you start with your heart first. That’s where compassion is born, because then, not only do we transform the world, we’re transformed too. We get better and better.” 

Sometimes Mercy Precedes Repentance 

April 16

            On the weekend that the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8:3-11. We’ve all heard this reading at Mass over the years, but I recently noticed an aspect of the story that had never caught my attention before. 

            As John recounts, the scribes and Pharisees caught a woman committing adultery and brought her before Jesus to see if He would endorse stoning her, as the law of Moses commanded. They were really hoping to catch Jesus contradicting the religious law so they would have a reason to persecute him, but He was too shrewd for them. Instead of saying anything, Jesus started writing on the ground with His finger. When they asked Him again, Jesus responded, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  

            That answer sure turned the tables on the scribes and Pharisees! They all left, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. He asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” She responded, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” 

            A lot is made of Jesus telling the woman, “Do not sin again,” but what occurred to me is that we never hear the woman acknowledge doing anything wrong or asking for mercy. We can safely presume she doesn’t want to be stoned to death, but we don’t know if she was sorry for what she did or just sorry she got caught. Regardless, perhaps Jesus granted her mercy without her asking for it in the hopes that mercy would lead her to repentance.  

            It reminds me of the scene in the book/play/movie “Les Miserables,” in which the character Jean Valjean, who has just been released from 19 years in prison for stealing bread to support his family, finds food and shelter with a kindly bishop. The next morning, the destitute Valjean steals some silverware from the bishop’s home, but is soon apprehended by the police, who return him to the bishop for identification. Instead of condemning Valjean for his theft, however, the bishop tells the police he had freely given Valjean the silverware so he could get money to build his new life. And the bishop even gives him a couple of extra silver candlesticks!  

            Again, we have a situation where someone is guilty, but receives mercy rather than condemnation, even though he did not specifically ask for forgiveness. The bishop is insightful enough to know that the crime committed against Valjean by the government was far more egregious than the theft of the silverware. And so, the bishop prays that his mercy to Valjean will lead him to a new life—and the story proves out that it does.  

            The ideal situation, of course, is that when we commit a wrong, we acknowledge it, then ask for forgiveness. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and everybody’s story and psyche are different. For the woman caught in adultery and for Jean Valjean, maybe they have so little experience being on the receiving end of goodness and kindness that they need to experience it before they can find their way to the light. In these cases, mercy can precede repentance—be the motivator for repentance. And practicing that kind of mercy is certainly divine. 

‘Compassion Walks the Road to Calvary’ 

April 2

            “Compassion walks the road to Calvary.” It’s a timely observation as we enter Holy Week, and it’s one that Sister Ave Clark has personally experienced. As the founder of Heart to Heart Ministry, Sister Ave holds retreats and personally counsels those enduring dark times, including domestic abuse, the death of a loved one, PTSD, disability, and more. As she recalled during a “Christopher Closeup” interview about her books “Peace and Compassion…Holy Threads” and “A Light on an Angel Wing,” her experience with these types of situations goes back many years, to a time when she was a second-grade teacher. One of her students, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with cancer and wouldn’t be able to make her First Communion with the class. 

            Elizabeth’s parents asked if she could receive her First Communion in the hospital, so Sister Ave arranged for a priest to come and hold a small service there. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s health continued to go downhill, so Sister Ave brought her a little angel doll to hold on to for comfort. 

            Some time later, Elizabeth’s parents called Sister Ave to say the end was near and asked if she could come with them to the hospital. Despite feeling emotionally devastated herself by this news, Sister Ave mustered up the emotional and spiritual strength to accompany them because she realized that “compassion walks the road to Calvary.” During the car ride over, Elizabeth’s mother quietly held Sister Ave’s hand. Upon entering Elizabeth’s room, they saw she was holding her angel doll. Her mother broke down in tears, so Elizabeth told her, “Mom, don’t cry. I’m going to go to heaven, and you said it’s the best home I could ever have.” 

