By: Deacon Steve Olmstead
Do you want more joy in your life? I am intentionally asking you about joy vs. happiness. The world offers a plethora of ways to find happiness, but it does not last. Happiness only lasts until a purchase or relationship breaks, is finished, no longer satisfies or we find some other thing or relationship to make us happy. Joy, on the other hand, is eternal in its foundation and flows within us as opposed to happiness which comes from outside us.
I know I want more joy. I want to experience the eternal joy God offers us in Jesus. Yet, I am much more familiar and possibly more comfortable with suffering and temporary happiness. One of the reasons I am Catholic is because of the Catholic Church’s profound theology of suffering. The crucifix is a constant reminder that our God understands our pain and hardships. This is good news. We do have a God who understands us. God understands every struggle, suffering, question, and burden we carry. Yet, God’s suffering and understanding of our own suffering is only part of the Good News and mystery of God’s love. The resurrection, the promise of life out of death and joy from sorrow, is the fullness of the Good News. We are “Easter People!” Yet, too often our lives, as Pope Francis writes, “seem like Lent without Easter.”
I am too often one of those “Lenten people” finding it easier to identify with sorrow and suffering, than I do with living in the light and truth of Easter, the joy of the resurrection. It is for this reason that I have found Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel, EVANGELII GAUDIUM” so compelling. The Gospel, “Good News” of Jesus is great news of joy. The angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth, “Be not afraid, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For to you this day in the city of David is born a Savior, Christ, the Lord.” Yes, the birth of Jesus and the faith of the Catholic Church is truly “Good News of great joy.” Even before his births, John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.
If you want more joy in your life, I want to encourage you to read “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis. The Pope is calling you and me, all the Baptized, to a new awakening and encounter with Jesus. Jesus is the source of joy and thus, our joy is found in relationship with Him.
In “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis writes, “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 toward 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.’”
I want to encourage you to say the above words over and over again until it becomes your personal prayer. The joy Jesus came to bring each of us is intimately connected to a personal encounter with Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, Jesus speaks of the vital importance of staying connected to the vine. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” He goes on to say, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” Our joy is anchored in staying connected to Jesus, in abiding in an intimate encounter with the Lord.
If you do not know that you have encountered Jesus, I pray you can embrace the truth that Jesus has already encountered you! God encountered you at your baptism when he adopted you as His beloved daughter/son and gave you His very Spirit. Jesus encounters you at every Mass through His real presence. God encounters you in Reconciliation through His mercy and forgiveness. In I John, Chapter 4, John writes, “We love because God first loved us.” Hear these words again, “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting with open arms.”
In the “Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis encourages us to take this risk. “You are not excluded from the Joy brought by Jesus!” Scott Hahn maintains that when we are without joy it is God’s gentle way of reminding us that we too are in need of conversion. We are called to open our hears and lives once again to the joy of the Gospel, to a life-changing, life-giving dynamic encounter with Jesus Christ. Lent is a perfect time to take this risk. If you are going to give up anything for Lent, give up your pursuit of happiness and risk taking a step toward Jesus, opening your life and heart to the joy of the Gospel.
The Joy of the Gospel is available on-line at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html.
If you would like a physical copy, please call 586-2227 and we will mail you a copy.