Learning to Be Happy on Earth: Pope Francis Offers Gospel Joy to All
Christian joy is not rooted in the circumstances and struggles of our daily lives. It also need not be robbed from us by them. Sometimes the travails we experience are the bad fruit of the disorder and brokenness caused by sin, our wrong choices. However, even then, they need not rob us of Gospel Joy. The Goodness of the News we proclaim to the whole world does not change. And we proclaim that Good news in word and lifestyle. Our circumstances simply present us with an invitation as to how we will respond to them. Living faith gives us the means. Christian Joy finds its root in the relationship we now have in and through Jesus Christ, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. That relationship not only survives struggle, it thrives in struggle. That is, if we have living faith. We can learn to rejoice because the Lord is always near.
BOTHEL, WA (Catholic Online) - My wife and I are visiting our oldest son, daughter in law and two of our six grandchildren this week. Along with adjusting to the time zone difference, marveling at the change of scenery and adjusting to a new pattern to the day, I have been thrown me well outside of my comfort zone - and it is good for me.
One of the works I brought along with me for reflection during Morning Prayer is the beautiful apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis entitled The Gospel of Joy (Evangelii Gaudium). Last year, when it was released on the Feast of Christ the King, Francis symbolically handed it to a Bishop, a Priest, a Deacon and a Lay leader.
As with everything he does, he was, speaking through actions. In those words attributed to his namesake, the little poor man of Assisi, he was "preaching the gospel at all times and when necessary using words". This exhortation contains marching orders for a new missionary age of the Church in the world of the Third Millennium.
It also offers every believer some wonderful reminders of the truth that the word Gospel means GOOD NEWS, and that Christian joy can and should accompany every one of us who bear the name Christian. It can and will, if we stay in a living relationship with the One who is its source, Jesus Christ.
I read the Exhortation when it was released, wrote about it for our readers and offered links for people to print off. However, during this time apart with the family, in the Pacific Northwest, amidst the grandeur of the huge trees which surround me every morning, I am now praying this wonderful work. It is out in paperback form and makes a tremendous addition to those treasured books we all use in our prayer times.
It is just the kind of contribution to the treasury of Christian writings that one can keep coming back to, over and over, and find more food for the soul and resources for the journey of life.
Sadly, too many of the faithful do not even consider reading a papal document. Perhaps they think it is the domain only of theologians or clerics. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these beautiful writings are there to feed, inspire, equip and sustain all of the faithful.
This exhortation is doing just that for this road weary deacon. I need it, right now. It is helping me to refocus on the gift of Gospel Joy. In fact, as with all Latin, the pattern of sentence structure allows for the title to be translated the Gospel of Joy or the Joy of the Gospel
Francis affirms in the opening sentences, "In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey in years to come."
Then, to use a colloquialism, he hits the nail on the head with an assessment of the current situation which so many of us experience:
"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
"God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God's will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
He then issues the invitation which we need to accept every day, indeed every hour:
"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since "no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord". The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
"Now is the time to say to Jesus: "Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace". How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!
"Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another "seventy times seven" (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.
"With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!"
I want to reflect with you, my readers, on the meaning and source of real Christian Joy.
The older I get, the more I realize that word - Joy - had a special meaning when used by Jesus to address the disciples. It still does. After all, we are his contemporary disciples. He still walks with us, instructs us and leads us in the Way.
Difficulties, stress, and painful experiences which, at first glance, can to cause us to respond with anything but joy, can be transformed in the life of a believer when we have living faith. They can become its very source through the power of the Holy Spirit.
They can contribute to what I am calling Gospel Joy. That is, if we invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the midst of them, opening our eyes to find their purpose and lesson. Yes, also pray for them to either be removed or, if they are not, trust that the Lord Jesus Christ will accompany us through them.
Remember, the word translated Gospel in English literally means Good News. Are we living in a way which gives testimony to the fact that living for Jesus Christ brings joy and happiness?
St. Paul, a man who was certainly well acquainted with difficulty and suffering, told the early Christians - and tells us - "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes.5: 16 - 24) Did he mean it?
Yes, he did. This was a man who understood that the Gospel really is Good news! Do we?
The pain, hurt, fear, worry - and that awful killer stress, - need not distract us from the source of true Joy. That source is Jesus Christ. He never leaves us! The Ascension is not a departure, just a new way of Him walking with us now, in His Body, the Church, of which we are members.