            Elizabeth’s mother hugged her, and her father told her, “You’re our little angel,” then they both left the room in tears. Elizabeth turned to Sister Ave and said, “Sister, I don’t need the doll anymore because I’ll have all the angels in heaven. You take it, you give it to someone else.” 

            Sister Ave agreed. Elizabeth passed away an hour later. Sister Ave recalled, “I never forgot it, Tony…When they drove home, the mother said, ‘Sister, your being with us gave us peace.’ Did it take away their sorrow? No. But our presence can [bring] peace.” 

            Think about those words again: “Our presence can bring peace.” When we reflect on Good Friday, perhaps the presence of His mother Mary and the beloved apostle John brought Jesus some peace as He was dying on the cross. It must have been devastating for them to watch Him die, but their love and compassion led them to bear the suffering so they could be there with Him. Little did they know that three days later, their hearts would rejoice at the resurrection. But would knowing that have eased their pain at the time? Maybe not. The suffering was right in front of them, while the hope was only in the future.  

            The little girl Elizabeth’s parents were believers, who taught their daughter about Jesus and heaven. And Elizabeth obviously came to believe and passed into the next life with a strong faith. The parents’ faith, however, didn’t prevent them from feeling intense pain at the loss of their daughter. But it did give them the hope that they would someday be reunited with her again.  

            If your compassion leads you to walk the road to Calvary, pray for the strength to keep that same hope alive in your heart during the darkest times. 

Encountering Jesus in the Confessional

March 19

            After she began converting to Catholicism in 2010, Leticia Ochoa Adams engaged in a lot of hard work and therapy to deal with the aftereffects of being sexually abused as a child. At the time, she developed a rosy, victorious outlook on her suffering, believing, “Those were just the things I had to go through in order to be this awesome Catholic.” Leticia realizes now how prideful she was back then because when her son Anthony committed suicide in 2017, none of those beliefs made any sense.  

            During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about her memoir “Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals,” Leticia told me about this difficult period of her life and how she eventually moved toward healing.  

            Filled with anger at God for months after Anthony’s suicide, she went to Confession to Father Jonathan, the parish priest who had been a supportive friend to her family throughout their ordeal. Aware that the priest in that moment is standing “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), she unloaded her fury and pain and “let him have it.” At the end, Father Jonathan simply responded, “It broke my heart, too.” 

            Leticia observed, “I already knew Father Jonathan’s heart was broken, losing Anthony. So, the only reason he would say those words to me is because it was Christ talking to me, and it broke His heart, too…Of all the heartbreak I have, I don’t love my son the way God loves him because God made him. And I don’t grieve my son the way God grieves him because God was there and witnessed it from beginning to end and couldn’t stop it. That changed everything for me…I went on a mission to grow my relationship with [God], and not with this idea of Him that has to do with politics or this lifestyle or that lifestyle or this Mass or that Mass. It had everything to do with the God who made the heavens and earth.” 

            Leticia’s walk through suffering has changed her. She admits the mistakes she made raising her children, accepts responsibility for the harm some of her choices caused them, and is working toward repairing those things. She also realizes that just because you have faith in God doesn’t mean your heart will never be broken. Noting that Jesus Himself experienced grief and wept, she said, “We don’t have to mask these hard feelings by spiritually bypassing the suffering.” 

            As readers of “Our Lady of Hot Messes” will discover, Leticia’s view of God has also been changed by selling the house she and her husband used to live in and moving to the great outdoors. She said, “We moved to raw land about 17 months ago, which means there’s no electricity, no water. We’ve had to build from scratch, and my current understanding of God is so much bigger than a fairy in the sky who just makes your wishes come true. There’s no lights on our street, there’s no light pollution out here. So, when I look up at the sky and see the stars, I’m in awe. The sunset, the sunrise, the weather patterns. It’s so much different than living in a city…I can see the allness of God, and how much everything He creates is beautiful, and how much He delights in that beauty. And that includes us. So, the person I can’t stand, God finds delightful and gorgeous and beautiful. That’s really changed how I see Him now.” 

