When Mary called me back in March of this year, inviting me to speak in the conference she announced the theme “Rejoice in the Lord Always” taken from Philippians 4:4-7: (let me read it for you again)
.4 Rejoice* in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.6 Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.7 Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Joy and peace. In these troubled times, they seem like an ethereal dream yet the believer is called to “rejoice in the Lord always”. Does it say in the good times? Does it say in the happy times or the healthy times? No. What does it say? Always! Let me hear you say it “always!” Now as I prayed on my topic of choice I was led by the Spirit to a challenging question “Michel can you rejoice in me in the midst of the storm, can my people rejoice in me in the midst of the storm?”
And so many months ago I submitted my talk title to Jim and Mary: Rejoicing in the Storm.
Storms! We’ve seen and felt so many this year: Harvey, Irma, Maria all major hurricanes with intensities, the likes of which have seldom been seen. We have witnessed their destruction in the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico and in Texas and Florida especially in the Keys. Many have lost lives, loved ones and property. What Joy and peace can come out of that?
Yet today we hear “rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say rejoice”. It’s the ‘always’ that hits me hard, I can’t escape it…I wish it wasn’t written in the Bible, but it is. And it is written by a man, St. Paul, who was facing his own personal storm, in his pending trial and possible execution, but the theme is not ‘woe is me’ but joy: Phil 2:17-18
17 But, even if I am poured out as a libation* upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.o18In the same way you also should rejoice.
So joy in the storm, huh? Let’s take a deeper look. I’d like to read from a homily that our Holy Father Pope Francis gave on May 10, 2013
WHAT IS JOY? - Pope Francis, Homily on May 10, 2013
What is this joy? Is it having fun? No: it is not the same. Fun is good, eh? Having fun is good. But joy is more, it is something else. It is something that does not come from short term economic reasons, from momentary reasons: it is something deeper. It is a gift. Fun, if we want to have fun all the time, in the end becomes shallow, superficial, and also leads us to that state where we lack Christian wisdom, it makes us a little bit stupid, naive, no? Everything is fun ... no. Joy is another thing. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.
Let u pause here a bit: Are we mixing up fun and joy? In our society today we are bombarded with all the ads and allurements of fun and pleasure: drink this, smoke that, wear this, do that and satisfy you desires for pleasure and fun. Do you think that drug addicts and alcoholics are seeking the deliberate destruction of their body and mind? No. The easiest seduction is that it is fun and it will make you feel good. Most sinners don’t seek to sin, they seek satisfaction of some need or desire that blinds them to the reality of sin. And as the Holy father says, “if we want to have fun all the time, in the end becomes shallow, superficial, and also leads us to that state where we lack Christian wisdom, it makes us a little bit stupid, naïve…”
So, Pope Francis makes a distinction between fun and joy, he says:” Fun is good, eh? Having fun is good. But joy is more.” He goes on to say “But joy is more, it is something else. It is something that does not come from short term economic reasons, from momentary reasons: it is something deeper. It is a gift.”
Pope Francis says and “this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.” What did we hear when I read the conference’s theme from Philippians?
4 Rejoice* in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
The Lord is near! Ah ha...perhaps that’s why we find difficulty in experiencing joy, perhaps we feel Jesus is far away, way up in heaven somewhere to be close to us. Nothing could be further from the truth, Jesus could never be far away from us.Turn your bibles to Mark 6:45-51
45Then he made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida,* while he dismissed the crowd.46* And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore.48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.* He meant to pass by them.49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out.50* They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were [completely] astounded.
They felt that he was far away after all he sent them away and stayed behind. But Mark gives us a little detail that others do not: 48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them.
“Then he saw…” Yes, sisters and brothers, while they were looking at the wind and waves Jesus saw them in danger and he came. Sadly, many of us find it easier to imagine that our God is looking to see if we sin and need condemnation, rather than looking to see if because of sin, we need saving. Why is the image of an angry God more prevalent in our minds than a loving God?
The disciples were never out of his sight and neither are we. 4 Rejoice* in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
Let me ask you a question here: How’s your prayer life? Prayer is ‘love talk’ between you and God. There a so many times when Eva and I say morning or evening prayer together when a verse of a psalm or a particular Gospel reading just jumps out and lifts one or both of us. The best prayer moments come when I take time to listen to God in the Spirit or through his Holy Word. God has so much to say to us, if we take time to listen and he listens when we speak in prayer, our true love talk, not just our ‘gimme, gimme’ moments.
