Joy is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It is one of the Fruits of the Spirit, second only to love. We sing songs about joy. We celebrate occasions of joy; the birth of a long-awaited baby, an engagement or wedding, milestones, and victories. Holidays are occasions for joy; Christmas proclaims "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"
Pope Francis's first apostolic exhortation is entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). In it he elaborates on many of the thoughts and reflections we have been hearing from this joyful Pope. He emanates a warmth and welcome through his actions; and an enthusiasm for his role as Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the universal Church. He brings a feeling of hope to a weary Church and cynical world.
This Pope has a heart for evangelizing. He has a solidly pastoral background, which comes through in his writing. "An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people's daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the "smell of the sheep" and the sheep are willing to hear their voice." (24)
Most importantly, Pope Francis's actions reflect his words. He shows humility, compassion, inclusion, warmth, joy, and kindness as he interacts with people. He goes about his business of sharing God's love with enthusiasm and pure joy, genuinely happy to be the hands and heart of Jesus to the poor, the neglected, the outcasts, and the disillusioned. He teaches us, by the way he lives his own life, how to be joyful and how to share that joy with a hurting world.
Pope Francis, through his ministry, teaches us that the Gospel calls us to joy. When things are going well, and our lives are rolling along smoothly, most of us find it easy to be contented, even joyful. Yet, for myself, when my life gets complicated and difficult, and I'm feeling overwhelmed, confused, and hurt, I don't always want to hear that the answer is to 'keep the faith.' To see my trial as a chance to grow. The temptation to despair is part of my humanity. But it helps to know that the difficulty is real, and that I am not alone. It has been said that what you focus on, you give power to. Pope Francis reminds us to keep our focus on the joy, not the pain.
The Gospels teach us about Jesus and his ministry. The stories told by the apostles are filled with examples of Jesus's love. They tell about Jesus teaching his disciples, and calling them to go out and spread the Good News, with joy. This call extends to us, today.
The joy of the Gospels is not something we should keep to ourselves. We are called to go forth and share this Good News to others. Jesus teaches us how in the Gospels. Pope Francis models the precepts of Jesus with humility and joy. He inspires me, indeed all of us, to do the same.
I am reading a book entitled, "Pope Francis And Our Call To Joy," written by Diane M. Houdek. It is a mere 75 pages, but is filled with wisdom and hope. I encourage everyone to read this book. It may be just the jump-start we need to help us to be full of joy in the Lord, regardless of our circumstances. And to share this joy and the good news with our neighbors.
"My brothers and sisters, be full of joy in the Lord."