What is it about Pope Francis that he is so insistent on linking the Christian lifestyle with "joy"?
For example, on Jan. 29 the popeÊ issued revised norms for what are known as "ecclesiastical universities and faculties" Ñ those that grant Vatican-recognized degrees. The document is labelled Veritatis Gaudium (The Joy of Truth). It replaces the 1979 constitution published by Pope John Paul II entitled Sapientia Christiana (Christian Wisdom). "The Joy of Truth" gives a different connotation than "Christian Wisdom." Both are correct. But they have a different emphasis.
In a speech the same day to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, which mainly deals with appeals filed in marriage annulment cases, the pope examined the central role conscience plays in the process of discerning the nullity or validity of the bond of marriage. He said it is critical to help young people recognize "with a sure and clear conscience that the conjugal union, open to the gift of children, is a great joy for God, the church and humanity."
Again, the emphasis on joy.
In his Jan. 20 speech to priests, seminarians and men and women in consecrated life from various parts of Peru, the pope said religious men and women must be marked by joy and gratitude, "which enlarges the heart and inspires us to service."
In his apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis explained its purpose in the opening paragraph: "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. In this exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the church's journey in years to come."
Later in this document he writes, "Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the church grows, but Ôby attraction' " (15).
"Sharing one's joy" has a different feel than "imposing new obligations." Both are correct. But they have a different emphasis.
Pope Francis is not the first to stress joy as a hallmark of a Christian lifestyle. St. Teresa of Avila is often quoted as saying, "From sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us."
Cardinal John Henry Newman said, "The chief grace of primitive Christianity was joy." Despite being persecuted, the early Christians attracted others by their joy.
Pope John XXIII made a similar observation: "The message of Our saviour, Jesus Christ, was an announcement of joy; it was the joyful good news. It is a mistake to think of Christianity, as did many thinkers and poets of the past, as something solemn and sad. No! Christianity is joy. Joy in right order, in peace with God, with oneself, and with one's neighbour."
Pope Francis tries to see everything coloured by joy. It provides a model for us to emulate.
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