Our gospel talks about joy. Jesus tells us that he wants his joy to be in us and our joy to be complete. We should think about joy. What do we understand by Christian joy? Christian joy has to be something more than finding $50 in my jacket pocket or having another Tim Tam. But if it is more than this, how do we describe it? What is Christian joy?
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed as part of a survey of parish priests. The two major questions were: what are the joys of being a parish priest; and what are the challenges? The second question was easy to answer; the first made me pause. Given my lack of experience in parishes and with vocations, the challenges are all too obvious. But I was thrown by the joy question. What was the right way to answer it?
My first approach was to remember a conversation I had once had with a friend. I might have mentioned this conversation before. We were wandering around Carlton Gardens. She had just started her own business and it was tough going. She was wondering if she had made the right decision to go out on her own. I had just been ordained, and the reality of the priesthood was hitting home. I felt fairly inadequate to the task, the task that, like all the big things in life, really only becomes a little bit clear once you are already in it.
I remember us comparing our situations. And I said to her something along the lines of, even if I make a hash of this, I get the sense that this is the game I should be playing. To lose doing this would be different to losing at something else. This is me really living; anything else for me would be pretend. I had this sense that I was where I should be, even if I was not very good at it. Perhaps not a great definition of joy, but it was a start.
More recently, I got another experience of this. This time in a very strange and almost contradictory setting. A few weeks ago, I was at my desk doing admin, and I got a note that changed everything. A bloke had rung and left a message. He said that he and his wife had suffered a late pregnancy miscarriage, and would it be ok to have a blessing for their baby. The humility was humbling. I immediately rang him and we started talking.
There is not much you can say in these moments. My spiritual director talks of being in the presence of mystery. As we were speaking, this father told me that they wanted the service at St Mary’s because that was where they got married. He said he was not Catholic, but that he remembered at his wedding promising to accept children lovingly from God. He added he never expected it to be in this way. I am not sure if I have heard a better statement of faith.
On the day of the liturgy, there were four of us in the church. The three of us and the funeral director. And of course the body of their child. We had a tiny casket on the table underneath the Paschal Candle. I saw a mother and a father doing the hardest thing I can imagine. I saw them struggle to say goodbye. I saw them care for each other, try to stay strong for each other and respond when the other needed them. I saw them living out their marriage in the most profound way. I saw love incarnate.
At the end of the liturgy, I walked to the back of the church to give them some space. And I remember looking at the Cross above them thinking, God, you’d better look after them and their baby. But I knew right away that God already was. I knew immediately that God had gone ahead of us and is caring for their baby. I knew this. I know this. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Somehow, this is joy, and nothing else can hold a candle to it. Our faith is true. What it says about love is true. The consolation of Christ Crucified and risen is true. This mystery – this thing so far beyond what we know, God who we celebrate in the Eucharist – really is all about love.
God is love, and that love is absolute sacrifice. God holds nothing back. This mystery begins in love, it continues in love; it is destined for love. Our job is simply to abide. We must keep on loving. We must keep faith, trusting that God’s commandments mark out the pathway to eternal life, eternal life which just is the fullness of love.
Please when you go home, read this gospel again. Is there anything more beautiful? Is there anything more truthful? How wonderful that we are called to share this with the world!