We cannot help but be joyful!

I had the privilege of being part of the delegation from the Diocese of Fall River that participated in the Convocation of Catholic Leaders last July in Orlando, Fla. The overall purpose of the convocation was to help dioceses from around the country to meet Pope Francis’ challenge to that we be a Church of “missionary disciples.” Missionary disciple may be a new term, but the concept is as old as the Church. It refers to Christians living out their Baptismal call. The Second Vatican Council taught that the “Church by nature is missionary” (Ad gentes, No. 2). This call to missionary discipleship isn’t a narrow call to those sent to the far reaches of the world as missionaries. Rather, it is the broadest possible description of the Christian life. 

Yes, we take time in individual prayer and Faith Formation, but we also gather as a family of Faith for Mass and other Sacraments and moments of prayer and socialization. But we continue to live what we celebrate throughout the rest of our week. What we celebrate is Christ’s victory on the cross, our adoption by God as His beloved children and the gift of Salvation offered to us. It allows us to live in joy, even in our times of trial, because we know that if we are faithful to God, there is nothing in the world that can separate us from Him (Rom 8:35). Joy is our most effective tool in the evangelization of the world.

Evangelization is a word that makes most Catholics squirm. We think of the fundamentalists angrily screaming Scripture verses at people, threatening them with damnation. We think of the televangelists who seem to preach a gospel of wealth and not love. However, there is nothing more Catholic than the true meaning of evangelization. Evangelization comes from the Greek word, euangelion, meaning good news. Evangelization (in the Catholic sense) is sharing Good News, the Good News of God’s love and desire for us, the Good News that with this love comes great mercy and forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. This Good News is shared by living joyfully. St. Paul teaches that we evangelize the Gospel most effectively when we “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12).

Pope Francis in his Letter “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) stresses that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come from a funeral” (EG  No. 10). Many link being a faithful Christian to being serious 24/7 and deplete of joy. There is nothing further from the truth! When we remember what Christ has done for us and what He offers us, we cannot help but be joyful!

To help one another to live such joy, let us work together to make sure that our gathering at the table of the Lord is one of joy. My challenge to each of us is this: when we arrive for Mass or when others sit near us, let us acknowledge them with a smile. Let us make use of the invitation at the beginning of Mass to verbally greet those sitting near us. Believe it or not, such a simple act (smiling to others and greeting others) is the greatest preparation for what we are about to do: celebrate the Eucharist with our family of faith.

Let us then bring that spirit of joy with us to school and work, to our homes and neighborhoods. When others observe us living joyfully, it will attract their attention and provide the opportunity for us to invite them to see where our joy comes from.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. George Parish in Westport and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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