Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
I was feeling like a real go-getter this week. Days before writing this reflection I had read the passages and knew I was going to write on the section where James talks about going after those who stray. Then I randomly picked up a book that I bought exactly one year before I got married, mind you I’ve been married for nearly three years now. The book is called Salt of the Earth and it is an interview between Peter Seewald and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. As I read one of Ratzinger’s responses I found a line from today’s first reading ringing through my mind, “Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise.” That is such good advice! But are we bad at following it?
Here is the line that released that train of thought from the station:
Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rare. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice. (36)
I want to spend our time reflecting on the two keys that James and Jesus give us for unlocking unembarrassed joy.
The first key is from James and is one of action. It is worth noting that James does not possess the same dilemma that Ratzinger suggests we do. For immediately before addressing the one in good spirits James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray.” James is not ignorant to suffering in the world. As a matter of fact, if you read all of James, there is a strong call for us to do something about the suffering of the world! We find lines such as
- “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27)
- “However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:8-9)
- “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:15-17)
- “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” (3:16-17)
This cornucopia of citations from James is to express that there seems to be a presumption that the person expressing unembarrassed joy, is already cooperating with God in trying to do something about these present trials and sufferings. When we strive to follow James’ call to bear sorrow and suffering together, we do not hesitate to share our joy. Instead, it is when we isolate the alleviation of suffering to the afflicted that we become ashamed of joy.
The second key is from Jesus in the gospel and is one of attitude or being. Today’s gospel possess the famous line, “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” When we become childlike we can be joyful without shame. I recall the great joy my nephew had as he shot baskets. To the pragmatic adult, he was just throwing the ball up and his dad and I were actually sinking the ball through the hoop. For the child, though, he was doing it and there was only joy in making the baskets. And that joy was contagious. It was inviting.
That is the kind of joy that Pope Francis called us to in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). Not something with a shrill, uneasy laugh trying to cover up the reality of suffering. But a joy like a child’s. A joy that penetrates hardship and overcomes suffering as it lifts someone’s spirit to the kingdom.
When Ratzinger, in 1996, noted a rarity in unembarrassed joy, I believe he was referring to a rarity in active childlike joy. It is to this same impoverishment that Pope Francis responded with The Joy of the Gospel.
May the Gospel compel us to action and fill us with a contagious joy.
Both photos from www.amazon.com