Living Our Faith With Joy

“Joy” is a great word, isn’t it? It bubbles up in us thoughts of great delight: a baby laughing, a wedding, a pleasurable meal shared with those we love.

“Joy” and “happiness” are not the same, although we often use those words interchangeably. Happiness depends on circumstances. We are happy because we have “something” or we’ve been given “something”. Happiness, frankly, is fleeting. It comes and goes.

Joy is abiding. It is a way of life. It permeates all we do. Joy does not depend on circumstances or what we have.

One of the first things that Pope Francis gifted us with was his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. He says:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress. [para. 6]

We acknowledge that our lives are touched by grief. We are burdened with responsibilities and sin. But we are called by the Gospel, the Good News. Faith creates joy, that quiet, firm trust in Christ Jesus and His promise of eternal life.

St. Paul says, in Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

We must challenge ourselves to live our faith with joy. Our hope, our faith means our lives are rooted, planted solidly, on joy. Be joyful! Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia!


The Ascension Of The Lord: Signpost Of Faith

Today marks the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. In many U.S. dioceses, the celebration of the Ascension is moved to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, but today marks the traditional celebration. Forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord gathers His Apostles for one last bit of instruction: that He will send the Holy Spirit so that they can witness on behalf of Christ “to the ends of the earth.”

Then, as we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is lifted up and vanishes from their sight in a cloud. Despite all the miracles that the Apostles had seen Christ perform, what must they have thought? How incredible! What could this possibly mean?

Monsignor Romano Guardini, a German priest born in Italy in 1885, has some thoughts on this. While Guardini is well-known in some circles, he still seems to be in the background in many places. This is too bad, as he had a profound impact on the spiritual formation of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Guardini’s book, The Lord, is truly a classic of theological writings.

Guardini said this about today’s Solemnity:

Perhaps we will experience that the Ascension was not simply a unique occurrence in the life of Jesus, but rather above all, the manner in which He is given to us: as one vanishing into heaven, into the Unconditional which is God. However, if that is the case, then these bare sketches are most precious: They are sign-posts pointing us to the ‘stepping beyond’ of faith; and insofar as they go beyond our vision, in fact, precisely because they go beyond our vision, they teach us to worship.

What Guardini seems to be saying here is that in Christ’s last bodily act on Earth, He creates a situation where faith must be relied upon. He is now “beyond our vision” – returning to His Father. With that, we (along with the Apostles) must rely on faith. St. Paul would later write, Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The Ascension is a reminder to us that we have a Heavenly home, one prepared for us by the Lord Himself. Today, of all days, we should acknowledge our longing to follow Christ, here and into eternity.


Love: The Christian Identity Card

In Rome this past weekend, more than 70 thousand teens from Italy and the world traveled to Rome for a Jubilee pilgrimage celebrating the Year of Mercy. On Saturday, priests (sitting on chairs in the open air) heard the confessions of these young people in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis joined them, hearing the confessions of 16 young people.

On Sunday, the pope addressed the young people in  his sermon.

The Pope told the thousands of 13 to 16 year olds gathered in St Peter’s Square that “love, was the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians.  If this card expires and is not constantly renewed,” he said, “we stop being witnesses of the Master.”

Then he asked the teenagers gathered “Do you want to experience the love of Jesus? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love.”

The Holy Father noted, however, that although love is beautiful and it’s the path to happiness it is not necessarily and easy path.  It is, he said, demanding and it requires effort.

Sunday’s Gospel, from the book of John, was short, but powerful. It formed the basis of Pope Francis’ remarks:

When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

It is easy to dismiss the Gospel (and Pope Francis’ remarks) as simply “feel good” words: let’s all love each other and be happy! But a closer reading reveals that Jesus is asking a great deal from us. Although the disciples did not yet know it, Jesus would show them the extent of His love: His sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus willingly burdened Himself with our sins, was beaten, humiliated and died a slow, agonizing death – because He loves us.

Jesus is telling us that, if we truly want to bear the name “Christian,” to carry the “Christian identity card” – we must love each other in a sacrificial manner. So, what would that look like? St. Paul, in his writings to the citizens of Corinth, makes it clear:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Today, we are all students in the school of love. We must learn love, we must practice love, we must accept love, and we must love all those who cross our paths. It is our identity as disciples of Christ.

success as a saint

Winners, Losers And Success As A Catholic

Oh, dear. It’s political season. It seems every day we are inundated with who has won, who has lost, who has dropped out. As Catholics, do we “keep score” like this? Are there winners and losers in the Faith? How do we mark success?

First, we know that the world’s standards are not God’s standards. By the world’s standards, martyrs are “losers.” Imagine, as St. Maximilian Kolbe did, volunteering to be killed so that another may live. Those “in charge” thought Maximilian Kolbe a fool; we now regard him a saint. St. Paul, in his life as Saul, was quite “successful” in persecuting Christians, but God called him to a new life and he responded. In fact, Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 4:

We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.

I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.

We know quite well how to spot a successful person in the world: the amount of money in a bank account, the lavish home, accolades from others. But there is no scorecard for a follower of Christ, at least not in this fashion. In fact, everything we know about success is turned on its head by St. Paul. We are followers of Christ Jesus, whose earthly life seemingly ended as a criminal, executed by those in power. As Catholics, what is our standard of success?

St. John Paul II, at World Youth Day 2000, said this to the young people gathered in Rome, and by extension, to the whole world:

Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, continued this message in Cologne at World Youth Day 2005:

It is the great multitude of the saints — both known and unknown — in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today. …

The saints … are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

Our standard of success then, is the Gospel. It is to be close to Christ in the sacraments. It is to know and live our faith. Success is to place ourselves at the service of others, to lead a revolution of faith. Success is to be a saint.