Friday, December 17, 2010

A Great Joy Which Will Come to All People

In just one week, the Catholic Church and all Christians everywhere will celebrate the great feast of Christmas.  While the world has been telling us for a month to "get out there and go shopping" in preparation for Christmas Day, in our month of preparation called Advent, the Church has been calling us to "look inside and do inventory." As Christians, we don't need to go out and buy what we hope will bring happiness. We already have the One who brings not only true happiness, but everlasting joy, which no one else can give us!  So while the world puts its focus on the giving and receiving of store-bought gifts, the Church, in its proclaiming the Nativity once again, calls us to first rediscover afresh in the Gospel the One who is God's greatest gift to us, and then to go out into the world and share Christ Our Joy with others, so that He may be theirs as well!

This is what is at the heart of the New Evangelization, a joy made new, not only each year with our preparation for and in the welcoming of Christmas, but each day, as we wake knowing that He is ours and we are His.  This is the great joy which we are called to bring, to carry in our hearts wherever we go, so that it may indeed, by the grace of God, come to all people.

But the world will not come to know Him just in what we say.

“To be true disciples of the Lord, believers must
bear witness to their faith, and ‘witnesses testify not only with words,
but also with their lives.’”
Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America (26)—
Jesus is a person, not an idea. We are not only called to be His messengers, but to be nothing less than the living face and the presence of Christ.  For the sake of the Gospel and for the salvation of souls, in thanksgiving for the saving gift of Jesus, we are called to be Saints! Through our striving to live a holy life in and through His sacraments, at every moment relying upon and cooperating with His infinite mercy and sanctifying grace, the world which is so desperately searching for the Lord will have finally found Him-- in us! This is what it means to become His living witnesses, outwardly radiating His joy, because it is the Lord Himself who truly lives and breathes within us.

Adoration of the Child, Gerrit van Honthorst, c. 1620
We only need to look at Jesus Himself and at His Saints to know what holiness of life is, and how powerfully attractive and convincing a force it is.  How many times we have heard or read the Gospels' accounts of the obvious power of John the Baptist's preaching "of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3); that "all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem" went to him to be baptized and to confess their sins (Mark 1:5). Did the people go out to the Jordan in droves because John was a charismatic leader or a great speechwriter? He certainly wasn't preaching a message the people wanted to hear.  He was telling them unreservedly that they were sinners who needed to change!  But by God's grace, and because John lived what he preached, the truth in his words was irresistible. God used that unmistakable single-mindedness and single-heartedness of John to draw His people once again to Himself, inviting their hearts to become truly ready for the coming of the Messiah.

If we are then to work for the conversion of others, to help convince them that we speak the truth in proclaiming Christ, we must first of all live that message. We must be converted, continually and daily, with the measure of our conversion being the degree to which we can say to God, in joyful obedience, "Yes, Lord, have your way with me and with my life.  I am completely yours." Only then will Christ be truly born into our hearts, and then through us, into our world.

This Christmas, and for the rest of our lives, let "Joy to the World" be not only a hymn we sing in our hearts and in our churches-- and yes, also in the streets as carolers-- but let it also be our prayer for the world in the midst of its darkness and hopelessness, as it continues its search for true joy and lasting peace. Especially at this time of the year, we recall that salt not only adds flavor to our meals, it also melts ice. Let us be the salt that the Lord calls us to be; salt that will add the taste of hope and joy to the world's blandness, and in doing so, melt those hearts that still remain so cold to His.

...the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity." — Pope John Paul II, WYD Message to Youth, August 2004