A “Hot Mess” Finds Healing  

March 12

            Leticia Ochoa Adams’ life has not been an easy road. She endured repeated sexual abuse as a child—and she lost her son Anthony to suicide a few years ago. It took a long time for Leticia to acknowledge the traumas she had endured and the poor life choices she made as a result. But after becoming Catholic and slowly forging a healthier relationship with God, she has been able to move toward healing. Leticia shares her story in her raw, honest, sometimes funny memoir, “Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals.”  

            Though the designation “Our Lady of Hot Messes” may seem an unusual one for Mary, the mother of Jesus, it is grounded in the lifelong reverence Leticia holds for her and the belief that Mary was always loving and guiding her, even when her life was a hot mess. Growing up, Leticia’s aunts and mother all had pictures or statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their homes. And following Anthony’s suicide, Leticia always found herself sitting next to a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Mass. 

            During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, she recalled, “At some point, I realized there was a shift in my idea of Mary, that I didn’t have to be perfect to come to her—and I never was. She’s always seen me exactly for who I was…So even in those moments where I’m the messiest, she’s there and patiently, lovingly praying for me. That’s where the title came from. [I’m] trying to convey the message that just because Mary was sinless doesn’t mean she expects us to be perfect…So, when we come to her in this idealistic version of ourselves that we [think we] need to present to her, we’re kind of lying, and we’re not trusting that she loves us as we are.” 

            In order to be honest with Mary, Leticia first had to be honest with herself. The sexual abuse she suffered from the ages of five to nine left her feeling “angry at the world,” yet wanting to be liked by everyone. As a protective mechanism, she rejected people before they could reject her, thereby projecting her own low self-esteem onto others’ views of her—and even onto God’s view of her. Leticia started attending a Baptist church when she was eight years old and interpreted all the sermons herself. “As a kid, all I heard was, if you’re not good enough, then God won’t live in your heart and your life won’t [have]…manifestations of material goodness, wealth, happiness, all these things,” she recalled. It wasn’t until she began converting to Catholicism that she came to see God in a different light, though even that took time, as well as therapy. 

            Leticia admits that facing her own demons involved hard work. She explained, “I think Catholics can tell the Protestant prosperity gospel, but sometimes we have a hard time seeing the Catholic prosperity gospel, where it’s like if you just pray the rosary, you don’t have to go to therapy…Sometimes we forget that healing also comes from doing the hard work of looking at ourselves, which is why Confession is a healing sacrament. But if you just go in there and list your sins without truly looking at yourself and why you’re making these choices to fail to love, which is what sin is, then we’re not getting the healing. We’re getting the absolution, but God can only give us what we ask for.” 

The Way of the Wounded Healer  

Feb 26, 2023

            When actress Nikki DeLoach initially read the script for her Hallmark movie “The Gift of Peace,” she didn’t realize it would be the exact project she needed to help her deal with the recent painful loss of her father to dementia.  

            Nikki’s father died in July 2021 at age 66. During an interview, she told me, “We knew it was going to happen, but you’re just never prepared for the loss of someone you love so much. And much like Tracy, my [widowed] character in ‘The Gift of Peace,’ I was coming into this movie very stuck in my life. I was…getting everything done, but there was no joy. There was just a deep sadness and heartbreak that was layered over everything.” 

            In the movie, Nikki’s character Tracy resents God because she prayed for her husband’s healing and absolutely believed it was going to happen. But he died anyway. Hallmark movies don’t usually deal so overtly with matters of faith, but this production handled the matter honestly and well.  

            As a person of deep faith herself, Nikki was the perfect person to star in this movie. She noted, “One thing we touch upon in the movie is that commentary of, why did God do this to me? Why did God take him? [The truth is], God doesn’t take anyone or anything from us. That’s not how God works…But what God offers is a way to get back to the joy, the peace, the love, to hope. That is what God offers inside of the pain, inside of the grief.”  

            That’s exactly what happened to Nikki: “Life imitated art, and something opened up inside of me. I started to find the joy in my life again.”  

