The Church may neglect or betray its calling, it may forget or hide it, but proclaiming joy rooted in the firm hope of heaven remains its mission.
Already in this life we share the immense joy of being a member of the Church, Christ’s body.
Being a Catholic is the most wonderful thing in the world, the greatest gift we could receive. As Jesus says: “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (Jn 15,11).
There’s no more hiding it: nothing in this life could compare with the blessing of our Catholic faith. It is the beginning of eternal life.
It is a staggering thing when you think about it: we are called to deep intimacy with God, the holy Trinity and given the sure hope of eternal happiness. What could be more life-transforming? What could bring us more joy?
We are given the Word of God, the Mass, the sacraments, the Commandments to guide us, the life of grace, forgiveness of our sins, Mary as our mother, and so much more. It’s mind-blowing.
Moreover, despite our sinful resistance to God, our faith has built Christian civilisation. That is something to be proud of and to celebrate.
We speak of “the gospel”, the “good news”. What makes news “good”? That it brings happiness to people – like good results from an examination.
And Christ’s gospel is the best news possible – salvation in Christ. The more we explore, understand and respond to this gift the more we appreciate it. And the more we are filled with joy.
Our first task, then, is to let this joy sink into us, transform us, free us from sin, shape our outlook on life.
But it is not a glib kind of happiness. Many people have great suffering and sorrow in their lives, due to a variety of causes. We may never belittle that pain.
Yet deeper than all earthly suffering is the reality of God’s love for us, and the peace and joy of knowing that we are in his hands now and for eternity.
We also recognise that being a Catholic can be a costly joy. The martyrs let us see how costly it may be, just how much may be asked of us.
But without going that far, the faith can make difficult demands on us in daily life, can call on us to share in the cross of Christ in so many ways.
Remaining faithful in such circumstances, uniting our suffering with the sufferings of Jesus, purifies our faith, intensifies our charity and strengthens our hope.
We recognise our sins, that they cause harm and suffering, that they alienate us from God and that we need to repent.
The call to repentance has been much neglected in the Church in recent decades, but it is the key to forgiveness and to mercy. By turning from our sins we turn to God, we open up to God and his will.
Joy has been a fundamental characteristic of the Church from the earliest days. Gabriel’s first word to Mary was “Rejoice!” She was to be a woman of joy – not without deep sorrow.
In response, Mary told Elizabeth: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” She speaks the joy of self-surrender to God.
But it was with Easter that the full radiance of Christian joy shone in the world. Raised from the dead, Jesus destroyed the power of death to hold us.
No wonder the Scriptures emphasise the joy of the disciples: “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the way and opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24,32).
The apostles soon realised that the gospel was good news for the whole world, that they were sent to proclaim to every person the meaning in life that it gave, the hope that it brought.
The angel had announced that joy to the Bethlehem shepherds: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all the people” (Luke 2,10).
“By all the people!” No one was to be excluded, neither sinner nor pagan.
With extraordinary audacity the apostles began the Church’s mission of proclaiming Resurrection joy on Pentecost morning.
The same joy has inspired great saints and missionaries through the ages. It also inspires countless “ordinary” people to share the faith with courage in their own circumstances.
For Pope Benedict XVI, joy was central to his vision of life and his ministry. He often said, “we cannot keep such a great joy to ourselves.”
None of us may keep it to ourselves. This joy is meant for every person on earth. Here is the foundation of our mission.