Summary: The joy of the Gospel and the impediments to enjoying the Gospel.
St. Pius X 2014
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
Last November, Pope Francis published his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which is named after its first words, “the joy of the Gospel.” Today I begin a new homily series on this exhortation. It’s important for us to remember that an exhortation is a motivational letter or speech. Such a communication is designed to spur us to action. And action centered around joy and the Gospel is exactly what the world needs today.
There was no joy among the Jews of Ezekiel’s day. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had taken a number of Jewish leaders into exile in 597 BC. Ezekiel, a priest, was among them. These exiles expected at some point to return. Ezekiel’s thankless task, as a prophet, was to tell them that not only would they not return, but that the faithlessness of those left behind in Jerusalem would lead to its fall and further exile. Why? Because the Jews had been called to be a light to the nations, to lead all peoples to right living and right worship, but they had dedicated themselves to worshiping false gods and oppressing their neighbor. They failed in their task; their hearts were corrupt and so their heads were as well.
But God’s plan was not dead. His mercy is everlasting. After a lengthy captivity, Ezekiel promised in the name of God that there would be a return, and that the Jews’ hearts would be renewed and, by the pouring of water, their uncleanness would be removed. The Lord would be their God and they would be His people. It would be like a wedding banquet.
This is what Jesus was speaking of in the parable. But the Jews of Our Lord’s day were not acting like God’s people. They were divided into sects. Oppression of the poor had not ended. The king–the Father–had righteous anger. The Jews would be repudiated and a New Israel would be founded by the sacrifice of Jesus, which we commemorate and make present at every Mass. And our hearts are renewed and our venial sins are taken away every time we share the banquet of the Lamb. The only proviso is that we be clothed in the proper garment–our baptismal garment–and therefore not be in the state of mortal sin. What a joy it is to know that we are in the presence of God, and being formed into the image of Christ!
Pope Francis begins his exhortation bluntly: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his 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. 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.”
He invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
The Holy Father also gives us a prayer as he begins, and I’ll recite it slowly so we can say it in our hearts: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” Amen.