Second Sunday in Eastertide – April 19, 2009 – Blessed Sacrament
The original ending of the Gospel according to St. John, which we have just heard, describes the purpose of the other three evangelists as well, and indeed it might be considered the aim also of all the other writings in the New Testament: “These things have been written so that you may come to believe that the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” These writings are all written out of faith and they seek to bring their readers to faith. They pursue the goal described in the first verses of the First Epistle of St. John: “What we have seen and heard we announce to you so that you may have communion with us, and our communion is with God and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing so that our joy may be complete.”
Joy is one of those things that is not lessened for being shared; it is increased. You see and delight in a beautiful sunset, and you call to another, even a stranger: “Look! What a beautiful sunset!” Visiting a museum, and enjoying a great work of art, your enjoyment is not lessened but deepened when the stranger next to you exclaims at its beauty. I was once in Agra, India, and very much felt it that I had no one with whom to share the sight of the stunning beauty of the Taj Mahal.
Similarly, written out of faith, the NT texts are also written out of joy and for the sake of joy, the even greater joy of communion in joy. The Greek word is koinonia, and it is most commonly used of sharing in something. What the early Christians shared is variously described: the Gospel, the Eucharist, God’s grace, the Holy Spirit (as in the greeting at the beginning of Mass: “fellowship, koinonia, in the Holy Spirit”). In the Gospel and again in the Epistle of St. John, it is “the word of life,” faith in the life the Word made flesh makes possible. The Apostle writes in order to expand the circle of those who have found life in Christ, a life that is itself participation in the very life of God. The Apostles’ joy at the new life they were experiencing would not allow them, in fact it would forbid them, to keep it to themselves. And the Acts of the Apostles recounts that this communion in God–their communion of heart and mind–led the early Christians also to share their earthly goods so that there was no needy person among them.
Ever since, Christianity has been a missionary religion, and this is something that was not only enjoined on his disciples by Christ himself, but an inner exigency that emerges spontaneously from the joy of having found life in Christ. It would be a good thing if we felt this joy more deeply. I wonder how many of us think of our Christianity first of all in terms of joy, instead of in terms of obligation; or, better, it’s not so much a case of thinking, but of feeling, since joy is not a thought and can’t be produced by a thought or by a command. When St. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit, the first two of them are love and joy, which, of course, are closely related (Could one love without joy?) and neither of which can be summoned on order.
And yet St. Paul urged the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord! Again I say it: rejoice in the Lord!” This is not so much a command as a call to recognize the gifts received, to bring them out of the realm of the taken-for-granted and into fuller consciousness, a heightened awareness of the life God has given, a keener sense that it is life. We can’t summon joy as if it were at our command or disposition; but, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, we can give joy “root-room,” room to root itself in our hearts, by allowing ourselves times of silent reflection and thanksgiving. And if we do this, we will find that the joy naturally wants to expand, spontaneously does expand, as others see and feel the joy that is at the heart of our living, and if enough of us were to expand the circle of our loving joy, our joyful love, than we would be closer to the day when we could say of our world, too, that there was no one needy among them.