Yesterday was the second session of the series on Discerning My Place in the World I am offering this year at UST Law School. The subject of our gathering yesterday was the question What Brings Me Joy?
An important part of our discernment of who we will be int he world has to do with ascertaining what brings us joy. Yet it is a question many people never focus on.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardon said “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Unlike happiness, which depends on external stimuli, joy comes from a sense of rightness about where I am with God and others.
During our session, I spoke briefly about joy and then showed an excerpt from a video by Michael Hims title Three Key Questions. The full video appears below; we watched the first eleven minutes. After watching the film, the participants spent time in silent personal reflection with some quotes and questions on a handout I distributed (which you can find here). We managed to leave a little time at the end for dyad sharing and some larger group discussion, focusing particularly on how we recognize joy and distinguishing between happiness and joy.
[for those receiving this by e-mail, click through to the blog to see the video]
Note: I am informed by one of my readers here that the phrase “joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” was “first coined by Leon Bloy, a now-obscure 19th-century French writer. Teilhard repeated it.” (With thanks to Hilary)
Yesterday was the first of a four session Lenten Adult Education Series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Pope Francis and the Renewal of the Church. I was the speaker for this opening session, which focused on Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel.
We selected The Joy of the Gospel, the Apostolic Exhortation issued on November 24 of this past year, as the kick off for this Lenten program because Pope Francis’ document tells us a lot about who this Pope is, what he is up to, and what he thinks a renewal of the Church looks like. Indeed, in paragraph 17, Pope Francis describes the document as presenting “some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”
My talk focused both on what we learn from the document about Pope Francis’ spirituality and how he believes we are meant to be in this world.
You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 50:16.
If you are in the Twin Cities area, the remaining three sessions of the series are March 23, 30 and April 6 on The reform of the Vatican and the Role of the Laity (Fr. Michael Joncas), Spiritual Discernment in the Life of Faith (Fr. Tim Manatt), and Personal Witness, Charity and Justice (Fr. Dan Griffith).
Today is the Memorial of St. Anthony. No, not Anthony of Padua, who lived in the 13th Century, to whom we pray when we lose things. (“St. Anthony, St. Anthony please come round; something is lost and can’t be found.”) But the Anthony who was born in Egypt in 251.
Moved by Jesus’ message to “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor,” Anthony gave away a large inheritance and lived an ascetic life. It was not completely solitary; he developed many followers, who lived in scattered hermitages near to his own. What has been described as this “primitive organized life” earned him the name “father of monasticism.”
One of Anthony’s biographers wrote that “Strangers knew him from among his disciples by the joy on his face.” I was reminded when reading that line of something Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. An evangelizer, Francis wrote, “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” Rather, Francis tells us that the most effective evangelization is to “appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”
I think Pope Francis is absolutely right in his observation that “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” People who get the suffering part of Christianity, but not the joy. How can such a person evangelize effectively?
This is not to say we don’t have difficult times; I’m going through one right now as I continue to mourn the death of my friend John. But we are resurrection people and must transmit our joy in the resurrection. Anthony, it seems, was someone who did exactly that.
I very much enjoyed the movie, The Bucket List, doubtless at least in part because I like both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
In the movie, two men – Edward (Nicholson) and Carter (Freeman) both having a terminal illness find themselves sharing a hospital room. Although very different men, they form a friendship and creates a list of things they want to do before they die. They travel around, checking items off of their “bucket list,” each learning more about themselves and each other.
One of the things on their list was to see the pyramids of Egypt. While they are there looking at the pyramids, re, Carter tells Edward that the ancient Egyptians believed that when you die, you have to answer two questions before you get into heaven:
Have you found joy in your life?
Have you brought joy to others’ lives?
You might spend some time today reflecting on those two questions. What are the joys in your life? And how have you brought joy to others?
I just started reading James Martin, S.J.’s newest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.
