For Christians, joy isn’t optional
A Reflection for Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
“The disciples of John the Baptist fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” (Lk 5:33)
Pope Francis has gifted us with many memorable words and actions throughout his pontificate. I often think of some of the first ones he wrote, in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). Speaking about evangelization, he says that a Christian “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
These words mirror the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, when he is asked by those fun-hating Pharisees why his disciples are always having such a good time. “This whole religion thing is serious stuff!” they seem to be saying.
Jesus, I am sure, quite agrees about the seriousness of religion, but as he often does, he turns criticism on its head. Celebration is one of the ways in which we take God seriously. “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” If the Pharisees had eyes to see the reality in front of them, they would join the celebration. What a joy it is to be in the presence of Jesus!
I convince myself that faith is an individual, private matter that is “too serious” to be shared joyfully. I struggle to live a simple, happy Christianity that is shared with others.
This temptation to live a “post-funeral” Christianity still lives on today. I feel it in my own struggle to express my faith; I convince myself that faith is an individual, private matter that is “too serious” to be shared joyfully. I struggle to live a simple, happy Christianity that is shared with others.
Our church also struggles with this in our liturgy. Certainly most Catholics in the United States have attended a Mass that might as well have been a funeral! As people whisper the responses and check their watches after eight minutes of the homily, it should not be much of a surprise when some people do not want to come back. Many of these problems are particularly challenging for a predominantly white, Eurocentric brand of Catholicism, which is my primary experience of the liturgy.
Fortunately we do have examples of this happy, celebratory Christianity to which we can look for inspiration. Just last weekend I attended a Spanish Mass in New York City that was radiant with life. I know individuals who, moved by a joy-filled faith, have formed genuine friendships with people living on the streets. We can think of parents who somehow manage a smile and a friendly hello as they drag their children to church. We can learn from these expressions of faith.
For Jesus, celebration is not an optional part of being his disciple. It is a natural response to the joy we feel walking alongside him each day. May we have the grace to eat and drink while he is with us.