Going back to our Holy father’s homily (I didn’t forget about him). He said “. Joy is another thing. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.
Who is this deacon to argue when the Holy Father says. Joy is another thing. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father and St. Paul says .4 Rejoice* in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
In his homily the Holy Father continued:
If we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy only nostalgia, melancholy which is not healthy. Sometimes these melancholy Christians faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life. Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go. Joy is a pilgrim virtue.
It is a gift that walks, walks on the path of life, that walks with Jesus: preaching, proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming joy, lengthens and widens that path. It is a virtue of the Great, of those Great ones who rise above the little things in life, above human pettiness, of those who will not allow themselves to be dragged into those little things within the community, within the Church: they always look to the horizon.
The Christian sings with joy, and walks, and carries this joy.
Let’s pause here again for a moment:
Sometimes these melancholy Christians faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.
Friends what is the meaning of ‘Gospel’? The word gospel originates from the meaning of the New Testament Greek word ‘evangelion’ meaning "good news". Can you equate good news with ‘pickled peppers’? Turn your Bibles to Luke 1:39-45
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord* should come to me? 44
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed are you who believed* that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
That’s the only way the Gospel can be received: We’ve got to leap for joy. Remember Pope Francis’ words “Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go. Joy is a pilgrim virtue. It is a gift that walks, walks on the path of life, that walks with Jesus: preaching, proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming joy, lengthens and widens that path. It is a virtue of the Great, of those Great ones who rise above the little things in life, above human pettiness, of those who will not allow themselves to be dragged into those little things within the community, within the Church: they always look to the horizon.
The Christian sings with joy, and walks, and carries this joy.
Let me share this story that came out of Hurricane Irma in the Keys:
On Sept 18 Someone posted on Facebook: "His name is Julio Melendez and he is located by the Castaway Trailer Park in Marathon, FL. (Keys Mile 46). He is one of the victims, like many others, who lost everything due to the impacts of Hurricane Irma and is living in his truck. He has an enormous heart and hasn't stopped helping those around him that like he says 'are in a worse situation than him'. He has been using his truck to pick up ice and water and delivering it to all the victims stranded without transportation.
When asked what he was going to do with the air mattress that was just donated to him (the one he is holding) he responded: 'I'm going to donate it to someone who needs it more than me'.
We have made two trips to Marathon and both days he has been doing his altruistic labor. Before this tragedy Julio worked in landscaping. If anyone knows of a job for him, let's help him out!! I am not sure if he lost his equipment too during the hurricane. This silent hero needs a home."
On Thursday morning as we said our morning breviary pray the reading came from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans
16 So do not let your good be reviled.17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit;18 whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. 19 Let us* then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.
I will not stand before you and preach a cross-less Christ or Christian as so many are wont to do these days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ‘a Christian without a cross, ain’t!!” Julio Melendez certainly has his heavy cross to bear: He lost all his possessions but he has not lost his joy. It is what enables him to desire and so build the Kingdom of God It’s not of just ‘food and drink’ but of ‘righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit’
Let’s return to Holy father’s homily:
It (joy) is the gift that brings us to the virtue of magnanimity. The Christian is magnanimous, he or she cannot be timorous: the Christian is magnanimous. And magnanimity is the virtue of breath, the virtue of always going forward, but with a spirit full of the Holy Spirit.
Joy is a grace that we ask of the Lord. These days in a special way, because the Church is invited, the Church invites us to ask for the joy and also desire: that which propels the Christian's life forward is desire. The greater your desire, the greater your joy will be. The Christian is a man, is a woman of desire: always desire more on the path of life. We ask the Lord for this grace, this gift of the Spirit: Christian joy. Far from sorrow, far from simple fun ... it is something else. It is a grace we must seek.
If we Charismatics are to carry out what the Holy Spirit renewed the Church with 50 years ago, we have to do with joy. Joy is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship may not always be fun; there will be trials and persecutions and storms, but let us not lose our joy, because the Lord is near.! I would like to leave you with this Scripture from the Gospel of John 15:4-11
Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
6 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
Lord may your joy be in us so that our joy may be complete. Come Holy Spirit come!