For Christians, joy is not optional


A Reflection for Friday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

“The disciples of John the Baptist often fast and pray, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but your people eat and drink. (Lk 5:33)

Pope Francis has gifted us with many memorable words and actions throughout his pontificate. I often think of some of the early ones he wrote, in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). Speaking of evangelism, he says that a Christian “must never look like someone who has just returned from a funeral!

These words mirror the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, when asked by those fun-hating Pharisees why his followers always have such a good time. “All this religious stuff is serious business!” they seem to say.

Jesus, I’m sure, is all for the seriousness of religion, but as he often does, he reverses the criticism. Party is one of the ways we take God seriously. “Can you make wedding guests fast while the groom is with them? If the Pharisees had eyes to see the reality before them, they would join in the celebration. What joy to be in the presence of Jesus!

I convince myself that faith is an individual, private matter, “too serious” to be shared with joy. I struggle to live a simple, happy and shared Christianity with others.

This temptation to live a “post-funeral” Christianity still persists today. I feel it in my own struggle to express my faith; I convince myself that faith is an individual, private matter, “too serious” to be shared with joy. I struggle to live a simple, happy and shared Christianity with others.

Our church also struggles with this in our liturgy. Granted, most Catholics in the United States have attended a Mass that might as well have been a funeral! As people whisper the answers and check their watches after the eight-minute homily, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise if some people don’t want to come back. Many of these issues are particularly difficult for predominantly white, Eurocentric Catholicism, which is my main experience of liturgy.

Fortunately, we have examples of this joyful and festive Christianity that we can learn from. Last weekend I attended a Spanish Mass in New York that was radiant with life. I know people who, with joyful faith, have made real friendships with people living on the streets. We can think of parents who somehow manage to smile and give a friendly wave as they drag their children to church. We can learn from these expressions of faith.

For Jesus, celebration is not an optional part of being his disciple. It is a natural response to the joy we feel every day at his side. May we have the grace to eat and drink while he is with us.

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