Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time:
The Law of Joy
Those of you who are circus devotees probably heard the bad news: Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey has announced that they as well as all circuses throughout the country have a serious shortage of clowns. It seems that people just aren’t interested in the intense training. Being a part of 20 clowns in a VW Beatle has also lost its appeal. But do not fear, the circuses have opened up a recruiting office in Washington, DC. There are plenty of people there who do not even have to go to clown school.
Four years ago this week, Pope Emeritus Benedict shocked the world by announcing that he would retire from the Chair of St. Peter. This set into motion events that led to a change in the tone of the Catholic Church. As you know, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, taking the name Francis and bringing the simplicity of St. Francis to the Church’s highest office. This new tone that Pope Francis brought to the Church is one of joy. He has urged bishops, priests and deacons to step away from hammering at the same two moral issues, abortion and gay marriage, that have become the focus of so many homilies, particularly in America. His first major writing to the Church was the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. He urged those preaching to use their homilies to bring the joy of the Lord to the world.
For many this has not been the easiest of tasks. Many homilists still feel a necessity to continue being negative. Many in the pews are quite happy to hear priests and deacons sticking it to those who promote abortion or gay marriage and will even applaud them as though it takes courage to preach to the choir. It will take time, years really, before the tone of joy replaces the tone of confrontation. But it will happen. In time.
It has to happen. We need to move away from the Church of No to the Church of Joy. There is so much more to the Gospel then confronting two issues.
Consider today’s readings. All three readings tell us that the world does not have to be a place of hatred with its accompanying anger and violence. History does not have to result from a series of wars. The workplace does not have to be a place of nastiness, of unbridled ambition, of people destroying others for their own gain. The school does not have to be a place where might makes right and mean Teens dominate. Nor does the neighborhood have to be a place where rumors destroy lives.
The readings are telling us that the world does not have to be this way. A Savior has come who has presented a new way of living, a new law, a Law of Joy. This is a law that says if we check our desire for vengeance, we can live in peace with ourselves and our God. If we refuse to be dominated by hatred, we can remain united to the One who is Love Become Flesh. If there is only one person in the workplace who lives by this New Law, the workplace will experience the presence of the Lord in that person. With the Grace of the Holy Spirit working through this person, the workplace can become a place of joy. Similarly, if there is only one person at the cafeteria table who refuses to join the attack on someone at school, those plotting to hurt others will be forced to reconsider their plans. Perhaps, eventually, they will realize that the mean have no joy, but the meek, those who follow today’s gospel, live in happiness.
The Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the sermon, Jesus calls on us to look inside ourselves. If we allow hateful thoughts to overtake us, we cannot be people of peace. If we nurture memories of the times that we were hurt and convince ourselves that we have a right to vengeance, our lives will be in continual turmoil. The Lord tells us to adopt a new way of thinking, a new way of acting, a way that is radically opposed to the way of the world. He tells us to turn the other cheek. That’s hard. He tells us to love our enemies. That’s even harder. He tells us to be pleasant with those who attack us. He tells us to live in peace with all, even those who hate us. Others may or may not change their ways, but we cannot allow their actions to change us. We cannot allow others to steal the joy we have in being united to Jesus Christ. We need to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. That word perfect here in Matthew is better translated wholesome or sincere. If we do our best to be wholesome on the inside, our lives will be full of the Joy of the Lord.
We pray about this joy at every Mass, particularly during the Eucharistic prayer. Perhaps you might want to listen for this today. You may not hear the word joy, but you will hear us thanking God for the gift of our Savior, for accepting his Sacrifice for us, for giving us a share in his life.
I once spent a week on Barbados, one of the Caribbean Islands. The Island is very Christian. Every day when I saw the ladies who cleaned the rooms I would greet them and then say, “And how are you today?” I did this purposely because I loved hearing their answer. Each lady would say the same thing: “I am blessed.” And so are we all.
All the pettiness that we suffer from others. All the hatred that others cast on us. All the scheming that others might attempt. None of this matters. What matters is the Love of God and the joy we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord. The New Law of the Kingdom of God, calls us to forgive, to turn from anger, to be kind. And live in peace. The New Law of the Kingdom of God is the Law of Joy.