The joy of the Lord is our strength, and in Him we discover who we really are: this was the focus of Pope Francis’ reflection following the readings of the day at Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta on Thursday morning, the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Holy Father focused especially on the need to cultivate nostalgia – deep yearning – for God in the Christian life.
Drawing on the First Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah, Pope Francis reflected on the people of Israel, who, after long years of exile, had at last returned to Jerusalem. He recalled that, in the years of Babylonian captivity, the people always remembered their homeland. After so many years, the day of return finally came, and with it the rebuilding of Jerusalem, as narrated in the First Reading. Nehemiah asked the scribe Ezra read to the people the Book of the Law, and the people were happy, “They were weeping in their joy, and felt God's Word; the experienced joy, and also weeping, all together,” he said.
Asking how we might understand this intense confluence of emotion, Pope Francis explained, “Simply, these people not only had found their city, the city where the people was born, the city of God: hearing the Law, they also rediscovered their identity, and for that, the people wept with joy.”:
“They wept with joy, crying because they had encountered their [true] identity, the identity that had weakened somewhat during the years of exile. It was a long journey, theirs: ‘Be not sad,’ said Nehemiah, ‘for the joy of the Lord is our strength’. It is the joy that the Lord gives when we discover who we really are – and our own identity is lost on the way, is lost in many deportations – or self-deportations, when we make a nest here, a nest there, and do not dwell in the house of the Lord: to find one’s own identity.”
The Pope then asked how we can find our own identity. “When you have lost what was yours, your home, what was your own, there is this nostalgia, and this nostalgia brings you back home,” he said. “This people,” he added, “with this longing, felt that they were happy, they wept for joy, for the nostalgia they experienced for their true identity led them to find their home again – a grace of God”:
“If we, to offer one example, are full of food, we do not starve. If we are comfortable, quiet where we are, we do not need to go elsewhere – and I ask myself, and it would be good that we all ask ourselves today: ‘I am calm, happy, do I not need anything – spiritually speaking – in my heart? Is my nostalgia turned off?’ Let us look on this happy people, who wept and were joyful: a heart that has no nostalgia, do not know joy – and joy, really, is our strength: the joy of God. A heart that does not know what nostalgia is, is incapable of [genuine] festivity – and this journey that has been underway for years, ends in a feast.”
The people, recalled Francis, rejoice with joy because they had “understood the words that had been proclaimed to them. They had found that, which the nostalgia – the longing of their heart – made them feel, and spurred them forward.”:
“Let us ask ourselves how our own nostalgia for God is doing: are we content, are we happy as we are, do we have each day the desire to move forward? May the Lord give us this grace: that never, ever, ever should our heart’s longing for God be extinguished.”