(This guest piece is by Janet, who comments here but is best known as Pelianito, for the wonderful spiritual blog she does, one of the few I link to permanently, at right. Her comments are timely and, in their little way, marvelous advice for spiritual preparation – as was St. Paul’s advice, which she quotes, from today’s readings)
From the Second Reading 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Philippians 4: 12-16 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The theme of joy has been coming very strongly to me in the last few days. It seems strange, given much of what is occurring in the world and much of what I am feeling in my spirit. Human logic would make joy an unlikely theme in these perilous times. Yet, it comes to me, again and again along with the scripture passage from Nehemiah 8:10 – “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Some years ago I felt the Lord give me an image. I was in stormy waters and clinging to a rock, getting tossed around a bit but hanging on quite easily. In the image I was joyful, and even though the situation seemed dire, I was actually having fun! I felt the Lord explain: “The rock is hope, and joy is the glue that holds you to it. Let not fear drive joy from your heart, for love and joy must reign in the hearts of my faithful ones.”
We are living in increasingly terrible times, which seem likely to get worse before they get horrific! Now is the time to increase our capacity for joy. God is not calling us to be sad sacks and worry warts. As the days continue to descend into darkness, we need to be less and less prophets of doom and more and more prophets of holy joy.
How is that possible, when things are so dark and getting darker? My friends, it has always been true that if our joy is tied to earthly circumstances, we are in deep trouble. Our joy must have its source in the Lord and be independent of our earthly circumstances. God has not left us orphans; he has not abandoned us and will never leave us—much less in our time of direst need. Scripture is steeped in hope and full of promise. GOD WINS! WE GET TO GO TO HEAVEN! All this toil and trouble is temporary. God loves us and nothing can change that. Whatever happens to us in this life we will be infinitely—infinitely!—compensated for in the next, so long as we keep our faith.
All the more reason to take every opportunity to expand our heart’s capacity for joy. We do that by practicing joy and gratitude in every moment. Remember, we don’t have to actually feel the joy, but we are called to BE joyful, whether we feel it or not. Joy is not a feeling, but a grace. As Nehemiah tells us, it is not actually our joy, but the joy of the Lord. The grace is given, but the practice of it requires discipline, and engaging in joyful penance is a discipline we should be cultivating on a regular basis.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
In the Office of Readings for the feast day of St. Andrew Dung Lac, a Vietnamese priest who was martyred in 1839 we read this poignant illustration of joyful hope in dire circumstances:
“The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind–shackles, iron chains, manacles–are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is forever. In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone—Christ is with me.”
Yes, the joy of the Lord is our strength!
Christ was unequivocal in his message to his disciples:
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11)
“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:22-24)
In the diary of Elizabeth Kindelmann who was given the Flame of Love devotion, she relates the words of Jesus from August 16, 1962: “Be my servant! Be always joyful! Every day that you serve Me must be a feast. Do not let anyone or anything that disturbs your cheerful spirit come near your soul. Take good care of your nuptial garment and let it radiate happiness. Wherever you go, let it be felt that you partake every day in the heavenly banquet. Desire that everyone have this same yearning. Let the coming of my Kingdom be the only object of prime importance in your life.”
The Lord wants us to live in the Kingdom now, here, today and in that way the joy of the Lord becomes our strength.
I want to end with a present-day story of someone who lives in the the joy of the Lord. A friend related to me what happened to her father some years ago. He had been diagnosed with a serious degenerative disease that eventually left him unable to walk. He and his wife decided to go to Medjugorje to pray for a miracle. At one point on their trip, he says he felt a warm sensation at the back of his neck where the degeneration was causing damage. Very shortly, not only was he able to walk—he was able to run! It was a dramatic healing, a true miracle!
The healing was short-lived, however. Within two weeks of his return, he was back in his wheelchair and has been that way for over 20 years; today he is a quadriplegic. But that is not the end of the story, because ever since returning from Medjugorje, to the wonderment of all who know him or meet him, and most especially those who care for him, he has been filled with true joy and radiates it to all around him. He is a beacon of hope to all he encounters.
My friends, we too are called to be that kind of witness! As this man shows us, the joy that we radiate on earth is a magnet that will attract others, an irresistible evangelical beacon. When all is darkening, we are called to be the light shining in that darkness. Jesus needs conduits of his light. We are called to be his instruments, his little torches, his flames of love. Let our joy be the lighthouse that guides others to the safe harbor which is the Church.
May we all be given the grace and the desire to live lives of holy joy in all circumstances. And may the joy of the Lord always be our strength. Amen.
Jeremiah 15:20-21 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
“My beloved children, the time is upon you when the enemy of souls will seek ever more to crush the Bride of Christ. Remain firm and steadfast in your faith. Do not fear! He who is in you is stronger than he who is in the world. (cf 1 Jn 4:4) I tell you again be firm in your faith. You are standing on a rock. It is only if you abandon the rock that you will be in danger. Do not let toil or sorrow, pain or persecution discourage you, but begin now to give thanks to God in every circumstance. You will be amazed at the strength and power this will produce in you. Refrain from complaining. This is a very insidious form of ingratitude and will serve to weaken you. It is the joy that a grateful heart presents that will draw souls to me. In all things—praise!”
Heavenly Father, you are all goodness and love. We praise you for all you have given us and especially for the gift of faith—our light in a dark world. We trust in you to deliver us from evil. Keep us free from ingratitude and let us praise you in all circumstance. Thank you Father! Praise you Jesus! Come Holy Spirit! We love you!