Monday, August 19, 2013

Joy in the Journey-April 18th homily

"There is a joy in the journey" Michael Card sings. How are you and I to experience joy on our journey to the heart of the Father? Today we are going to speak about a scripture verse that is not in the readings but one that touches upon them. The verse is James 1:2-4: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for your know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." How can you and I find joy in the midst of trials? Today's gospel certainly indicates that followers of Jesus can expect trials. How do we maintain our peace and joy in the midst of these trials? Well today's second reading gives us the answer-the author of Hebrews exhorts followers to "persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus." That is the key-we have to keep our eyes on the prize. St. Francis in speaking with Brother Leo once gave this answer to the question of perfect joy. He said, "if, when we shall arrive at St. Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if when we knock at the convent gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him 'we are two of the brethren', he should answer angrily 'what you say is not the truth; you are but two imposters going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say'; if then he refuses to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall-then if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who makes him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy." Huh?....Francis continues but you can see where he is going. Notice, also, how different his description of perfect joy is from the response of Oprah who shouted to the whole world "Don't you know who I am?" after being rebuffed at a store in Switzerland. That is pride. I don't have perfect joy. I still tend to be overly sensitive to what people say about me. I am sure that you can say the same as well. The problem is we have too much pride and not enough humility. Pride says "How dare that person say such and such about me." Humility says," well, I guess that person sees me as I am." Do you know that St. Paul's letter to the Philippians mentions the word joy or rejoice sixteen times? Do you realize that St. Paul wrote that letter while chained to a post in prison? It is clear then, that the Christian understanding of joy is something quite different then what the world proposes. Joy is a sign of a healthy person and is important on our journey to God. In my own life I know that if joy is missing, something is wrong and I need to "recalculate" as the GPS tells me. St. Teresa of Avila considered it so important she said " God save us from sad-faced saints." C.S. Lewis wrote a spiritual autobiography titled "Surprised by Joy." Mother Teresa spoke about the joy of loving. When Lucille Ball sang "we need a little Christmas" in the movie Mame, she was saying, we need "joy". Her family had just lost everything, but they still had joy. When Paul speaks about joy in his letter to those in Philippi he says "complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others." Our joy will be complete when we are humble of heart, or as St. Paul says, "regard others as more important than yourselves." St. Phillip Neri says it so well: "a heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad", and " a glad spirit attains perfection more quickly than any other." Pope John XXIII was known for his sense of humor. Shortly after his elections as Pope, John was walking in the streets of Rome when a woman passed him and said to her friend, "My God, he's so fat!" Overhearing her remark, he turned around and replied "Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest." Once he was visiting a hospital in Rome called the hospital of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after entering, he was introduced to the sister who ran the hospital, "Holy Father", she exclaimed, flustered by his surprise visit, " I am the superior of the Holy Spirit." " Well, I must say, you're lucky" said the Pope, delighted, "I'm only the Vicar of Christ." Humor, joy, it brings us out of the cistern, it lightens our load, and certainly makes life more enjoyable for everyone around. Pray that God will give you the gift of the fire of Joy. It comes from humility, it comes from surrendering one's life to Christ and helps us to "persevere in running the race." One person who lived that verse we began with from James is Blessed Chiara luce Badano. A vibrant, lively, beautiful teenager from Italy (she was only 18 when she died), Chiara was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Greatly loved by all her friends, the pictures of her on her deathbed are stunning. She had a radiant smile and said "don't be sad, I am going to heaven." Her local bishop raved at the luminescent quality of her face. Let Christ transform your sorrows into joy, and like Chiara Badano, you too will spread the joy of Christ's love to all that you meet.

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