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Advent: Mary, John the Baptist and Pope Francis Call Us to Gospel Joy
By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Let us respond to the invitation of Pope Francis and follow his example. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of Gospel joy within us. Let us embrace by grace the way of humility demonstrated by John the Baptizer and Mary 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)
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - In a homily on Tuesday of the first week of Advent, Pope Francis spoke of the Joy of Jesus. He reminded the faithful of the call to live their own Christian lives in joy. The Gospel for the Mass of the day (Luke10:21-24) was one of my favorites. Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will."
Francis said We always think of Jesus when He preaches, when He heals, when He travels, walks along the street, even during the Last Supper. But we aren't used to thinking about Jesus smiling, joyful. Jesus was full of joy, full of joy. In that intimacy with His Father: 'I rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and I praised the Father.' It is precisely the internal mystery of Jesus, that relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is His internal joy, the interior joy that He gives to us.
In the wake of his first Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Gospel of Joy, Francis continues to preach the theme of Joy and call the Church to experience it and manifest it to the world. He proclaimed, You can't imagine a Church without joy; and the joy of the Church lies precisely in this: to proclaim the name of Jesus. To say: 'He is the Lord. My spouse is the Lord. He is God. He saves us, He walks with us.' And that is the joy of the Church, that in this joy of being a bride becomes a mother. Paul VI said: the joy of the Church is precisely to evangelize, to go forth and to speak about her Spouse. And also to transmit that joy to the children that she bears, that she raises.
Do we experience Gospel joy? Do we transmit Gospel Joy to others? This special four week time of preparation for the Nativity of the Lord called Advent is an opportune time to reflect on the meaning of Christian joy. It is also a time to ask the Lord for the grace we need to live in and manifest it to others. He wants to give it to us. Christian Joy finds its root in the relationship we 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, it does for those who have living faith.
We can learn to rejoice in all circumstances when we really begin to believe that that the Lord is always near. The Holy Father is encouraging us to cultivate the fruit of Gospel joy. That will require our exercise of human freedom, to say yes to the invitation. 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, can to cause us to respond with anything but joy, can be transformed in the life of a believer when they are embraced not as an obstacle but an invitation to living faith. They can become a source of joy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
They can become the fuel for igniting Gospel Joy. However, we must invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten us even in in the midst of them, to open our eyes to see their purpose, and to give us the heavenly wisdom we need to learn their lessons. Yes, we can also pray for them to be removed. However, if they do not go away, we choose to trust that the Lord Jesus Christ will accompany us through them. The word translated Gospel in English literally means Good News. Are we living in a way which gives testimony to the fact that we believe that living for Jesus Christ brings joy? St. Paul, a man who was certainly well acquainted with difficulty and suffering, told the early Christians - and tells each one of 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 called stress, - need not distract us away from the source of true Joy. That source is Jesus Christ. He never leaves us! Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He is 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. 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 this Gospel joy that Pope Francis is calling us to live.
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) Living as though we really believe this can lead us to a new way of life. It is why, before they were called Christians, they were referred to as "the Way" (Acts 22:4). They lived their lives in a new way. By living our lives in the Lord, living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world, we can begin to experience His presence in all circumstances. The Church is fundamentally a relational reality, a communion with the Lord, and, in the Lord with one another. This communion deepens through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Christian joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is meant to be experienced and manifested. It is a sign that the character of Christ is 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)
This Sunday our Gospel reading at Mass will introduce us to John the Baptizer. He is one of the primary biblical characters of the Advent season. The other is Mary, the Mother of the Lord. John's humility, and Mary's humility show us the way to pave the road along which we should walk if we desire to find Gospel joy. John 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 experience and live 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)
Do we really 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. 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 Gospel joy, 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 was a man of Gospel joy. He told the Philippians: 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 respond to the invitation of Pope Francis and follow his example. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of Gospel joy within us. Let us embrace by grace the way of humility demonstrated by John the Baptizer and Mary 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)
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