The Joy of Christ

Cardinal Timothy DolanI’m really bad at New Year’s resolutions.  I’m good at making them and lousy at keeping them.  Maybe you can identify.  This year I’m trying something different.  This year I’m not making a resolution.  I know how weak and sinful I am, so instead of resolving to do or not do something, I’m praying.  Praying that God will use me in whatever way He wants to so that someone can be lead to His son, Jesus Christ.  I’ve never really specifically prayed for this before.  So it’s like embarking on a new journey.  I may never know how it all works out in this life.  But it’s already giving me a greater sense of joy.
 
Joy is something that I think many of us have forgotten how to “do” these days.  When we try to be joyful, it falls flat.  It’s like trying to surprise ourselves.  Joy is something you can’t force and you can’t fake.  Joy is a gift from God.  It’s one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit like peace and kindness and patience, that grow within us when God’s grace takes root in our soul.  If you’re living in a state of grace, you’re going to know joy, because you the Source of joy.  But if you’re not, no amount of trying will make it so.  Sadly, I think many Catholics don’t radiate the joy which is the birthright of children of God.  Unfortunately, we’ve had a pretty hard few years as His Church.  The priest sex-abuse scandal is a horrible wound.  Our Church is ridiculed for our defense of marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman.  Our opposition to abortion and artificial birth control is seen by some as being “behind the times.”  And let’s not forget that we don’t ordain women.  These beliefs and others can be seen as burdensome or antiquated.  But that comes from a poor understanding of what it means to be truly free.
 
Fr. Robert Barron has a wonderful exposition on freedom in his groundbreaking book and video series “Catholicism.”  If you’re interested in learning about the history of Christianity, this is a great starting place.  In it, he contrasts what most people think freedom means (doing what I want to do) with the true freedom which only Christ can give.  Christian freedom comes from surrendering yourself completely to Christ, which frees us to become all that the Lord created us to be.  Being joyful is what we were made for.  So far from being a bunch of burdensome rules and regulations, the Catholic faith, like a good  mother, leads us into a greater conformity to Christ.  We become Who we worship.  The joy of Christ comes the source of all that is good:  God.  True joy comes from fully serving Him.  The more we share the joy of Christ’s love for us, the more love He gives us and so we become a conduit of joy and love (and peace and kindness, charity, etc.) for others.  Fr. Barron reminds us that our best example in all things is Christ crucified.  He teaches “love what Christ loved on the Cross and despise what Christ despised on the Cross.”  Christ loved doing His Father’s will, forgiving those who wronged Him, pouring out His life for others…and His momma.  What He despised was any claim of power by sin or death.
 
Someone who radiates that joy to me is Cardinal Dolan of New York.  Since becoming the Archbishop in 2009, he has in many ways also become the face of American Catholicism.  He seems to always be smiling or laughing.  And yet the Cardinal is engaged in a legal battle with the Obama administration over the HHS mandate that requires employers, even Catholic ones, to provide abortion and contraceptive services to their employees.  New York has faced the closures of many local parishes and Catholic schools.  Few men are entering the seminary to become priests.  The emotional and financial destruction left by the abuse scandal and the Church’s handling of it will take many years of healing yet.  But Cardinal Dolan exudes the joy of Christ.  He believes joy is the blessing of the Christian life.  He writes:  “Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life.”  Meaning.  Purpose.  Joy.  Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we all long for and pray for?  It’s what our hearts and souls were created for.  Jesus Christ, Who made us for Himself has given us a living Church to guide and to nourish us on the way to Him (Matthew 16:18).  When we cleave to the Sacraments He established, we find that meaning, purpose and joy that we desire.  And it’s our joy that will draw others to know Jesus, the Source of all joy.  This is what I pray for in this New Year:  Dear Lord, may the joy of Your life in me lead souls to know Your Sacred Heart.  Amen.”
 
“My motto:  Be happily and uncomplicatedly Catholic.” 

                                                      –Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe

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