Reflection & Dialogue: Joy of Christian believing, and loathing on its rejection
It is worth paying attention to Paul’s words as we have them in the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice”. It is obvious that Paul lays stress on Christian rejoicing, on Christian joy. He expresses the very same sentiments in the first of his letters that has come down to us, that to the Thessalonians, from which our second reading is taken. There he says: “Rejoice always; be happy at all times”. This invites us to reflect on the importance of rejoicing, of joy, in Christian life, in human life, and for believers during this period of Advent, and indeed at all times, of the close connection between joy and the coming of Christ into our world, and on Christ’s own emphasis on the joy of believing in him and his mission. This presents an opportunity of recalling the texts of the New Testament on this theme, without giving chapter and verse of the Bible.
At the birth of Christ, recalled at Christmas, the Angel declared to the shepherds that with this birth he was bring good news of great joy for all the people. John the Baptist declared that his joy was full that the promised redeemer had come. The disciples rejoiced on the success of their first mission, and Jesus called on them to do so. On that same occasion Jesus himself rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and thanked his Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that he had hidden the mysteries of salvation from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants, that is to his own followers. The mystery hidden from all ages, from many prophets and kings, had been revealed to them, and for this Jesus declared them blessed, happy, fortunate. Christian joy is connected with the new age revealed in Christ and his Church. The theme of joy is prominent in Jesus’ prayers and teachings as presented in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus prays that his own joy may be in his disciples and that their joy may be full. He forewarns them that in this world they will have trials, but after trials their sorrow will turn into joy. Their hearts will rejoice and they will have a joy that no one can take from them. The disciples are asked by Jesus to pray (to the Father) that their joy may be full, and their prayer will be heard. The Beatitudes end by linking persecution with joy. Blessed, happy, are the followers of Christ when ill-treated and persecuted on account of the Son of Man. They should rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely their reward is great in heaven. It is clear from these texts that Christian joy is rooted in belief in Jesus Christ and in the new age that has come with him and continues in the Church which he has founded. This joy goes with love and respect from the Church.
This love for the faith, and the joy that accompanies it, has been a central part of the Christian heritage down through the centuries. It has also been very much part of the Irish tradition right from the beginning. Matters have been changing very much in the older world over recent centuries, and in Ireland over the past decades. Christianity has been abandoned by a number of the learned class, and more recently by the general public. With regard to persons born and reared in the faith in these changing circumstances three classes can be identified. A number continue to believe and practise. Another group abandon practice of the faith, and possibly also belief, but are not perturbed thereby. A third class abandon the faith and turn violently against it, against the Church, its practices and against belief in revelation and even in the existence of God. In writings of some of this group, a venom can be perceived, which varies with the form of learning and literature they represent. In some writers there is a quest for redemption but not that of Christian tradition, a form of redemption and hope in mankind’s ability to show compassion, love and find an individual spirituality.
On this Gaudete, Rejoice Sunday, it is well to recall that other venom and loathing which can be produced in some who reject the salvation, the redemption, brought by Christ and still proclaimed by the Church. Dialogue might help bridge the gap between the two visions of life here and beyond.