“Though you have not seen God, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” [1 Pe 1:8-9]
On May 10, 2013, Pope Francis, giving a homily during his morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, addressed an issue that has been one of my pet peeves for as long as I can remember: pickle pusses (or sourpusses) in the pews. Pope Francis came right out and said it: “The Christian is to be a man or woman of joy. When Christians have more of a sourpuss than a face that communicates the joy of being loved by God, they harm the witness of the Church.” Go Pope Go!
Keep in mind that happiness and joy are not the same things. You and I are not going to be happy all of the time, but we can experience the joy of the Lord every single day. Happiness largely depends on outward circumstances. If I get a pay raise, I am happy. If I hear good news of some sort, I am happy. Joy, however, is something that is supernatural. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And since it originates from the Holy Spirit, it is something that can only be generated from within by the power of God.
When I see people sitting in church pews month after month with a sour look on their faces – people who can’t even smile back at you when you smile at them – I have to question whether they are truly walking in the power of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. If that fruit is not being manifested in our lives, people have the right to question if a genuine conversion is really taking place within us. They have the right to wonder if we truly understand what Christ has done for us and that He desires to change us.
Recently, a friend of mine lost her daughter after a long illness. All throughout her daughter’s illness, she would still come to church with a warm and loving smile for others. She continued to radiate Jesus even though she was carrying a bitter cross. Even after her daughter died, both she and her husband radiated Jesus, by warmly greeting people at Mass, hugging them, and smiling at them. When I look at my friend, I see a woman who possesses the joy of the Lord because she truly lives for the Lord and has made Him the center of her everyday life. This woman has learned how to walk in the power of the Spirit!
But I’ve also encountered people at Mass who, compared to my friend, are carrying no crosses, yet are miserable all of the time. When you offer them the sign of Christ’s peace at Mass and give them a warm smile, they scowl back at you. Some won’t even shake your hand!
Such people harm the witness of Christ’s Church. According to Pope Francis, joy is God’s gift to those who don’t allow themselves to get caught up in silly little annoyances or in “little things inside the community of the church; instead, they always look to the horizon.”
Being a Christian involves more than just going to church. It means allowing Jesus to change you from the inside so that this transformation is reflected on the outside. If this transformation is truly taking place, the joy of the Lord will abide within you even though your outward circumstances may be trying and difficult.
We all would do well to examine ourselves in regard to this issue. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The outward has a way of exposing the inward, and this goes for our countenance as well.
We want to make the Christian life attractive to those who walk in darkness so that they will embrace it for themselves as well. But when they see disciples of Christ with perpetual scowls on their faces and radiating surliness, they are repelled…
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