The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. 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.
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.
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.
Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudii
Reflection – Gaudete in Domino semper! Iterum dico gaudete! Dominus enim prope est. The words of the Entrance antiphon for today’s Mass give us the traditional name for this Gaudete Sunday. If your Latin is a bit rusty (or non-existent), it goes: “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice! For the Lord is near.”
Joy is the word of the day in the Church, with Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation choosing to highlight it as the key evangelical virtue and the characteristic note of Christian life. This is something all of us are called to meditate on, just a bit anyhow, in response to the invitation of our Holy Father.
My own conviction is that it is as natural for a Christian to be joyful as it is natural for any human being to be breathing. Joy is meant to spring up from the Christian heart, the graced heart, spontaneously and immediately. In other words, it would be very wrong and counter-productive to think that we have to somehow manufacture joy, whip ourselves up towards joy, and meanwhile put on some kind of joyful countenance that is really a mask for our true inner reality. ‘Put on a happy face’ is not a liturgical text.
Really, it’s not a question of ‘trying to be joyful’ so much as identifying what blocks joy in us, and removing those blockages. There’s a big difference between removing blockages to something that is actually there, and trying to make something be there that doesn’t exist.
And the Pope does a good job identifying some of the main blockages to joy in the human heart: “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience… our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns.., no longer room for others.., God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades... [we] end up resentful, angry and listless.
Ultimately it is selfishness and the determination to get one’s own way in life that kills joy. Affliction and suffering can moderate joy, can make our joy be expressed in a quieter, more interior way, but these things alone cannot kill joy. We have all, I hope, seen people in great pain and travail who nonetheless have a quiet stream of joy flowing from their hearts.
No, the great block to joy in our lives is when we decide life is about getting what we want and our whole concern lies in pursuing our own interests and concerns. When we turn away from the real wellsprings of joy, the daily encounter with Christ, the remembrance of his love and his grace, and throw ourselves into all sorts of pursuits and feverish activities that are not taking us anywhere.
The joy of the Gospel is that the Lord is near, that God is with us, and that the presence and power of love is real, is true, and is available to us. The call of the Christian is to focus our eyes, minds, and hearts on this divine love and make it the substance, source, and goal of our lives. Joy flows from this, be it a quiet inner joy or an exuberant boisterous joy. And it is this joy that the sad grim angry world above all needs to see and hear in us, if our proclamation of the Gospel is to be credible and effective.
So let’s get cracking, removing the obstacles in our life, and letting the joy of God find us and flow into and through us freely.