            In the movie, Tracy begins to find healing after she connects with a grief support group in her church. In essence, the members all help each other carry their pain, making it easier to bear because of the shared burden. This ties into one of Nikki’s core beliefs about how we can all be wounded healers.  

            Nikki also did her best to serve as a wounded healer on a personal level to her co-star Brennan Elliott, whose wife is enduring a difficult cancer battle. She noted that everyone’s heart has been broken at times—and if it hasn’t been yet, it will be someday. Though these cracks in our hearts can’t be fully healed, they can become stronger in the broken places. 

            “The transformation happens in allowing God to emanate through the cracks,” explained Nikki. “Because when that light comes through the cracks and all of the broken places, that’s where you’re able to begin to be a healer. I don’t mean that you will one day wake up and not feel the pain…What I mean by that is that you get to be there for other people. You [develop] empathy and compassion and a humanity that you never had before. It allows you to sit with other people and see them when they’re in pain. And it allows you to be merciful with your own pain and what you are going through. We’re all on the road to healing. We’re all trying to find a way to…get rid of [our pain]. But what we need to pivot to is to learn how to carry it. I think the road of the wounded healer helps you to understand that is a beautiful thing. That’s not a terrible thing. It’s a beautiful road to walk.” 

“General Hospital” Star’s Reawakened Catholic Faith

Feb 12

            Fans of ABC’s “General Hospital” have embraced actor John J. York for 32 years and counting, as he plays police detective and family man Mac Scorpio. In real life, the actor is devoted to his family, as well as the Catholic faith he had drifted away from many years. So, what led him back?  

            During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, John recalled growing up in Chicago, where his mom and dad made sure that he and his five siblings were grounded in the faith and received a Catholic education. After going to college, however, John’s faith became less important to him. He eventually left college to pursue an acting career in Hollywood and met people who guided him towards different opportunities that allowed him to fulfill his dreams. He also met and married his wife Vicki, with whom he had a daughter, Schyler. 

            Years later, after Schyler began attending Notre Dame High School, she asked John, “Dad, what do I have to do to receive Communion? We have Mass every day and everybody’s going to Communion, but I can’t go.” Though John was culturally Catholic enough to have had Schyler baptized, he never followed through on any of the other sacraments. He explained that she had to go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) in order to officially join the Church, so that’s what she did. 

            John said, “We still [weren’t] going to church every Sunday. Then, she went to college in Boulder…I did say at one point, ‘You’re a Catholic now. Going to college, there are going to be a lot of parties…and things like that going on. But go find a church…and continue with your faith.’ She did that…She had an encounter, and she became deeply immersed in her love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith—and she brought me along with her. So, I was just following her, following Him.” 

            In finding a new passion for his faith, John looked back on his life and the people who helped him with a divine perspective. He said, “A series of hands [were] always reaching out for me…As I reflect back on it, it’s the hand of God, it’s the hand of Jesus that was…pulling me along.” 

            John has also been paying close attention to his prayer life in the years since then. He started by praying the rosary every morning, then discovered an old St. Jude prayer card in his drawer and began saying that as well. Over time, prayers to the Blessed Mother, St. Philomena, St. Therese, and many more have been added to his morning routine. He said, “It focuses me on trying to do good things…Start your day in a space of gratitude, a space of humility, being thankful for what’s around you.” 

            John’s journey of faith has also helped him see the image and likeness of God in the people he encounters every day, whether they share his beliefs or not. In fact, simply praying, “Help me to see the face of God in the people and experiences of my life,” allows him to stay focused. And while being a person of faith doesn’t prevent John from experiencing dark times, his perspective on dealing with them is different than it used to be. He concluded, “Even if I’m by myself, I’m not alone. For me, Jesus Christ is right there with me. The Holy Spirit is right there with me, and that’s who I talk to. That’s what gets me through…He’s the light in my life.” 

