The other day I went into the bank to cash a check. "Father, what are you planning on doing for New Year's Eve?" asked the young bank teller. "I can't wait," I answered. "Our parish is planning a big family celebration for New Year's Eve with Mass at 10:00 p.m., followed by a dinner with roasted pigs and live jazz music." The young girl seemed surprised at my enthusiastic answer and proceeded to tell me even though so many people came into the bank that day, I was the only one who had exciting plans for New Year's Eve.
My conversation with the bank teller only affirmed my personal conviction that the gift of Christian joy is the way that we can change the world. As Deacon Keith Fournier continually tells us, we are living in a new missionary age. I think that the best way that we can evangelize our sad world is through the gift of Christian joy.
Saint Thomas Aquinas listed eight Capital or Deadly Sins and maintained that sadness was the worse one of them all. The famous poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy, placed sadness at the lowest level of hell.
Joy is not to be understood as something superficial or immature. The person who is filled with Christian joy possesses an immense treasure because the true Christian can smile and laugh even in the middle of the most terrible adversities and sufferings.
Let us recall the words of G.K. Chesterton when he affirmed that "The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar."
Hillaire Belloc confirmed the same idea when he said that "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!"
Sadness is certainly the epidemic of our times. I see a lot of people walking around without a smile on their face; they seem self-absorbed, and unaware of their surroundings, like Zombies simply moving forward. I must confess that I am very disturbed by it; it seems like America has become, for the most part, a land of zombies—faces filled with sadness, so many people sucked into a matrix of despair.
I refuse to be a zombie and my New Year's resolution for 2011is this: I am going to do all that I can to help people escape from the land of the zombies, through Jesus Christ and his Church. Christianity is completely opposite to selfishness, self-absorption, and narcissism. Christianity demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives. We must be empty of all self-seeking.
For almost nine years, accompanied by many enthusiastic parishioners, I have dedicated some of the best years of my life to the creation of a new parish community in Corpus Christi, Texas. Our parish is an oasis of spirituality, orthodoxy, and community. We refuse to be zombies and we provide a refuge where people can escape from the land of the zombies in order to be renewed and refreshed in the Spirit. We go back out into the land of the zombies in search of those who want to learn how to love. Christian joy is only experienced through Christian love.
The only way that we can escape the land of the zombies is by learning how to be truly open to love, in Christ and with Christ. A zombie is a person who is lost to reality, immersed in his own self. Refuse to be a zombie!
Hillaire Belloc also once said, "When friendship disappears then there is a space left open to that awful loneliness of the outside world which is like the cold space between the planets. It is an air in which men perish utterly."
Jesus gives himself entirely to us in order to save us from sin. He calls us to respond to his unconditional love by being a gift for one another. "We are to love, then, because he loved us first. Anyone who says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen" (1 John 4:19-20).
The human person, by nature, desires to love and to be loved. It is very beautiful to love and to receive love in return. Community is only possible when love is reciprocal.
However, we are called to love even those who do not love us in return. This is when love goes very deep. To love without seeking anything in return, to love without clinging, to love with detachment. This is difficult, but this is when love is for real.
"When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbors, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again" (Luke 14:13-14).
When we live our lives for others within the tiny details of each day, this is when we experience the gift of Christian joy. It is our smile and our laughter that will enlighten a world so filled with sadness and despair.
As we celebrate the new year that is beginning, let us affirm our refusal to give in to the temptation to be sad and self-absorbed; there be zombies. Let us commit ourselves to being apostles of joy.
Happy New Year!
1/3/2011 5:00:00 AM