May 9, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

You have to catch joy from someone who has it

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinJoy is contagious. We can’t earn it. We have to “catch it” by means of personal contact with others who are joyful.

Pope Francis tells us that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the source of all Christian joy. But the road to joy isn’t easy. It requires us to face ourselves and our shortcomings, and to overcome many obstacles along the way.

Sorrow and disappointment are a fact of life. Our emotional, physical and even spiritual “hurts” cannot be buried or ignored. They must be suffered. It is only by way of the cross that we can participate in resurrection joy.

In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis shows us the obstacles we face without sugar-coating them, but he assures us that joy is always available to us because of the endless mercy of God.

Where do we encounter Jesus and receive his gift of joy? Certainly we encounter him in prayer and in the sacraments of the Church.

But Pope Francis also reminds us of the Lord’s powerful words: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Whenever we reach out to others, the pope tells us, and can move beyond our comfort zones to embrace the poor and the marginalized, we find Jesus. Whenever we “go forth” and embrace the Gospel’s “missionary spirit,” we discover—and can share—the joy of the Gospel.

By helping each other confront our brokenness, we help each other find joy. This is a great paradox. Instead of the frantic, frivolous pursuit of happiness by empty and artificial means, we find lasting joy by better understanding how we ourselves are broken and, then, by extending our arms to others regardless of their repulsiveness or their seemingly insatiable needs.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35–36).

In light of this profound insight, where is the Holy Spirit opening a door for us here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis? How are we being called to encounter Jesus, the source of all joy, in the hungry, homeless, sick and imprisoned members of our local communities here in southern and central Indiana?

Is the Holy Spirit opening a door for us in the most violent neighborhoods in our archdiocese? Is God calling us to examine the root causes of violence—in families and in society? How do we build healthy family units? What’s going on in the family and in society that is creating such violent, bitter feelings? Too many people today (including young people) don’t understand the value of life and death. Whose responsibility is this?

I hope that the process we have initiated called Connected in the Spirit is calling us to discover new ways of understanding what it means to be parish communities who collaborate with one another as unified members of a particular Church (the Archdiocese of Indianapolis) and the universal Church.

Collaboration shouldn’t be just a buzz word, something we only talk about. It should be an authentic sign of the missionary spirit that Pope Francis reminds us is essential to who we are as individuals and as the People of God.

Pope Francis challenges us: Are we moving too fast, working too hard, depending on our own individual efforts rather than on the grace of God working through the community of faith? Such questions are best answered in silent, prayerful reflection. The Holy Father is giving us permission to slow down, to be silent and to pray before we act. He is urging us to be “contemplative in action,” and to let the Holy Spirit guide us in our efforts to reach out to others (the least of Christ’s sisters and brothers).

The Holy Spirit is with us, leading us, here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. That makes it possible for the Lord’s message of hope and salvation to be delivered with great joy, no matter what is happening in our individual lives, in our families, in our parishes and archdiocese, and throughout the world!

This Easter season, let’s pray that we will find joy where we least expect it—in the faces of those who most need our love.

Let’s pray that we “catch joy” as though it were a fever that spreads throughout our archdiocese filling our hearts with the fire of God’s love! †

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