I was excited as soon as I saw this book being advertised, for I have long bemoaned what Martin himself has experienced – that “many professional religious people (priests, ministers, rabbis, and the like) as well as some devout believers in general give te impression that being religious means being dour, serious, or even grumpy.” Certainly not all – I know many religious and lay that are joyful people…but also far too many that fit Martin’s description.
Martin begins by talking about the meanings of humor, laughter and joy from both secular and religious perspectives. As to humor and laughter, there is no significant difference in the secular and religiuos approaches.
With respect to joy, however, the religious understanding is very different from the secular one. Martin writes,
Joy is not simply a fleeting feeling or an evanescent emotion; it is a deep-seated result of one’s connection to God. Although the more secular defintiion of joy may sometimes describe one’s emotional response to an object or event, wonderful though it may be (a new job, for example), religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God.
Understood that way, it is not difficult to understand why we see joy on the faces of so many holy people – I think of the way St. Francis is often described, or of my own experience meeting the Dalai Lama. It is also easy to undertsand why joy is one of the traditional fruits of the Holy spirit – a gift, Martin suggests, we ignore at our peril.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book.
Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Philip Neri, a saint of the sixteenth century. I know very little about St. Philip. What prompts my mention of him today is a single line in the description of him provided before the Mass readings of the day in my Magnificat.
We tend to celebrate people who have done great and glorious deeds. The flashy. Those with extraordinary talent who do extraordinary things.
The line in the description of Philip that stuck me was this: “He excelled in his love of neighbor and in evangelical simplicity along with a joyous service to God.”
We can complicate it in many ways. But the description of Philip Neri is a good prescription for us. Love. Simplicity. Joyous service.
In that last aspect, it is worthwhile to emphasize both words of the description. Service, of course. But joyous service. As one commentator observed in writing about Philip, “Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow view of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh.”
I get concerned sometimes that we are under the mistaken impression that discipleship is always about difficulty and suffering.
We speak of the cost of discipleship (to use Bonhoeffer’s phrase) or we hear Jesus say things like, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Very weighty phrases.
It is true that there is a cost of discipleship – and that cost can at times be high. At times, there will be difficult and sometimes painful consequences that flow from following Christ, from putting Christ first in our lives. And some of the crosses we are asked to bear are heavy, indeed.
But if that is all we focus on – if that is all we see when we look at Jesus – our faith, and therefore our lives, become simply an unpleasant task that has to be undertaken for the sake of some larger goal. And when that is all we see, we miss the sheer joy of spending time with Jesus. Of walking with him, being with him, simply enjoying his company.
The disciples went out on difficult missions (and some of them never came back). But they also ate meals with Jesus, went to wedding feasts with him, and probably, at times, just clowned around with him.
For some reason I can’t fathom, I was on the mailing list for a complimentary copy of a newsletter from a Baptist church in North Dakota. (It probably wasn’t personal, since it was addressed to “Resident.”) The cover article was titled, A Passion for Life.
The article began by quoting a humorous sign from a mortician the writer saw some years ago that read “Why Walk Around Half Dead When We can Bury You for $69.95? Do you have a passion for life?” It is a good question.
One of the five characteristic virtues taught by St. Vincent de Paul, one of my great heroes, is zeal, by which he meant love on fire. He wrote, “If love of God is the fire, zeal is its flame. If love is the sun, then zeal is its ray.” Vincent didn’t make this virtue up out of whole cloth. Over and over again, the Bible admonishes us to have a sense of zeal in what we do. The letter to the Colossians instructs, “Whatever you do, do from the heart.” (In some translations, “Whatsoever you do, do it heartily.”) In the Second Book of Chronicles, King Hezekiah is characterized as seeking God “with all his heart.” The Book of Ecclesiastes says, anything you do, “do with what power you have.”
Do we live our lives with passion? with zeal? Or do we just go through the motions, moving from one task to another with no enthusiasm and no heart?
Our lives are a gift from God and we only live once. None of us knows how much time we have, but it would be a shame to waste however much time that is going through the motions of a life lived without passion and enthusiasm.