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Father Muench Says...

Accepting pope’s challenge to be joyful

Dec. 11, 2013

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

The Pope has challenged us; I hope you have noticed by now.  Pope Francis’ recent writing – which is sort of a mission statement for him – has been reported on by everyone in all sorts of media. (See the back page of this week’s NCC.)

In this statement, Pope Francis challenges us – Bishops, priests and people – to a more Christian and to live with that joy.  He reminds us that we are joyful because God loves us; we are joyful because we are a saved people.

We are now in Advent and this is what Advent is about. Advent is meant to be a time of joy.  Each year we prepare for Christmas by celebrating Advent.  During Advent we start again. We begin again our liturgical journey through the life and teachings of Our Savior Jesus. We begin again to renew the joy of being a Christian.  During Advent we bring alive again the happiness of preparing to celebrate Christ’s Incarnation, the birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis entitles this new mission statement, “Evangelium Gaudium”, “The Joy of the Gospel.” The Holy Father reminds us from the start that it is all about being a joyful Christian – all of us, Bishops, priests and people – to show the world of the joy of following Jesus as a Catholic.

As usual, Pope Francis slips in some very clever ways of making his points.  He asks us to be evangelizers – to bring the Gospel message to the world.  This is the dedication of each and every one of us. In his introduction to this extensive statement of his, he writes this, “There are evangelizers whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”

We, Catholics, are a resurrection people.  We realize that Jesus suffered and died for us.  This we celebrate during Lent – Lent is our time to join Jesus in his suffering.  However, we know and believe that Jesus’ crucifixion leads to Jesus’ Resurrection to new life.  This leads us to the joy and happiness of Easter.  Through our Baptism we join Jesus in his resurrection. We are given this new life in the Lord – life in the Spirit.  This life brings new life, today, a life filled with the Spirit, a life of enthusiasm and joy.  Pope Francis urges us to live with that joy.

Pope Francis adds this, “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come from a funeral.”  Can others recognize joy in your life, that you are a joyful follower of Jesus, alive in the Lord’s new life?

So, where do we find this joy of the Lord – this new life?  Pope Francis shows us that through prayer, through Eucharist, we encounter God’s love.  God’s love in our lives leads us to establish our friendship with Jesus.  This friendship with Jesus will blossom into an enriching friendship that will liberate us from our narrowness and self-absorption.  Then we will flood our world with our love of God.

This mission statement of Our Holy Father investigates many – almost innumerable – concerns of Pope Francis – his hopes and dreams for our Catholic Church.  He considers so many important areas of the Church’s life, from the needs of the poor to a challenge to preachers to improve their homilies – and also the support of families in each parish.  He has given us plenty to think about – a great deal to meditate over – to pray about.  There is certainly a great deal more to learn from this new statement.

Let me share with you one more of Pope Francis’ wonderful ideals for our Church, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty – because it has been out in the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”      

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