St. Thomas Aquinas explains that spiritual joy is a rejoicing over God's own goodness and over our sharing in that goodness through divine grace. Joy makes us say with Job, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 2:21) Finding joy in the many difficult and painful situations in our world seems unnatural at first. Yet joy brings to the soul the revelation of a faithful God.
Today's Gospel encourages us to look more closely at this divine promise. John's confinement in a prison cell is symbolic, as if he has returned to the womb--a barren womb that has become blessed, as it did for his mother Elizabeth. From this cell, John reaches out blindly but with trust in God, asking, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) He asks to hear the voice of hope and it comes to him. "Go and tell John what you hear and see," Jesus says (Matthew 11:4). The first reading sums up this hope: "The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song." (Isaiah 35:1-2). This is the source of our joy: it is the confidence that God will always grant us that true gift of joy that guides us in the day and in the night, the faithful joy that brings delight in our salvation.