We hear sections of Jesus’ farewell discourse often in the liturgy during the Easter season, and as we gets closer to Pentecost we hear it more and more, phrases of it used even as the Communion Antiphon. It’s as if the apostles and disciples themselves after the resurrection are remembering the words that Jesus said just before he died, understanding them in a whole new light. It’s especially poignant to celebrate an apostle during this Easter season, and in this particular passage from the same discourse chosen for the feast of Saint Matthias (Jn 15:10-15) I’m imagining the apostles sitting around and reciting these words to Matthias, after he has been chosen to join the apostolic band to replace Judas: “This is what he told us it means to be a true disciple of his.” This time reading it I’m particularly focused on the word “joy”––‘…that my joy might be in you and your joy be complete’––and I realized that I don’t often think of Jesus’ joy. I suppose it lives right next to Jesus’ gratitude, along with his wonder and his amazement. And, like gratitude, joy is a power that spills over. I think of the smile of Pope John XXIII who they say lit up a room every time he walked in, or the innocent unguarded joy of a giggling infant. Joy spills over. And of course I was thinking too of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” and I want to quote that a bit, especially appropriate on the feast of an apostle.
In this gospel passage, according to Jesus joy is intimately connected with going out of ourselves, with service, with love of others, with active love. ‘Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ I guess we could say as well that’s where true joy lies. On the other hand, Pope Francis says:
Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others… God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of [God’s] love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. And that is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. [#2]
I especially liked his use of the word “listless” there; it reminds me of the specifically monastic passion of acedia–listlessness, like the big salmon boat that has been drifting lazily out in the bay all day in this intense heat. I was always taught that when I am really getting caught up in my own drama, the surest way “out of that swamp” (as my spiritual director says) is to reach out in service, to give something of my self, my time or my energy away. ‘Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ There is no greater love than to be like yeast in the dough, salt in the earth. It’s like a magic formula, even though I myself forget it often. When I am all caught up in myself, I need to get out of myself, move beyond myself and my little world! I don’t suppose that always means active ministry, but it has something to do with finding and harnessing that great life force that is inside of us, which has its roots in the Holy Spirit, the love of God poured into our hearts, accessing it and turning it into creativity of some sort, being procreative in the broadest sense of the word.
This “love of God” can seem like such an abstract concept and yet it is an encounter with that love––the love of God, the love that is the ground of being of the Universe, the font from which all creation flows, the energy behind evolution––that is the root of the liberation “from our narrowness and self-absorption.” Because the experience of that love is a liberating force, the experience of love provokes the joy that becomes creativity, and that becomes love for others. And that’s when we become fully human. And Pope Francis says, “We become fully human when we become more than human, [we become fully human] when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.” Maybe this is his way of saying this is when we become divinized: “…when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.”
And, most importantly today for a feast of an apostle, this is “the source and 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?” That’s what love does, it flows out, it creates, it goes out of itself, it’s procreative. I couldn’t help but think too of that beautiful image from the Prologue of the Rule, our hearts overflowing with joy and delight. That’s evangelization, too, the overflow of joy and delight, the overflow of the experience of being loved, the overflow of gratitude and wonder. I like to use the two images associated with the interior side of Pentecost. First, Paul says, the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Spirit living in us; and Jesus says ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow streams of life giving water’ (John tells us parenthetically that he too was talking about the Holy Spirit). The Spirit, creative energy of God, pours in, and the Spirit, the creative energy of God, flows back out. And that flowing out is our evangelization. I was telling the folks at the Oblate Assembly last weekend (paraphrasing Jeremy Driscoll) that even without direct evangelization a monastic community is an evangelizing word because of its witness to this, because it’s a concrete expression of what it means to live the Gospel, or at least it is meant to be. And that is our apostolate, our apostolate of intercessory prayer, our apostolate to each other and to our guests, but really the apostolate of our life itself. A monastic community is a stream of life giving water flowing out of our hearts.
I keep chafing at Saint Benedict telling us in the Rule that a monk’s whole life should be a little Lent and I keep trying to come up with variations on it. So I think you could equally say that a monk’s whole life should be a little Advent, or a monk’s whole life should be an extended Holy Thursday. But again I like what the Pope adds to this that “There are Christians”––maybe even monks!––“whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”
I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress… [#6]
Twice the Holy Father mentions this “quiet.” Our joy is not the gaudy joy of decadence, nor the flashy joy that lures us into consumerism. It’s a quiet yet firm joy, the quiet joy of God, not unlike the still small voice of God.
So today, on this feast of Saint Matthias, let’s see if we can find this quiet joy, the joy of Jesus which is the love of God that has been poured into our hearts, and let that be our driving force, let that be the energy behind all of our actions, the source of our creativity. I heard a missionary from the inner city of New York say once, “The Gospel spreads itself.” In some way that’s true, because joy is infectious. We need to find it in ourselves, and once we do it will spill over and we become an evangelizing word.