Father Ed Dowling’s Ministry to Alcoholics 

January 29, 2023

            Many people know the story of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. Much less is known about Father Ed Dowling, the Catholic priest who served as his spiritual sponsor. In the early-to-mid 20th century, Father Ed embodied the love of Christ not only to alcoholics, but to anyone who was suffering or marginalized: from African Americans to those with mental health issues to married couples in need of counseling. Author Dawn Eden Goldstein has done a deep-dive into Father Ed’s life to explore the personal suffering which grew his compassion—and the deep faith that motivated his work. Her book is called “Father Ed: The Story of Bill W’s Spiritual Sponsor,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.” 

            When Father Ed was 19 years old, before he entered the Jesuit seminary, his younger brother James died because of the 1918 flu pandemic. To make things worse, Father Ed suspected he might have given the disease to his brother, with whom he shared an especially close bond. Dawn said, “When you have a wound like that—whether it’s grief or another kind of trauma, particularly trauma that hits you when you’re young—it can make you question, ‘Does God exist? Does God care about me?’” 

            As Father Ed’s faith grew deeper over the years through the practice of saying daily Mass and meditating in front of a crucifix, he believed that Jesus brought him a level of healing from his emotional wound. He also came to see the “suffering Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters” and made it a part of his mission to reach out to them. When Father Ed first encountered the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, he felt God’s hand at work. The 12 Steps were based on Bill Wilson’s achievement of sobriety after a spiritual experience. He devised the Steps so that alcoholics could recognize “that they’re powerless over alcohol and that only a higher power can relieve them of this great thirst for alcohol.” 

            “Then,” continued Dawn, “what Bill discovered—and what he passed on through the Steps—was that he could only maintain his sobriety through…helping other alcoholics. I think Father Dowling must have recognized that this is also a very Christian idea: that our salvation is not meant only for ourselves…Every Christian has a mission. This is part of the message of the Second Vatican Council. We have a mission to be Christ among others and to spread that fragrance of Christ wherever we go.” 

            As he got older, Father Ed experienced an ever-worsening arthritis that was turning his body to stone, as others described it. Getting around became quite painful, yet he always exuded joy amidst his suffering. Dawn interviewed several people who spent time with him and their recollections confirmed this point. She said, “What I picked up from them was that Father Ed…so loved people that he could not be unhappy when other people were around because he was interested in them. Even when they were going through difficult times and he was suffering with them, he felt honored that they were sharing their lives with him…Every person he encountered, whether it was the drunk just off the street or the high society person, they each felt that they were the most important person who Father Dowling saw that day.” 

            In closing, Dawn hopes that Father Ed comes alive for readers of her book, explaining, “If I could ensure that they encountered Father Ed, then…they would encounter Christ through him and Christ’s healing.” 

Don’t Give Darkness Power Over Light 

January 15, 2023

            In my previous column, I shared parts of my interview with Joy Marie Clarkson, author of the book “Aggressively Happy: A Realist’s Guide to Believing in the Goodness of Life.” She revealed how a period of suffering led her closer to God and a greater appreciation for the joys we can experience if we open ourselves to them. But getting to that point was not a straight line for Joy, who admits she has struggled with doubt as well. 

            She doesn’t see doubt as a bad thing, though, noting that she feels a kinship to two characters in Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” because “it portrays someone who, with the best intentions of their heart, cannot believe in God—and someone who, with the best of intentions of their heart, chooses to [believe] anyway. I always have felt like I had both of those within me. A part of choosing to believe…is saying that my life is more sensible, more endurable in faith—and the consolation that comes with faith can’t come from the outside. I have to take the step into faith to be able to receive its consolations. Having that story in my mind has helped me know that God is faithful to me even when I waver in doubt.” 

            Among the consolations of looking at life through the eyes of faith is the belief “that at the heart of reality is goodness, is joy, and that in choosing to cultivate happiness, we are speaking to that reality.” Still, there are people who view the world through a darker lens, seeing only its hardships and sufferings. While acknowledging that we can’t be happy all the time, Joy believes that view gives the darkness too much power over the light. 

