As our schools and workplaces and parishes get ‘back into gear’ after the Christmastide and New Year break, we look forward to the 12 months which open up before us filled with opportunities ‘to know, to love and to serve the Lord’.
In fact, the attitude with which we embrace life is, in the words of Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation written in 2013, to be filled with ‘the joy of the Gospel’ because it is in that spirit of joy that people will be able to truly encounter the risen Lord Jesus.
Joy is not about wearing a fixed grin which people will very quickly realise is false and forced, nor is it an attempt to pretend that life is always a bed of roses; life can be tough, faith can feel sometimes like an uphill struggle, and joy is perfectly compatible with suffering – just look to the Martyrs! The ‘joy of the Gospel’ is our being so deeply rooted in our relationship with the Father that, using the words of Saint Paul, we know in the depth of our being that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).
To quote Pope Francis:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
(The Joy of the Gospel #2)
When we come together to celebrate the Liturgy of the Church, we are nourished by Word and Sacraments for the task that lies ahead of us each day, each week, each year. The Liturgy is a moment in the life of each individual and community when, in a particular and powerful way, God works for our Good – transforming our lives through the working of His Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis certainly challenges each one of us by his words regarding the need for each of us – both as individuals and as parishes – to embrace the call to be missionaries of the joy of the Gospel. We are called to be missioners of Gospel joy in a world which can so often appear to be concerned merely with the superficial, the short-term and the self-centred. By our example we play our own little part in fulfilling the great command to ‘go, make disciples of all nations’, but we can only do this in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
This is not only a challenge – but also an Examination of Conscience!