I am not what one would call, a naturally ‘joyful’ person. Not exactly Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, but I’m certainly not the kind of person that walks into a room and exudes joyfulness. I used to think that it was just how I was, until I heard a talk about joy, where the speaker mentioned that I could pray for joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When I began praying that the fruit of my encounters with God would be joy,I didn’t immediately exude it, but I kept praying for it. I was soon led to the realisation that joy was ultimately, and particularly in trying times, a choice to lean into God’s grace. 

“To choose joy” became my daily motto. I would wake up and tell myself that no matter what came my way that day, I would choose to be joyful. Many would say that this was perhaps masking my emotions, but for me it wasn’t, and truly it isn’t. You see, joy is the fruit of placing your hope in Jesus Christ. It is not void of hardships, doubts, or trials. Instead, it says that even in what I am going through, I rejoice because I know, love, and serve the Creator. It is a joy that springs forth from the hopeful anticipation of eternity with Jesus Christ. Joy is necessary for a servant of God, because it gives witness to the “living water” (John 4:10) that springs forth from a life with Christ. 

This has become more apparent to me since reading the book “A Witness to Joy”, the story of Blessed Chiara Corbello Petrillo.  

Chiara was 28 years old when she died in 2012. Though young, she had become the mother of three children, and a witness to carrying a cross with joy. 

Chiara met her husband Enrico when she was 18 years old. They had a difficult courtship, and broke up several times, before deciding that they both felt called to marriage with each other. They had both reached an understanding that “the logic is that of the cross; giving oneself first without asking anything of the beloved, leading to the goal of the radical gift of oneself”. (A Witness to Joy) 

Soon after getting married, the couple found out that they were expecting a baby. They were obviously filled with joy at the start of this new chapter, although initially concerned about how they, as a young couple (Chiara was still studying at the time), would support a small family. All was well until they went for a scan where, after further testing, they found out that their baby, already named Maria, had anencephaly. This meant she would be born without a skull, and thus doctors said she would only live a few hours after birth as she would not be able to sustain her own life. 

The doctors said that Chiara and Enrico had a decision to make: carry Maria to full term, knowing she would only live a few hours in this world, or terminate the pregnancy. For Chiara and Enrico, the decision was easy. They had accepted that it was God who had given them Maria, and it was God who would decide how long her life on earth would be.  Maria was born, and lived a few hours. Chiara and Enrico, both musicians, sang and played at her funeral, and all in attendance had called it a joyful occasion. 

When Chiara and Enrico fell pregnant with their second child, they were again filled with joy and excitement. However, halfway through that pregnancy, they found out that their little boy Davide Giovanni had multiple malformations and would not live past a few hours on this earth.  

Again, Chiara and Enrico made the decision to carry him to term. This pregnancy was difficult, but again Chiara and Enrico walked it with their hope placed in God’s plan. Saying “We must not be possessive, the Lord is giving me a cross; I must take it up, because in that cross I will discover something that the Lord wishes to say to me.” (A Witness To Joy). They walked knowing that they as parents were, as Pope John Paul II once said, “the guardians of life”, not the givers of it.  

The story of Chiara continues with her falling pregnant with their third child, Francesco,  who was healthy from the start. The relief of having a healthy child was interrupted when Chiara found out that it was now her who was sick. She was diagnosed with cancer and again was faced with a choice. This time to receive treatment at the risk of harming baby Francesco during her pregnancy, or to forgo treatment until Francesco was born. She chose the latter. 

By the time their baby was born, Chiara’s cancer had spread, and she was diagnosed as terminal.  

On the surface, this story comes across as sad, even depressing. However, although heart-breaking, the story of Chiara and Enrico is called “A Witness to Joy” by their friends. Through their crosses, they both showed what it means to live your life with hope and joy. They had both surrendered their marriage, their children, and themselves to God. This has meant that Chiara’s life, and the lives of Maria and Davide, have become a testimony to complete trust in God: walking through life, and carrying our crosses with complete faith that all things are in God’s hands.  

This story has given me a new perspective on what it means to be a joy-filled Christian. It has given me the hope that through my joy, others may see my love and trust in Jesus. 

Yes, as St Philip Neri said, “a servant of God ought always be joyful”, not because there are no crosses or hardships in life, but because joy is the light by which others may see that my hope is in Christ, and Christ alone. To pray for the fruit of joy, is to lean into the Grace of God which cannot help but give you joy. 

Give thanks, and choose joy today.  

Photo credit: Revista Mision

To read more about the life of Chiara Corbello Petrillo, visit http://www.chiaracorbellapetrillo.it/en/ 

Or read Chiara Corbello Petrillo: A Witness to Joy 


About the author:

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I studied geology but I currently work in youth ministry. I love Jesus, coffee and pink roses. Above all, I’m just a catholic young woman trying to make it to heaven. I think St Therése and I will hang out there. I haven’t figured out how to adult yet, so until I do, I keep reminding myself that “Each woman who lives in light of eternity, can fulfill her vocation” – Edith Stein. Please pray for me, I’ll be praying for you.