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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ The Way of Joy: Faith, Hope and Love

The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of

our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way,

are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers

of Christ as well.

These are the opening words of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Promulgated on December 7, 1965, this was one of the final documents to come out of the Council. In some ways it captured the whole character of all the Council’s work and expressed the open, inclusiveness and new vision of the Catholic church. The words represent a description of who we are as Catholic Christians. The church is and always has been rooted in time. It seeks to share the Good News in the cultures and times of the present. In doing so, its call is to bring joy and hope to all humanity, not just Christians. In particular it is to reach out to the most vulnerable.

Almost 50 years later, on November 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued another document with much the same character, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). Intended to build on and again reflect the spirit of Vatican II this exhortation, in the first year that Francis was pope, set the direction for the whole of his papacy.

Pope Francis put it this way: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus (E.G. 1). He goes on to say that he encourages the whole Christian community to take on the mission of sharing the Gospel as truly Good News. To do so is to be ourselves, filled with joy and hope. A little later in this same document, he points out a barrier to this call: There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter (E.G. 6).

Fully aware that life is not without suffering and pain, Pope Francis holds a strong faith that God’s love is unending and unconditional. With such faith, there is firm hope and through hope comes joy. He quotes the Old Testament Book of Lamentations: My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:21-23).

The 3rd Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Literally, Gaudete is the Latin word for “Rejoice”. It is a reminder of the fundamental joy that comes with the gift of life that God gives us. Despite the challenges that we face, life has a fundamental goodness, for God is good and life is a blessing of God.

In the midst of the deserts through which we sometimes must pass in life, the challenges we and our world face, there is a basic truth of our faith. That truth is that God recognizes the goodness of every human being and gifts us with a love that can never be lost. This Sunday we hear the prophet Isaiah present us with the image of the joy that comes with this gift of life and God’s ever redeeming love:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice with joy and singing.

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