The Joy of the Gospel

by the Maronite Seminarian Antony Abi Awad

Presented as a partial fulfillment of Theology and Religious Studies 656: Pastoral Theology at the Catholic University of America – May 11, 2018

“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.”[1] This opening statement of “Evangelii Gaudium” (Joy of the Gospel) presents us with a desirable joy. Today, we will be discovering the sources of this joy. For our purpose, we will be referring to the Bible and to the lives of some saints who have experienced this joy straight from the source.

Before we explore our source of joy let’s see what’s God’s source of joy. The Son is the source of joy of the Father we hear that repeated in the scenes of Jesus’s Baptism and Transfiguration in the Synoptic Gospels.[2] In the account of creation in Genesis 1,[3] the author repeats seven times the expression “God saw that it was good.” We can resemble this to an artist looking at his finished artwork or a cook after finishing and serving a great meal they are both happy with.  As a result, I can imagine them saying this is good. We hear Zephaniah along with other prophets proclaim: “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you.”[4] Out of all creation, God finds joy in humanity in a particular way. God does not only find joy in us like someone who’s watching a TV show but He also loves us and He is our savior.

After we have seen what the Bible says about what makes God Joyful let us now move into what it says is the source of our joy.  Saint Paul expresses it clearly in his letter to the Philippians “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”[5] He leaves no room for doubt the Lord is our source of joy in Him we shall rejoice. Saint Peter in his First letter proclaims the same conviction: ” Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”[6] Believing in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the source of inexpressible and glorious Joy.

If believing in Christ is our source of joy, how do we live it out? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? How am I to become a Christian? Pope Benedict XVI comes to our rescue, he gives an answer in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), his first encyclical: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[7] This insight is deeply biblical. From the Old to the New Testament we see that following God is a matter of making a decision that will affect the person’s life. The decision to follow Christ comes after a personal encounter as we can see in the example of the disciples, Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Paul, and many more biblical figures and modern-day saints. This decision often holds life-changing consequences. The longest and last discourse made by Jesus in the Bible of John has among its various themes two that interest us:

  • Unity with Jesus and through him the Father: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”[8] Jesus’s joy is to keep his Father’s commandment and remain in him. Therefore, he is telling his disciples, and through them us today, that our complete joy is by keeping his commandments and remaining in him [Jesus] so that we can remain in the Father.
  • Grief and Joy: In chapter 16 Jesus informs his disciples about his departure, saying that it is better for them if he leaves. He warns them that they will grief but for a short while for their grief will turn to everlasting joy. A joy that can never be taken from them: “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”[9]

The joy that comes from meeting the resurrected Jesus Christ, from abiding by his commandments, and from remaining in him is a joy that can never be taken away.

This joy offered to us by God is by no means abolition of suffering and death. All those who believed in the Lord had suffered from trials, sicknesses, and ultimately death. I set before the example our beloved saint Rafqa[10] who although she was suffering remained steadfast in her faith repeating the same phrase we hear our parents and grandparents now say: “I share with your sufferings, Jesus.”[11] Saint Rafqa was aware of Jesus’s presence even in the depth of despair when the pain was unbearable. It is fitting now to highlight this verse from the letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.”[12] Fixing our eyes on Jesus and the saints let us persevere in reaching the goal for which Jesus underwent his salvific pains. The paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus, lead him to the right of the throne of God and leads us to the presence of God in the Kingdom of Heaven. This Kingdom is “the joy of [our] master”[13] we are assured multiple times that it is not “a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit.”[14]

We can rest assured that the God that loved us to the point of giving his only Son, wants us to be joyful not only in this life but in the life to come in his heavenly kingdom. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and seek to meet him everyday and make the decision to follow him for he is the only way to salvation.


Bibliography

Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est [on Christian love]. December 25, 2005. Holy See. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html

Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world], November 24, 2013. Holy See. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html


[1] Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [on the proclamation of the gospel In today’s world], November 24, 2013, no. 1, Holy See, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

[2] Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35,2

[3] Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 31

[4] Zeph. 3:17 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[5] Phil. 4:4 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[6] 1 Pet. 1:8 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[7] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est [on Christian love], December 25, 2005, no. 1, Holy See, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html

[8] John 15: 11 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[9] John 16: 22 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[10] A summary of her life can be found on the following link: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20010610_rafqa-choboq_en.html

[11] My own translation of an Arabic saying repeated by the older generation whenever pain or disaster struck them, it is believed that this same saying was repeated by the saints, including saint Rafqa.

[12] Heb. 12: 1-2 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[13] Matt. 25: 21 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

[14] Rom. 14: 17 (New American Bible Revised Edition).

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