I remember very clearly when the call came in: March 5, 1999, around 3 or 4 am; it was dark and I was fast asleep when the phone rang. My brother-in-law’s voice said, “She’s here. It’s a girl.”
Funny how so few words can change a life. My niece, soon-to-be goddaughter, entered the world and nothing was ever the same. For at least a year, all my friends and co-workers had to sit through pictures, anecdotes, even videos of “my Princess.” She was the most precious thing in this universe, at least in my universe, and I wanted everyone to know this marvelous little person.
I shouldn’t use the past tense, because today, almost 15 years later, the emotions are the same. My eyes tear and I beam proudly at her every accomplishment, and I carry pictures of her everywhere I go. Although not as obsessively, I still will tell stories of my princess at the drop of a hat, so don’t encourage me!
When Pope Francis speaks of the joy of evangelization, the joy which should propel us to go forth into the world, it very closely relates to my own experience. When the joy of the Lord, the joy of the Good News over flows in our hearts, there really is no stopping it! Suddenly, every word coming out of your mouth is about the Good News of God! Everything you see or hear brings you back to that joy, and it is so much a part of your heart, you want everyone to feel that way!
So, how do we find that joy? Or if we have, how do we keep renewing it in our hearts? It’s actually pretty simple: when we have an encounter with Christ, we can begin to experience life in a different way, much like with my experience with my niece. Like me, the apostles also marked the time and place when Jesus touched their hearts, and they too went forward to share the stories of this joy.
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.*
The disciples heard his words, and they were changed. They had an encounter that made them change their whole plan for the day; indeed, their whole lives were changed! From that moment on, everything they said or did was about Him or for Him. The words they spoke, the places they went, the people they met were all changed and inspired by their relationship with the Lord. They had met the Lord, the Son of God, and their lives would never be the same!
Once that spark is in place, it bursts forward! Falling in love with God is like the beginning of any love relationship: we want the whole world to know and feel what we are feeling! We talk about it to anyone who will listen and shout it from the rooftops! We listen to music and words speak of that love; we watch movies or read books and connect with the characters in a new way. We want others to experience this new vision of life, so we “set them up” for encounters as well, sharing experiences, encouraging them to pray, so they can find the happiness we know.
In Evangelii Gaudium,
Pope Francis says, “Here we find the inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? (8)”
True joy is not easy to keep inside; true joy becomes a part of our being, so connected to who we are and what we do that it bubbles out from us like a cup overflowing. As baptized Christians, we have that joy in our hearts and need to find ways to sustain it; as ministers of the Church, as co-workers in the field, we have to keep that joy alive in our hearts and help replenish and renew that joy in one another.
We are called by Evangelii Gaudium
to “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy..(1).” I challenge you to reflect in your own heart: what is it about the Gospel message, about the presence of Christ in your life, that brings you joy? How do you think we as a Church could help keep the joy alive in our hearts and the hearts of those we serve?