The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy!” – Pope Francis
Pope Francis, again and again, calls all people – but especially those of us in the consecrated life – to be men and women of JOY. In the midst of the busyness of life, the tensions of relationships, or our own interior darkness, it is easy to succumb to discouragement, sadness, fear, and loneliness.
Living a life of JOY means being willing to be detached from the patterns of thinking and behavior in which we have become so comfortable. Surrendering to God when we are tempted to rebel brings JOY. Seeking forgiveness instead of playing the blame game brings JOY. Pausing to pray when we are tempted to just ‘think’ about our fears and worries brings JOY. Remembering Our Lord’s love instead of giving in to self-pity and isolation brings JOY.
Perfect JOY is not the absence of the Cross, but rather perfect JOY is finding Christ there…right there…in the reality of our suffering, in the reality of our weakness, and in the reality of His love. Perfect JOY is finding Him in the very places of our own hearts that we dread, the places that are ‘unredeemed’ (not because He doesn’t have the power to redeem them, but because we’ve never let Him in).
Jesus waits for us there…in the very epicenter of unlove – to heal, to anoint, to redeem, and to transform. This waiting is His own sort of Advent. Isn’t that a cool thought?!? There the Savior vigilantly waits for our re-birth, patiently waits for us to open every room of our hearts to Him. His Advent in our soul is an active waiting to receive our humanity and to love us to newness, where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death (see Rev. 21) . If our heart is a Bethlehem, will we welcome the Savior?
I’ll conclude with Pope Francis’ words on the subject of JOY and the consecrated life from his message for the Year of Consecrated Life:
That the old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy”. We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfillment.
None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for “a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”. Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older. But in all these things we should be able to discover “perfect joy”. For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross.