August 23, 2019

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Our faith calls us to preach joy in tough situations

“Life is too short. Humor is of utter importance. The problems of the world, the problems of the Church, they are many. But you cannot forget about the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’ It’s not the ‘Sadness of the Gospel!’ ” (Australian Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green, quoted in Crux, a Catholic online news service).

Two of the most consistent themes in the teaching of Pope Francis are “joy” and “missionary discipleship.” The Holy Father returns to these themes regularly, elaborating on them and applying their meaning to diverse situations and circumstances.

During his Angelus remarks on July 7, Pope Francis formally connected joy and discipleship saying, “True joy is to walk in the company of the Lord.” The Church is missionary by nature, the pope said, and missionary disciples must always be joyful, bringing peace and healing to all.

In his first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“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’ ” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” #3).

Joy is—or should be—available to everyone, and Christ’s faithful missionary disciples are charged with the serious responsibility of bringing healing, peace and abundant joy to everyone they encounter.

This is challenging work. Many people find themselves in situations that are anything but joyful. Regardless of one’s political, racial, ethnic, economic or social background, life can be burdensome—even oppressive. “If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences,” the Holy Father says, “it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” #49).

Missionary disciples should not be overwhelmed by the extreme hardships faced by the people they are called to serve. If we proclaim the Gospel with an open heart and a true missionary attitude, Pope Francis says, “the mission of the Church will be marked by joy.”

During his homily for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on July 8, Pope Francis said:

“On this sixth anniversary of the visit to Lampedusa, my thoughts go out to those ‘least ones’ who daily cry out to the Lord, asking to be freed from the evils that afflict them. These least ones are abandoned and cheated into dying in the desert; these least ones are tortured, abused and violated in detention camps; these least ones face the waves of an unforgiving sea; these least ones are left in reception camps too long for them to be called temporary. These are only some of the least ones who Jesus asks us to love and raise up. Unfortunately, the existential peripheries of our cities are densely populated with persons who have been thrown away, marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against, abused, exploited, abandoned, poor and suffering.

“In the spirit of the Beatitudes, we are called to comfort them in their affliction and offer them mercy; to sate their hunger and thirst for justice; to let them experience God’s caring fatherliness; to show them the way to the kingdom of heaven. They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues! ‘This is not just about migrants,’ in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”

Missionary disciples are called to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to all, but most especially to the “least ones” who have been abused, abandoned and effectively forgotten.

Let’s remember to pray for the “least ones” and to do everything in our power as disciples of Jesus Christ to “walk in the company of the Lord” and to share his joy with all our sisters and brothers.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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