Here is something to ponder in the remaining days of Advent. I recently had coffee with a fellow Catholic who gloomily shared his ongoing struggles with overtly living out his faith in the real world and reluctance to discuss his faith with others. He made it clear that going to Mass on Sunday was all he could or should be doing. Unfortunately, this is a very common tale. The conversation became really interesting and a little uncomfortable when we discussed why people become apathetic about their faith, hesitate about converting or leave the Church altogether.
It became obvious to me after a few minutes that how my coffee companion presented his faith to the world and how others view the Catholic Church may be connected.
Why do some of our Catholic brothers and sisters lose their enthusiasm for the Faith? Why do some leave the Church? Why do those curious about the Church have reservations about converting? The unfortunate truth is that many (not all) of us make being Catholic look about as exciting as having a root canal. Each of the groups identified in these questions may be looking for inspiration from people who are truly joyful about Christ and the Church He founded. They want to see us have genuine passion for the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. They would love to see us have prayer lives worth emulating. Does the thought ever occur to us that our actions as well as our words are being observed by others and this places an important burden on our shoulders?
So, let’s ask ourselves: Are we “islands of joy” reflecting the light of Christ to others or have we lost our Catholic identity and become completely assimilated into the surrounding secular culture?
We might be tempted to say that we should not be responsible for helping the faith and spiritual welfare of others, but indeed we are partly responsible. We are here to help ourselves; our families and everyone we know get to Heaven. If we are living up to the world’s expectations and not showing others the light of Christ, the path to Heaven that leads through the Catholic Church will not be attractive to them. They will not see what is so special about being Catholic if those of us who are Catholic fail to live up to our responsibility. On the other hand, if we stay focused on serving Christ, living as faithful Catholics and pursue lives of personal holiness we will make the path to the Church look more appealing. They will want what we have and will seek us out to find the reason for our joy.
We have so much to be truly thankful for in our relationship with Christ and the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. But, being truly joyful should lead to sharing that joy and the ability to express the truths of our faith in a way that shows the depth of our sincere belief and love to others. Consider this quote from writer Cormac Burke: “A Christian who is not convinced he has the truth is not convinced he has Christ. Only convinced Christians have any chance of convincing others. Half-convinced Christians won’t even half-convince anybody. They won’t convince at all.”
St. Paul reinforces the call to be joyful, “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The Apostle makes it sound simple, but why do we struggle to do something that appears to be so easy? We all deal with various forms of adversity. Some of us are unemployed, some are dealing with illness and others are struggling with relationship or financial problems. The current economic crisis, the global attacks on religious liberties and the relentless attacks on the Church by the secular media have made many of us apathetic, gloomy and frightened. These are real obstacles to joy and they must be acknowledged, but should remember to “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12).
As tough as things may be, Catholics have work to do for Christ. Like the early Christians, we too are called to share the Good News. Do you recall that in the life of St. Paul he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, starved and stoned? He showed incredible courage and fortitude to share his joy and the message of Christ to the Gentiles despite his suffering. We should follow his example today.
For Catholics, joy in the midst of extreme adversity is our obligation and our duty. Remember that we are not alone. Our faith in Christ and our devotion in the Sacraments that bind us to Him will see us through the tough times and help us share a joy which will not evaporate in the face of tough challenges. Be encouraged by our Lord’s words, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
It is so easy to get lost in our problems and forget to be joyful. It happens to me and just about everyone else I know. But, remember that we are surrounded by people who are watching us. They may be seeking Him and looking for someone, anyone, to show them the way to Christ. They could learn from our good example, be inspired by our joy and be encouraged by our faith journeys if we will only remember that we are called to share the Good News. If we are gloomy, frustrated, inward-focused and critical of the Church we will never be able to help anyone and may put our own salvation at risk.
Six Practical Steps to Catholic Joy this Advent
Let me leave you with six simple actions which I try to follow in my desire to be joyful. This is by no means the definitive list and I would love to learn what others are doing, but here is what often works for me:
- Surrender to Christ. Every day I recommit to putting Him first in all areas of my life.
- Give up my burdens to Jesus in daily prayer. I can’t do it alone and I need His help!
- Go to frequent Reconciliation. Unburdening my soul of sin brings me peace and joy.
- Be thankful for my blessings. I can gripe about my problems or I can focus on all of the incredible blessings in my life and express my gratitude to the Lord in prayer.
- Stay out of the “Catholic Cafeteria Line.” I fully accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and follow the Magisterium. I don’t follow the parts I like and reject those I do not like. I know that what I may not understand will be revealed to me over time if I have faith.
- Start with the end in mind. Are my actions each day serving Him? I hope to hear Jesus say at the end of my life on earth, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” My goal is Heaven and I must live a life that leads me there.
I am not sure where you are on the “joy spectrum,” but please reflect on this post and take it to prayer. Ask yourself if you find it difficult or easy to share your joy. Reflect on the obstacles between you and the fuller, engaging and joyful Catholic life which awaits us all. Remember that Jesus is coming to us next week and our hearts and minds must be prepared. As for me, I personally subscribe to the thinking of Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow.”
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith? Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores! All of Randy Hain’s books are available through Amazon.