Tag Archives: joy

Fear or joy

When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
[The Magi] were overjoyed at seeing the star.
Matthew 2: 3,10

When Herod heard of the birth of Jesus he was filled with fear and his fear contaminated the whole city. Not finding out where the Child was, he sent troops from afar to try to kill him.

When the Magi saw the star they were overjoyed and, entering the house, adored the child Jesus.

DSC00816Herod in fear sought death; the Magi, filled with joy, share their gifts.

What will we choose today: fear and death-dealing or joy and sharing?

That may be the real question for the Epiphany.

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Joy in the Lord

A good laugh is a sign of love…
Karl Rahner, SJ

Today is the feast of St. Philip Neri who was a practical joker. Part of that was a defense against those who wanted to adulate him as a saint when he was alive. Part was an expression of the joy he found in God.

As he wrote:

Perfection does not consists in such outward things as shedding tears and the like, but in true and solid virtues, Tears are not a sign that a man is in the grace of God, neither must we infer that one who weeps when he speaks of holy and devout things necessarily lives a holy life. Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. When a man is freed from a temptation or any other distress, let him take great care to show fitting gratitude to God for the benefit he has received.

In the last few years here in Honduras I have experienced the grace of joy, of cheerfulness. Also, I have become more “picaro,” mischievous, and more of a “bromista,” a joker.

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I find myself becoming more like my father whom I remember as a great joker, a man with a great heart.

Being able to joke around with people and to be a little mischievous helps break down barriers. It helps us establish bonds.

It also can lead us deeper into the love of God, as we set aside our pretensions and rejoice in the good gifts that God gives us.

It was the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote this about a sense of humor:

Not everyone has a sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. . . . A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us. . . . God laughs, says the Bible. When the last piece of human folly makes the last burst of human laughter ring out crisp and clear in a doomed world, is it too much to imagine that this laugh will resemble that of God . . . and seem to convey that, in spite of everything, all’s well?

I have been blessed with a hearty laugh, but I think I saw one of the most amazing manifestations of joy last Friday night, in the midst of torrential rains, as I joined the vigil before the beatification of Monseñor Romero.

There were may moments of joy that night, but one stands out.

For almost two full hours, between 1:00 and 3:00 am, young Franciscan friars from Central America led a crowd in song and dance – and moments of reflection on the witness of Romero.

Their joy was contagious. Here’s a short video which, though it’s shaky in places, gives you a sense of the joy in the Lord that many felt with the beatification of Romero – a sign of the presence of God.

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If the video doesn’t load on this page, you can find it here.

Joy in the midst of suffering

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Dominic Guzman, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Friars Preachers, better known as the  Dominicans.

There is much to admire in Dominic. As a student he sold his books and furniture to feed the poor in a time of famine. As a missionary preacher among the Albigensians in southern France, he admonished the warrior Bishop Fulk that the weapons to convert these heretics should be prayer and humility, not the sword and fine clothes. As a preacher among the Albigensians he lived austerely,  traveling on foot, begging for sustenance in contrast to the papal legates who arrived in fine clothes and were aligned with the political powers of the day. As a traveling preacher he had more success with the austere and inspiring Albigensians.

But what struck me as I read about him this morning was his joy in the midst of suffering. As Blessed Jordan of Saxony, one his early followers, wrote:

 Nothing disturbed his equanimity except a lively sympathy with any suffering. A person’s face shows whether he or she is really happy. Dominic was friendly and joyful. You could easily see his inward peace.

This reminded me of a chapter in an inspiring and challenging book by Mary Jo Leddy, The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, that I’m reading.

She writes, reflecting on her life with refugees in Romero House in Toronto. “To discern the presence of Christ we need to look for that mysterious gospel sign of joy in the midst of suffering.”

Reflecting on “The Smiling Christ” in Xavier, in the Basque region of Spain, she notes that the crucifix was fashioned in the midst of the Black Death and church corruption of the fourteenth century, “a time of great suffering and spiritual confusion.”

 And yet. And yet. Christ is smiling in the midst of his own suffering and the suffering of the dark age of Europe. When we can smile like that. we know we are where we are meant to be.

The spiritual life is not joy or suffering. It’s joy in the midst of suffering, allowing the suffering and the joy of the poor and marginalized we meet – Maria, José, Samara, Omin – to touch our hearts and reveal the joy that God has placed deep within us that can be unveiled in the often disconcerting presence of the other person whose suffering we share.

That is the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection – not joy alone, not suffering alone, but joy in the midst of suffering.

And I have been blessed with this grace here in Honduras.

Fear, joy, and a disarming God

I live in the second poorest country in the Americas with the highest homicide rate in the world.

But why do I find myself full of joy and at peace here?

This morning’s psalm 46 from Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours may provide a clue.

As I prayed it – first in Spanish and then in English – I noted that the three strophes have different but related themes. Here are some initial thoughts, that will be my day-long meditation.

 1. God is our refuge, our helper – therefore, “we do not fear.”

Fear is so debilitating; it isolates us and keeps us from really living. It turns the other person into a threat to my existence.

There are lots of things to fear – crime, being rejected, death, sickness, bugs. These paralyze us and keep us from seeing the goodness of people and of God’s creation. But God is our refuge.

 2. God’s stream of water “gives joy.”

God is so gracious and the source of joy. I have been blessed with a smile and have inherited a hearty sense of humor from my Dad. Even in the midst of pain and injustice, God has let me see the marvels of God’s love – the beauty of creation, the holiness and love of the poor I work with.

3. God is a disarming God

“Consider the works of the Lord…. He puts an end to wars over all the earth; the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps; he burns the shields with fire.”

God not only dismantles the weapons of offense – the bow, the spear, the bomb, the machine gun; God burns with fire our defenses: shields, locked gates, barbed wire fences.

God calls us to be vulnerable, to be open. It’s not easy – and I always want some protection, some “security” precautions.

But how?

The end of the third strophe makes it clear:

 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

In stillness we can learn that God is, that I, John, am not god, that God is our strength – even in our weaknesses.

And that brings me joy.