One word appears today in the Psalm, in the second reading and in the Gospel: joy.
The psalmist speaks of “shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the just”, in 1 Peter we read about God’s power guarding us until the salvation which is “a cause of great joy although we may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials” (how timely!). While St. John writes of disciples “filled with joy when they saw the Lord”, the epistle knows that we are already filled with “a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because we believe”, without seeing Christ.
But we may be asking ourselves – is there really a place for joy in our lives these days? It has been reported that so far in the global coronavirus pandemic, death have passed 160,000. This news comes as the total number of deaths in Europe approaches 100,000. The lockdown threatens to temporarily take at least 6.5 million jobs out of the economy – around a fifth of the national total. Can we be joyful?
I would like to share with you words of Pope Benedict XVI who was elected exactly 15 years ago, on 19 April 2005. Cardinal Josef Ratziner decided to take the name of his favourite saint, Benedict, the founding father of Europe and a great civiliser of the West, and to continue from Benedict XV, who led the Church during the difficult years of the Great War. At his first appearance at the central loggia of St Peter's, the new Pope greeted his followers defining himself as a "humble worker of the vineyard of the Lord".
He wrote on joy:
“Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don't have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.
I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better - and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. In this connection, it always strikes me that in the poor neighbourhoods of, say, South America, one sees many more laughing happy people than among us. Obviously, despite all their misery, they still have the perception of the good to which they cling and in which they can find encouragement and strength.
In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.”
By Fr Tomas
Illustration © Jan Hearn