Sharing our joy

“We know our hope cannot come from a new bishop or from new programs or activities unless these are based on personal encounters with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the source of our hope. He alone can prevent us from falling into the darkness of sin and death. Only Christ can bring us the confidence and the joy that allows us to feel true hope for the future!”

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., proclaimed that message to us earlier this year in his pastoral letter, “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope.” Here he reminds us that our hope must be rooted in our encounters with Christ (through prayer and serving Him). Nothing else can bring us into true hope.

Our bishop, together with a group from the Fall River Diocese, recently returned from a convocation of Catholic clergy and laity in Orlando, Fla., where they reflected on how we could better share the joy of the Gospel here in America.

In 2013 Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he called upon us to share this joy. He lamented (in paragraph six), “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: ‘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. Great is your faithfulness. It is good that one should wait quietly for the Salvation of the Lord’” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).

The Biblical quote that the Holy Father cited is often read at funeral Masses. From the Old Testament book of Lamentations, it begins with a listing of woes, but then the author changes his perspective, guided by the Holy Spirit to see that even on our worst days, God is still offering us many blessings. As Christians, we are called to live this perspective and share it with other people. This is what gives us hope.

When he wrote the exhortation, Pope Francis acknowledged (in paragraph 25), “I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’” (the last phrase he borrowed from the 2007 Aparecida document of the Latin American bishops).

Bishop da Cunha has reminded us repeatedly that we need to move from a being a Church of “maintenance” to being one of “mission.” One need only look out at the corporate world to see companies which no longer exist because they “rested on their laurels” (e.g., Howard Johnson restaurants, Filene’s Basement, TWA, etc.). One could respond, “Well, Jesus promised that the Church will exist until the end of time.” Yes, He did, but He also ordered us to go out and preach the Gospel. He promised that He would help us do this, but requires this of every believer.

The Holy Father describes some Spiritual difficulties for laity and clergy in sharing the Gospel: “At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. This is frequently due to the fact that people feel an overbearing need to guard their personal freedom, as though the task of evangelization was a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive” (81).

After mentioning this fear of commitment, the pope then discusses ineffective pastoral work: “The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a Spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. This can be caused by a number of things. Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from Heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contract with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself. [Another problem is] Today’s obsession with immediate results, [which] makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross” (82).

Pope Francis then wrote that “the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: ‘the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness’ (speech of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Latin American bishops in 1996). A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like ‘the most precious of the devil’s potions’ (Bernanos, “Diary of a Country Priest”). Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization” (83).

May we take advantage of the quiet of the summer to discuss with God in prayer how He would like each of us to evangelize, to bring hope and the joy of the Gospel to others. 

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts