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, for those who have living faith. We can learn to rejoice because the Lord is always near. Let us really hear the words of Jesus in today's Gospel and believe they can be trusted. 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.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On the day after the day when most of the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, our Gospel offered us these words from the Lord:
"Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world."
"So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you." (John 16: 20-23)
I addressed the deeper meaning of the Ascension yesterday in my homily entitled, The Feast of the Ascension is Not an Intermission. Now, I want to focus 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?
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. 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 kind 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, for those who 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 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 is the road upon which we should 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 really hear the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, with out hearts, and believe they can be trusted. 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)
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