Homily of Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry
Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 17, 2019
My dear sisters and brothers this weekend is a happy celebration of your achievement and accomplishment. You have worked hard — some more than others — over the past years to achieve this happy moment of accomplishment. The festivities of this weekend will be long remembered especially as you receive your monthly student loan bill with the high interest rate that must be paid.
This weekend is also bitter-sweet, as you realize that the routine of college life filled with classes, study sessions, team practices, group projects and all the social activities of these years now gives way to the next phase of life with its uncertainty and excitement.
An anonymous source is often quoted, “Happiness depends on happenings but JOY depends on Christ;” Let me repeat the quote: “Happiness depends on happenings but, JOY depends on Christ.” I believe that today’s readings from Sacred Scripture bears out the truth of this quote.
In Luke’s Gospel we encounter two women and a child in the womb who are filled with joy — the joy that only an encounter with Christ can produce. Elizabeth, advanced in age, is about to give birth to a son. Both she and John, her pre-born son, are filled with joy as they encounter Mary and her yet to be born Divine Child — Jesus the Christ.
Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit greets Mary and says, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth’s joy is shared by John as he leaps “for joy” in his mother’s womb. Mary too expresses her joy as she declares her conviction, rooted in faith, that God has called her to be the Mother of the Word made Flesh. She unequivocally declares: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my Savior.”
Mary’s reflection on her vocation has led her to share her joy of carrying Jesus — not only with Elizabeth and John but with all generations of believers. ” Mary conceived Christ first in her heart and then in her womb.” Her Magnificat is an invitation to every Christian to conceive Jesus in our heart.
Now, it may at first be difficult to recognize the gift of joy in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation because joy is not explicitly mentioned. The author of Revelation, describes a vision of the “woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” And, the “woman gives birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule over the nations...” Some biblical scholars posit that the woman of the Book of Revelation is the image of the Church. The vision continues that the Church is saved by her flight into the dessert to escape persecution. She is also described as woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet. The imagery of the sun and moon represent the instruments measuring the passing of time. The twelve stars are a reminder that the teaching of the Church is protected by the witness of the twelve apostles who in the Book of Acts are described as filled with joy when they been “found worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name” of Jesus.
The Church continues to give birth to a son or if you will to new generations of witnesses. These are the offspring of the Church who give witness to Jesus Christ as they suffer persecution and the threat of annihilation but God saves them and takes them to Himself. Just as the offspring of the woman was “caught up to God and His throne” — so too are all the witness to the Spotless Lamb of God. It is only at the throne of God that the children of the Church will suffer no more as they experience everlasting joy.
But, we may ask ourselves, “How can we suffer in this life and at the same time be joyful?” Mother Theresa reminds her Sisters that, “The joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart filled with love. (She goes on to tell them to) Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the risen Christ.”
And as Robert Schuller once wrote “Joy is not the absence of suffering. Joy is the presence of God.”
It must be clear that JOY is a hallmark of our Christian life. What we are doing right here and now -engaging in the Divine Liturgy of the Church - is the clearest sign of our encounter with the Risen Lord. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we intimately and publicly encounter Christ in the proclamation of His word, the Breaking of the Bread and in our communion with one another as the Body of Christ. Our joyful conviction that Mary’s Son humbles Himself in order to encounter us in the fullness of the Eucharistic celebration gives us that peace that only Christ can give. Regardless of the transitions of life, its ups and its downs, its successes and failures, life’s pressures and stress, if Christians really reflect on the eternal gift of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, then they cannot help but be the joyful missionary disciples God calls us all to be.
As such we must take that Gospel joy and share it with others. Pope Francis reminds us so often that there is no room for small mindedness, cynicism or pessimism in the Christian life if we truly believe Jesus loves us. The Church’s proclamation of the Risen Lord’s love for us should never be delivered with the intention of instilling fear into the heart of the listener. So often people are afraid that salvation is something that can only be earned and that God is keeping a count of the points we are forfeiting. However, the reality is that if we freely accept God’s invitation to encounter Him, then the gifts of joy and salvation is a result of our sharing in the suffering and death of Jesus. God’s invitation to accept the Good News of salvation is to know that everything in this world is tending toward God through His Son’s redemptive death and resurrection.
In our proclamation of His eternal love and if we are willing to share the story of our own forgiveness by God and the reception of His mercy, then others will desire to experience their own joyful encounter with Christ in His Church. Again, Pope Francis describes the unique mission of the Church… “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up.”
Our joy as proclaimers demands concrete actions. We heal wounds when our faith causes us to act: when we invite the person experiencing homelessness to share a meal; when we support efforts around the world to provide communities with clean water; when we donate our extra winter coat to clothe the naked; when we anonymously pay for a child to go to summer camp; when we donate our time and talent to raise up the marginalized and outcast citizens of our global society. We heal wounds when we become the voice of voiceless infant, of the mentality or emotionally challenged brother or sister, the voice for the aged and forgotten senior, the immigrant in need of safety for their children and the voice of those who have suffered abuse of any kind. When we exercise a preferential option for our poorest sisters and brothers then we demonstrate the joy of encountering Christ. If we are truly serious about Catholic Social Teaching then we joyfully realize that there really isn’t a “preferential option” to serve the poor. It is a command of Christ that must be obeyed: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
We also can experience the joy of encounter with Jesus in the first book of revelation – that is creation herself. In his poem entitled, Spring, Gerard Manley Hopkins asks the rhetorical question: “What is all this juice and joy?” For Hopkins the rebirth of creation in the season of spring is gushing with the inner life of God. What joy there is for us to be a part of this creation? Creation itself bears witness to the joy of encountering the Heart of the Risen Lord; that is, His heart that first gushed with His blood and water from the cross and washed away the refuse of sin from creation herself.
My brothers and sisters, what will all your tomorrows bring? It is my firm belief that if you let Jesus encounter you in your weakness and strength, your doubt and fear, your sinfulness and your cooperation with His grace – you cannot help but rejoice each day of your life. Your days will be blessed if you seek a friendship with Jesus through the beauty of creation and through a life of faith lived in sacrifice and service to your sisters and brothers. St. Peter reminds us: “Although you have not seen Him, you love Him. Although you do not now see him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. May each of us every day proclaim the greatness of the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior.