Catching the Joy of Others [Pope Francis Bookclub]

Catching the Joy of Others [Pope Francis Bookclub] December 29, 2014

In 2014, I read and blogged through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus.  Every Monday, I wrote about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.

CC licensed by Petar Milošević

This is the last installment of our Pope Francis bookclub (and I’ll post either a shortlist or a final choice about a Monday bookclub for 2015 next week).  I’d like to close with this quote from Francis’s final reflection:

There exists a tendency among us to “make things easy.”  We find it easier not to spend too much time considering seriously what the fleshly suffering of Jesus, man and God, was like.  The same thing happens with the glorious body after the resurrection.  Even Jesus’ disciples had doubts about the reality of his body: “they thought they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:36-37).  There is a line in Luke’s Gospel that may give us some insight: “They still could not believe it (because of their joy) and were amazed” (Luke 24:41).  Their faith was hobbled by fear of new frustrations, and so they preferred to believe that they were seeing only the spirit of Jesus and not Jesus resurrected in the flesh.  Something similar can happen with us: we are filled with joy at the thought that Jesus, Christ and Lord, is alive among us, but the joy becomes so great that it scares us.  As a result, we camouflage the resurrection, preferring a type of formulaic preaching that fights shy of the vital message that gives us life: Jesus Christ is risen!  We need to apply that saying of Saint Teresa, “a sad saint is a sorry saint,” not just to the “sad saint” but also, and perhaps more commonly, to the “half-happy” saint.  When we as consecrated persons follow the path of “carefully moderating” the joy produced by Jesus’ resurrection, then we run the risk of compensating for our lack of joy by promoting a multitude of “efficient” pastoral projects.  In so doing, we may become simply impresarios of the Gospel, so many “executives” of the kingdom.

Throughout this year of Pope Francis readings, his reflections (as well as his actions!) have highlighted the need for the full joy he calls for, and have hinted at what it looks like.  Unfortunately for me, the examples given in the reflections are drawn primarily from Scripture, rather than from modern life, so I have a lot more trouble translating them into action in my own life than I do, say, the lessons in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters or Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today.

Pope Francis’s exhortations help fuel my appetite to live a joyful, Christian life, but I haven’t turned to them for further nourishment.  I suspect that the pontiff would have me draw on Christ’s life directly, through lectio divina (I’m trying!) or Adoration.  I still find both of these pretty hard, and, even as I give them a shot, I prefer to learn by using writers and saints as lenses to focus or filter Christ’s light down into a much smaller point, one I can engage with a little more successfully.  (Chesterton is particularly good, for me, at conveying the ebullient joy that would seem to mark a Teresa-approved saint — a joy that can be sparked off of nearly anything in creation).

I’d be curious where commenters go to stoke up their own attention to joy.

As for me, in addition to spiritual readings/sacraments/etc, I like babysitting.  I like being around small children, narrating the world with them, and pausing to enjoy it.

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