Living Life with a Joyful Spirit
When my grandma Pat was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2003, my dad was the one to let her know. I remember talking to him that night, and he told me how there was this sense of peace about her, as if she knew she would be soon going home to be with her husband Mike, my grandpa who passed on in the spring of 1987, and to be with Jesus forever.
I’d visit her in the hospital over the next several weeks, and what I still remember from those moments was her joyful spirit. She always was smiling, happy to see you, and talk to you. She kept saying “I hope you have a great life,” as she knew we were all hurting as our time together was growing short.
This was nothing new for her. From my childhood, I always remember her as a person of joy. She’d love to see the grandkids and spend time with them. She loved being with family. She loved baking you cookies or a family meal. She’d walk a couple of blocks daily up to the corner drug store, Humboldt Pharmacy, where she worked for many years and people in the neighborhood would love to see her and say hello. Her life was never easy; being an orphan as a little girl, she grew up in Washington State, worked hard as a waitress, and met my grandpa Mike who had family back in Minnesota where they eventually moved and worked hard their entire life. And yet for all this, I can’t recall her ever complaining; rather she is someone who would just lift your spirits. It reflected her deep faith life, as I’d frequently see her at prayer too. Her whole life reflected this faith as she brought people closer to God. Such is the power of joy.
I see quite a bit of joyful people in the parish too. When I walk in the office, I see Ann greeting people with a smile and friendly “hello.” I’ll see Josh, one of our maintenance people, washing a window and asking me how I’m doing. And despite the challenges of the pandemic, I see a staff who loves serving the parish, dedicated teachers, and parishioners who continue to live out their faith and build one another up.
Joy is a good thing, and this week’s second reading begins with the words “Rejoice always.” The Third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday” or one of “rejoicing” as we use those words “rejoice” for the opening antiphon of the Mass. Hence the rose candle is lit, and the priest often wears rose colored vestments.
And yet these days let’s face it, it can be hard to see sometimes anything through rose colored glasses. It’s been a rough year putting it mildly. This pandemic, even with vaccinations on the horizon, has been brutal. The “social distancing” that has caused so much pain as people are separated, many now at the Christmas season too. The stress of political friction & tension. For some, it might be hard to see the joy. But as Christians, we must remember to be people of joy.
One is remembering that God is with us and loves us so deeply. Evil is allowed to happen; even when Jesus is born, let us not forget there is no room for Him in the Inn, the holy family has to flee to Egypt, and innocent children become some of the first martyrs as Herod kills the baby boys of Jerusalem. Surely Mary and Joseph, both of whom were fearful of their futures even before Jesus was born (Mary fearful when the angel visits to tell her she’ll bear Jesus; Joseph when he finds out Mary is expecting and he isn’t the father), but they also have trust and hope – the angels tell them to not be afraid. The plan isn’t always clear to them, nor is it to us, but God is with us. Mary brings Him into the world, and we are called to bring Him to one another. Think of the words from our first reading this week from Isaiah 61:1: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted…” When I would visit my grandma Pat, looking back, I felt the Lord’s presence in how she radiated her joy. We can do this too.
With respect to action, by how we lead our lives in terms of our relationships with people, we can do so much to help them see God more clearly, and to be people of joy too. Its so many little things we do – calling someone on the phone and having a conversation; helping a son or daughter with homework; or spending time together as a family, that in and of themselves might seem so insignificant, over a lifetime, those little moments can do so much to foster faith. My hope is we don’t forget that while the gifts under the tree will be great, so much more so are all those intangible gifts that we give over the course of the year in the forms of kindness and love that will do so much to change hearts and win souls for Christ. For all the pain of 2020, I think we’ve seen a lot of that in the acts of love people have tried to do for one another and the larger community.
Finally, while those gifts of kindness and love need to apply to those we know in our families, they also need to apply to the people that sometimes can get forgotten. Prophets reminded the people of God’s presence and love for them, and we must remember we share in that ministry through our baptism. It’s so easy to take for granted what people do, and to see them just for their function first, rather than their humanity. And while we do not have to be everyone’s best friend, I think more and more in a society that gets less personal, it’s so easy to become blind that we are to see everyone as Christ sees them, and must treat one another with love. So do little things, such as thanking someone for the job they are doing. Show patience on the road. If you get a chance, say “thank you” to a member of the military, a police officer, a teacher, a doctor or a nurse. Give someone a compliment. Build up rather than tear down. Do things without expecting something back in return, but simply out of love. Use criticism to help someone grow by being honest, but not to just tear someone down. Try to show more patience with people whom you disagree with politically or over religion, perhaps striving to show more restraint or letting go of anger and learning how to discuss and argue rather than shout and bicker. Make it a point to pray for people you dislike; for while we might not like everyone, we are called to love everyone as Jesus does. One of the biggest needs we all have is to be treated as Christ would treat us. Saint John Paul II, called this the personalistic norm, which says “A person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.” When we do that, we can do so much in helping one another realize how much we are loved by God, and help to shed light on the darkness that can sometimes fill our lives, by saying with our actions you are more than a waiter, an administrative assistant, or a cashier: you are a human being who is unique and created in the image of God.
Life isn’t easy, and we won’t always be smiling or feeling all that joyful. But my hope is we do have a constant joy in our lives – a joy that reflects our faith, and permeates every day and causes us to do what we do for the glory of God, out of love for Him and one another.
Have a blessed week, ~Fr. Paul
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