            She explained, “There’s a great quote by Jack Gilbert, the American poet, who says, ‘To only attend to evil would be to praise the devil.’ So, attend to what is good and beautiful and true, but not in a way that ignores all the difficult things of life…There can be this idea that if…someone in the world is suffering, you’re being selfish because you’re being happy…It’s like, ‘If I’m sitting around being cynical and unhappy, I’m more righteous than everybody else because I’m more knowing.’ When in fact, you’re probably making life for everyone around you more unpleasant. It’s not helping anyone on the other side of the world, it’s not helping anyone around you, and it’s not being attuned and thankful for what is in front of you.” 

            When Joy encounters problems nowadays, she tries to follow The Christophers’ approach of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. She concluded, “I always start with the practical…What I try to do is I… eat something healthy, I’m going to sometimes literally light a candle. It’s amazing to me how much pleasure…lighting a candle can be. Then…I try to be intentional about reaching out to friends. Sometimes when I’m encountering difficulties, trying to give kindness to other people helps me feel better, because it also reminds me that I’m not just a victim to the rest of life. I can be an agent of positivity. 

            “Then, I [rest] in God. There are times for shaking one’s fist at God and doing all the Psalmist activities. But I think also [about] trusting in God’s love for me, no matter what happens. Sometimes that takes the form of prayers and listening to a beautiful song and knowing that God made beautiful things in the world.” 

How to Cultivate Happiness 

January 8, 2023

            If you’d like to be happier in the new year, Joy Marie Clarkson has some insights to share from her own life. In fact, she considers herself “aggressively happy,” which is also the title of her book, because, “In this world that is so pervaded by cynicism…[and] difficult things…to have some kind of joy and happiness does take an act of at least assertiveness, if not aggression.”          

            At the same time, Joy is a realist who never descends into toxic positivity, which she describes as “an inability to deal with the actual griefs and heaviness of life.” In fact, she notes that her name, Joy Marie, means “joy in a sea of bitterness or sadness,” which, again, accurately reflects her personality. 

            During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Joy explained, “I am a person of extremes to some extent. So I’ve always felt…a deep enjoyment of life…and I’ve also felt very keenly the heaviness of the world, whether it was my own struggles with mental illness, or the people that I loved [who were] suffering, or just looking at the vast fragility of the world…So happiness for me has been…a cultivated thing or a habit. It’s not that you can just make yourself be happy. It’s that you slowly but surely till the ground of your life. You pull up the weeds. You water thankfulness every day. So that was part of what the book is wrestling with and, hopefully, models a bit as well.” 

            Ironically, “Aggressively Happy” was inspired by an extended period of hardship for Joy, a period from which she emerged with wisdom and clarity about life and God. At the end of December one year, she had a mystical experience that told her the coming year would be one of suffering. Initially, she wrote it off as OCD or intrusive thoughts, but she soon learned this was a message meant to prepare her for what was to come. 

            “I feel like that period of my life was one of the first times I woke up to the fact that Jesus says, ‘In this life, you will have tribulation, but take heart for I have overcome the world.’” said Joy. “Having that sense of preparation made me feel like I wasn’t alone in it, that I was being guided through it. It helped me…get in touch with reality, which is that there will be difficult things. Then [it ushered] me into a posture towards life, which I have to learn again and again: to not be surprised by suffering and to know that it doesn’t undo the joy and beautiful things we experience. Also, to let it become something that softens you and makes you open to others and other people’s pain, and aware of God’s love in the midst of life.” 

            The comforting aspects of Joy’s faith did not just occur in the spiritual realm, but through tangible ways. It’s not just about sitting in church trying to make yourself “believe harder,” she said, but rather about a sacramental experience of God’s grace. 

            Joy continued, “We experience these specific graces in the Church, but also as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ So from poetry to the beauty of nature to the comfort of the sacraments, those were all things that helped me know that God was with me, that I was never alone in suffering, and that the suffering was never the fundamental thing…It didn’t have the final word in my life.” 

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