Cardinal Dolan of New York City tells a story from his younger days when he was studying in Washington D.C. He said that during that time he would sometimes have the privilege of assisting at the Gift of Peace House, it was a hospice for dying AIDS patients. This house was run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. On Good Friday, 1989, Fr. Dolan was celebrant of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion for the sisters, volunteers, and the patients. After everyone had venerated the cross, two sisters led Fr. Dolan upstairs so that the patients confined to their beds could also kiss the feet of Our Lord on the Cross.
As he went from bed to bed, he noticed one emaciated man in the corner who seemed agitated, and kept beckoning for him to come to his corner bed. As he began to approach the man’s bed, the sister grabbed him, and stopped him, warning him that the man was unusually violent, hateful to everyone, and had actually attempted to bite the attending sister a number of times. So filled with rage was this man that with his biting he was trying to infect other people with HIV. However, the poor man kept signaling for Fr. Dolan to come near. “What was I to do” he thought? What would any priest do? So slowly and cautiously he approached, and carefully extended the crucifix, which the man grasped and kissed, not the feet, but the face of the crucified Lord. He then lay back down, very exhausted.
The next day, Holy Saturday, the sister called to tell Fr. Dolan that the same man had asked for him. So he went, and, again, in company with two of the sisters as his “bodyguards,” he approached the man. As Fr. Dolan got nearer the man whispered, “I want to be baptized!” Fr. Dolan moved a few inches closer and asked, if the man could explain why he desired to enter the Church. “I know nothing about Christianity or the Catholic Church,” the man said, “In fact, I’ve hated religion my whole life. All I do know, is that for the three months that I’ve been here dying these sisters are always happy!” When I curse them, they look at me with compassion. Even when they clean up my vomit, bathe my sores, and change my diapers, they are smiling; when they spoon-feed me, there’s a radiance in their eyes. All I know is that they have joy and I don’t. When I ask them in desperation why they are so happy, all they answer is Jesus. I want this Jesus. Baptize me and give me this Jesus! Give me joy!
Fr. Dolan baptized him, confirmed him, and gave him his first holy communion. The man died a few hours later on Easter Sunday. Because of the witness of true Christian joy a soul was saved. So what is this joy and how do we find it? First let me begin by saying what joy is not. Joy is not giggly, unrealistic and Pollyannaish. True joy, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is realistic, responsible, prudent, deep, and reasonable. And this joy can even be present in the midst of sorrow.
So how do we find this joy? This joy comes first from the knowledge that God loves you. The first step is the recognition of God’s overwhelming love for you. His love for you is personal, ecstatic, and infinite. He’s interested in every detail of your life. There can be no one so ugly, there can be no one so tragic, and there can be on one so miserable as not to be loved by God. And that is something extraordinary! To have the profound conviction that God loves me can cause nothing but joy.
This joy comes second, from the belief that God actually dwells within your soul through the gift of sanctifying grace. God loves you so passionately that he actually dwells within your soul. He will never extinguish that life, only we can do that, but it can be restored in the confessional.
This joy comes third from trust, a hope in Divine Providence. It’s our rock-sure belief that the Lord is omnipotent, everything is in His fatherly hands, Jesus has conquered sin, Satan, and death. He will bring good out of tragedy, he’s not the cause of tragedy, but he can bring good out of it, we may not understand it, we may be tempted to doubt, we may be tempted to run away in disbelief, but to trust in His Providence can give rise to joy, can give rise to a tranquility, a peace, that no sorrow can dispel. So if you want to grow in trust; do this at the end of the day, first, thank God for all the blessing received that day, and second, praise Him. Could be as simple as praying, “I praise you Lord, all glory and honor is yours.”
And fourthly the final font of joy is prayer.
The language of trust in God is prayer. The Catechism writes that personal prayer
strengthens trust and hope. We bring him all our unhappiness, our worries and our anxieties. In prayer we give them to the Lord leaving them to his care. At Mass put them directly into the chalice on the altar. Put all your fears, anxieties, sorrows right into the chalice. We can approach him with anything. And if we lack in faith, or trust, or joy we ask for it, we pray for it. How good God is to allow us to call him Father, to be able to bring him anything and everything.
Joy comes from, 1st: God loves me
2nd: God dwells within me. Got God in my Soul!
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday and Gaudete means rejoice. The Church directs all of us to rejoice because “the Lord is near.” But as we know some of our hearts are burdened by sorrow, anxiety, and suffering. And yet, we are still called to “rejoice” not only because “the Lord is near” as we prepare Christmas and the coming of the Prince of Peace, but also because our faith assures us that the Lord is present with us, here and now, especially to those in the midst of suffering. Our Lord is with us through it all, and gives us the assurance that His Peace will always prevail over sorrow, anxiety, and suffering. His peace has the last word.
There is a lot of fear, and hate, and hurt in this world. My prayer for us is that our faith and our true joy, like the Missionaries of Charity, can be a route of conversion for the world. I end with what St. Paul tells us in the second reading and this is from a man who was shipwrecked, starved, stoned, and beaten yet with all these hardships he tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley