Shepherd's Voice February 2019

SHARING THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL

Joy is always infectious. When we are joyful we want to share it with others or rather it radiates by itself since it can never remain bottled up. Our inner joy always manifests itself in our relationships, attitudes and behaviour. Of all the joys in our life our encounter with Christ is the greatest treasure we could ever attain in this life; therefore the Gospel is always the Good News of Joy. With this in mind Pope Francis titled his Apostolic Exhortation of 2013 “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium). There is a reason for this. As disciples of Christ we are called to be joyful people all the time radiating the joy of Christ in us, who has promised: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full“ (Jn. 15:11). Joy is a divine gift indicating the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The ever smiling face of Pope Francis speaks volumes of the joy of the Gospel that should fill our hearts and overflow to others.

When Jesus was born the angel announced the good news to the shepherds in these words: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2: 11). What is the purpose of this joy? Because a Saviour is born to us – Christ our Lord who will free us, not politically, but from the clutches of the Evil One and the power of sin so that we can live in the freedom of the children of God (cf. Jn 1: 12-13). This was long ago prophesied by all the Prophets, and the passage we read on Christmas night (Is. 9: 1-4) points to Christ our Lord who has taken away the oppression of sin from our shoulders and broken the yoke that burdens us, he has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life. When this great mystery of eternal life has been revealed to us beyond all our imagining and beyond all petty “freedoms” human beings look for, we have to sing and dance for joy because nobody ever in human history has achieved this for us except Jesus Christ Our Lord who has saved humankind from the power of death through his own suffering and death on the cross and the victory of the Resurrection.

Pope Francis says, “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). Can I make this the touchstone of my Christian life and of my responsibility to spread everywhere the joy of Christ?

To be a child of God is to live the joyful life of the Holy Spirit which always translates into thoughts, words and deeds of grace and truth. These are gifts we have received from Christ: “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1: 16-17). Christ our Lord is the fount of living waters that never dries up. We refresh our souls at this fountain, and we when we are refreshed we spread freshness everywhere, not filth, dankness and putridness. That is what Christian discipleship is all about.

St. John in his Gospel describes so powerfully how Jesus is “grace and truth” as he goes along proclaiming the message of the Kingdom of God. Defying the Law which enslaves and oppresses, he heals, he forgives, he gives life, he shows compassion, he gives the commandment of love, he washes the feet of his disciples, he suffers and dies for us and rises again on the third day to be our Way, Truth and Life, our Resurrection and our Life. Our faith is not in any human philosophy but in the very person of Christ whom God has made “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30).

St. Paul mentions the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal. 5: 22-23). These gifts flow from our consecration to Christ in baptism and they define our Christian life. He contrasts these with the works of the flesh – immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like (cf. Gal. 5:19-21). We have to constantly examine our lives and ask ourselves which is the spirit that directs us and determines our behaviour – the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of the flesh?

When the Spirit of Christ directs us we will always rejoice and be free from any kind of anxiety, there will be thanksgiving in our hearts always as we place all our prayers and petitions before God, singing hymns and psalms of praise and thankfulness to God. Thus attuned to God we will experience the immense peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding and which is the clear testimony of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.

One who lives in the peace of Christ lives the freedom Christ has won for us as our Saviour and Lord – freedom from the fear of repentance, from the fear of forgiveness and reconciliation, from the fear self-sacrificing love, from the fear of being humble and meek, from the fear of being kind, compassionate and merciful, from the fear of being a peacemaker, from the fear of being childlike, from the fear of being a servant, from the fear of persecution in the cause of right, from the fear of suffering and death.

This is the joy of the Gospel that impels us to share the Good News of the salvation with everyone so that God’s Kingdom may come, and come soon.

At the recently concluded Plenary Assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India in Chingelput, Chennai (January 7-14, 2019) the Bishops focused on our Christian vocation to be vehicles and instruments of the joy of the Gospel as the Holy Father Pope Francis exhorts us. We do this in so many ways in our daily life – families, associations, apostolates, institutions, movements, prayer & worship, and even martyrdom. This has been the evangelizing work of the Church from the day of Pentecost – sharing the Good News of our salvation in Christ until he comes again in power and glory to judge heaven and earth.

We also have to admit our failures in not being faithful to the Gospel all the time and lacking eagerness to proclaim the Gospel because of our insular and comfort-seeking attitudes that keep us so much confined to our own little world and its petty concerns. This applies equally, and even more, to Bishops as much as to others in the Church. Hence a constant process of renewal is needed to make us joyful and courageous evangelizers despite all challenges.

These words of St. Paul to Timothy have to be always kept in mind: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching… As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2Tim. 4:1-5).

Again St. Paul says, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1Cor. 9:16). Every baptized person is obliged to joyfully preach, practice and propagate the Gospel in all circumstances.

The Church’s identity is to be the seed, servant and sacrament of the Kingdom of God, announcing through her words, works and witness the “fullness of life” offered by Christ (Jn. 10:10). Pope Francis reminds us of the personal call for mission. Each one of us not only ‘has’ a mission but also ‘is’ a mission: “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (Evangelii Gaudium, 273).

All our ministries will be effective only if they spring out of a personal and loving relationship with Jesus Christ through a life of daily prayer and contemplation. Thus keeping in mind the demands of our Christian discipleship the CCBI Bishops appeal to:

All the Faithful – to remember that, being “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1Cor. 6:19) they are called to make the world a better place to live in by their love for God, overflowing into selfless deeds for justice, peace, harmony and care of God’s creation.

Christian Families – to recall their vocation to be ‘domestic church, called to be holy and happy, always bearing the Good News at home, in the neighbourhood, in places of study and work, by loving and serving all.

Youth – to stay creative in mind, loving at heart, and lively in their steps to joyfully follow the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Clergy & Religious – to shun every form of clericalism and careerism and to strive to be faithful to their vocation so as to effectively reveal the merciful and joyful face of Jesus to all people, especially the poorest of the poor.

Firmly founded on the promise of our Lord, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt. 28: 20), let us go ahead courageously to be joyful proclaimers of the Good News of our salvation in Christ exclaiming with St. Paul, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

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