This past week, about 6,000 novices and seminarians visited Rome as part of a Vocations Pilgrimage arranged by the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. I’ve enjoyed reading what the Pope has to say to these young people.
In his homily for July 7, he pulled three strands out of the readings and wove them into a compelling picture of ordained religious life. The whole homily is worth reading, but for the moment I’d like to concentrate on his first point — the need for joy in the Christian life.
From the first reading (Isaiah 66:10-14) Pope Francis talks about the joy of the consolation of the Lord.
Every Christian, especially you and I, is called to be a bearer of this message of hope that gives serenity and joy: God’s consolation, his tenderness towards all. But if we first experience the joy of being consoled by him, of being loved by him, then we can bring that joy to others. This is important if our mission is to be fruitful: to feel God’s consolation and to pass it on to others!
I think this joy is something that is too often lacking in the lives of Christians. We shuffle across the Earth with long faces and sour expressions and its little wonder that no one wants to join us. Somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten the essential nature of God.
God is love.
Stop and re-read that sentence. It’s become a sort of Christian meme that we toss around carelessly without really contemplating what it means. If you really consider it, the implications become awesome and a little frightening.
In his review of the film of the musical Les Miserables, Fr. Robert Barron says:
[Speaking of the Bishop’s gift of silver candlesticks.] In this simple and deeply affecting episode, one of the most fundamental principles of the spiritual life is displayed. God is love. God is nothing but gracious self-gift. And what God wants, first and last, is that his human creatures participate in the love that he is, thereby becoming conduits of the divine grace to the world. What Jean Valjean received through the bishop was precisely this divine life and the mission that accompanies and flows from it. If the bishop’s gesture had been, in any sense, self-interested, it would not have conveyed God’s manner of being. But in its utter gratuity, it became a sacrament and instrument of uncreated grace.
Earlier this year, our parish hosted a weekly class built around Fr. Barron’s Seven Deadly Sins/Seven Lively Virtues study course. That hardly sounds like the sort of topic that would lend itself to a discussion of God’s love. Dialogue about sin inevitably conjures visions of punishment. Yet, Fr. Barron constantly drew out the fact that we owe our very existence to God’s love. He used the phrase “continually loved into being” over-and-over.
If we believed that — really believed that — it would change the way we act; it would change who we are.
I think Pope Francis believes that as well, in an earlier address to the seminarians in Rome, he said that there is “no holiness in sadness“.
Pope Francis took seminarians and novices to task for being “too serious, too sad”. “Something’s not right here,” Francis told them pointing out that `’There is no sadness in holiness,” and adding that such clergy lack “the joy of the Lord.”
“To become a priest or a religious is not primarily our choice; it is our answer to a calling, a calling of love”.
“If you find a seminarian, priest, nun, with a long, sad face, if it seems as if in their life someone threw a wet blanket over them,” then one should conclude “it’s a psychiatric problem, they can leave – `buenos dias’”.
He’s right. How can we not have joy and confidence when we know God loves us?