In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.”
Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium”, #23.
As we enter the third week of Lent, it is time to begin preparing our hearts and souls for the Holy Week mission. The theme of this year’s Holy Week Mission in SoHo is “Joy.” “The Joy of the Gospel”, as the Holy Father has emphasized, is one of the most attractive elements of our faith, and one we Catholics too often don’t witness as successfully as we should. A joyful missionary is an attractive missionary. In all my years observing the missionaries at their work on the streets of New York, this one truth always seems to evidence itself: The joyful missionaries seem both to be having the most fun and, with it, to be also the most successful in gathering in souls. They also, by the way, are most likely to remain happily at their posts through thick and thin; they persevere in a way that sometimes seems supernatural, and not achievable through the usual bare-knuckle methods we men, at least, are fond of turning to when set ourselves upon a difficult task.
Christian joy is a tricky virtue to get our arms around. It is not very tangible. It is almost more an attitude than a virtue– an aura perhaps, or in the words of St. Paul, “the sweet fragrance of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:15). We can’t simply will it to happen. We can’t really practice it. We can’t take a course in “Joy 101.” Christian joy is rather a spontaneous outcome of something else, something far deeper in our souls than joy itself: a personal relationship with God Such a relationship breeds confidence and hope in our Beloved, and the conciliation through all our trials and tribulations that we are loved, that we are in fact beloved children of God. This unshakable knowledge gives us an inner calm and serenity that exudes joy in all that we do.
How can we best inculcate Christian joy in ourselves, especially during these “dreary” 40 days of Lent? How can we deepen our relationship with our Creator? No surprise, the Church in her wisdom has the answer. It’s what Lent is all about:
- Prayer and the sacraments. Prayer is communing with God. Spending time with our best friend, telling Him our problems of the day, seeking His advice, listening to his Word. Prayer is discerning God’s will for us and conforming our will to His. Let’s all committed extra prayer time these next four weeks to deepen our relationship with the Lord. And whatever our extra prayer commitment was for Lent, now is a good time to check for progress, and re-dedicate ourselves to this commitment.
- Alms. A work of charity, of service to others, can be undertaken reluctantly, as a “special sacrifice for Lent.” Better, it can be undertaken joyfully, as a chance to work alongside Jesus, to be with Him, serving the poor. Approached in the latter spirit, we all know what happens: we end up receiving more than we give. We become more joyful. What was my alms commitment this Lent? Have I approached it joyfully? Do a need a re-set?
- Sacrifice. Same story here. A sacrifice freely given, in a spirit of love, inevitably brings joy to the heart. What is my Lenten sacrifice this year? Am I pursuing it with a joyful heart? Am I persevering with a spirit of Love?
The fruit of our Lenten journey, of prayer, alms, and sacrifice, freely given with a loving heart, will be a deeper and richer relationship with our God. And such a relationship, freshly burnished as we enter Holy Week, will bear fruit in our joyful witness on the streets of SoHo. We will be the missionaries for the Church that Pope Francis calls us to be, proclaiming and witnessing “The Joy of the Gospel” to everyone we meet. And this joy will draw them in like a high powered magnet. If you have never witnessed this, trust me. It will happen, inevitably.
Join us for the Joyful mission in SoHo. Get ready for some real Fun!