Christian joy is not rooted in the circumstances and struggles of our daily lives. It also need not be robbed from us by them. Sometimes the travails we experience are the bad fruit of the disorder and brokenness caused by sin, our wrong choices. However, even then, they need not rob us of Gospel Joy.
The Goodness of the News we proclaim to the whole world does not change. And we proclaim that Good news in word and lifestyle. Our circumstances simply present us with an invitation as to how we will respond to them. Living faith gives us the means.
Christian Joy finds its root in the relationship we now have in and through Jesus Christ, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. That relationship not only survives struggle, it thrives in struggle. That is, if we have living faith. We can learn to rejoice because the Lord is always near.
One of the Psalms we chant in the Liturgy of the Hours reminds us of this bedrock truth, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed. Many are the troubles of the just, but the LORD delivers from them all." (Psalm 34:19,20)
Christian joy is a fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer (Galatians 5:22). It is meant to be reflected in a new way of living. It also reveals the character of Christ being formed in a believer. It does not mean smiling all the time - though for many of us a bit more smiling would be a good idea.
Rather, Christian joy, Gospel Joy means living as though we know that Jesus never leaves us. He meant it when he said, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Mt. 28:20)
A lifestyle change should characterize what it means to be a Christian. It is why, before they were called Christians, they were referred to as "the Way" (Acts 22:4). By living our lives in the Lord we can find this Joy he promised by living in a new way. By living in Him. We do that by living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. The Church is fundamentally a relational reality, a communion.
We have often heard the Gospel account when John told the crowds, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Luke 3)
We have received that very Baptism (the Greek means immersion) in the Spirit. In fact, it can be constantly renewed, if we ask. With that Baptism we have also received the grace we need to respond to this invitation to be a people of Gospel joy.
John's humility can become a road upon which we can walk if we desire to find that Gospel joy. He became a man of Joy because he was a man of humility! He understood the great truth presented to all of us in our Liturgy today. It wasn't all about him! It isn't all about us!
John emptied himself of himself - and thereby became one who could reveal Jesus to others. His humility opened a space within him for true joy, the kind which comes from the real presence of the Lord.
So it can become for each one of us.
Living in the first home of the whole human race, his mother's womb, this last Prophet of the Old Testament and First Prophet of the New responded to the arrival of Jesus with a dance and just kept living in joy. The Gospel account records the visit of Mary to Elizabeth:
"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
"For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior." (Luke 1: 41-47)
Joy fills Elizabeth, inspires Mary to sing a canticle of praise, and causes the child John to dance in the womb. Joy is a Person named Jesus. He is still among us, calling us to Gospel Joy!
In the fourth Gospel, the theologian John recorded the words of the Baptizer explaining the source of his supernatural joy, "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." (John 1:29 - 30)
The two persons we should look to as instructors in this Gospel joy are John the Baptizer and Mary, the Mother of the Lord.
Do we think of Mary as joyful? Of course we know she was the mother of sorrows. She was so closely associated with the redemption that she participated in the sorrows of her Son. A sword did indeed pierce her heart (Luke 2:35) and with it she was invited into the suffering it entailed.
We refer to her as the "cause of our joy" because, by her Yes, she cooperated with God's great plan to bring the source of true Joy to the world. Joy was conceived within her and birthed for the you and me.
But remember, she carried Jesus, raised him, loved him and held Him, in her arms and in her heart. Of course she participated in the greatest source of Joy!
Mary's humility brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven. She was a woman of deep joy because she became the habitation of happiness, the first living tabernacle. She overflows with Jesus and she imparts joy to us all.
We call her, among her many other wonderful titles, the "cause of our Joy" because she bore the One who is its source, Jesus Christ. However, I suggest it is beyond time someone wrote an icon of a smiling Mother of God!
Maybe they exist. If so, I invite my readers to enlighten me.
You and I can find this Gospel joy, this genuine happiness, beginning today, no matter what our circumstances. The Apostle Paul lived an arduous life of discipleship. He suffered physically, relationally and spiritually. Yet, he too was a man of this Gospel joy. He told the Philippian Christians:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. " (Phil. 4:4-6)
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of Gospel Joy within us. Let us embrace by grace the way of humility and find the happiness of heaven - beginning right here on earth.
St. Josemaria Escriva, a Saint of our own time who teaches us that the universal call to holiness embraces every vocation and state in life, once wrote, "I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth." (The Forge, 1005)
Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
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