The joy of the Gospel
Our first reading takes us to the beginnings of the Church, when the growing community of Jerusalem started to experience the harsh persecution from the Jewish authorities. To avoid the persecution, many believers left Jerusalem and fled to the surrounding towns. This turn of events providentially resulted in the rapid spread and growth of the Church. (I can’t help but think of our own OFW’s, who bring and live their faith wherever they go, thus truly becoming the modern missionaries of the Philippine Church.)
It is against this backdrop that we find the deacon Philip in Samaria proclaiming the gospel. By his preaching and miracles, Philip converted the whole city to Christ. This short missionary account ended with an interesting note. “There was great joy in that city.”
The joy experienced by the people of Samaria was the joy of the gospel, of which Pope Francis writes in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium. “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Christ.” (EG,1) It is the joy experienced by every person whose deepest desire is finally satisfied.
We learn in philosophy that the ultimate end of man is happiness. Every human act is motivated by and directed to that primordial quest for happiness. Thus, every school of thought is defined by what it proposes as constituting happiness. Christianity which is more than any philosophy points to true happiness. St. Augustine discovered it at the end of his own search when he said, “Lord, you have made our hearts for yourself, and our hearts will always be restless until they find rest in you.”
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the same quest in his address to the young people gathered in Germany for the World Youth Day in 2005. He said, “Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus.”
Once, Don Bosco gave a homily on God’s call for everyone to be holy. Among his listeners was Dominic Savio, who was so impressed by the priest’s words that he decided there and then to become a saint. Since then, the young boy became serious and avoided all fun. He fasted and practiced severe penances until one day he got sick. Realizing that the youth needed guidance, Don Bosco gave Dominic some tips on how to become a saint. He started by saying that to become a saint means to be happy.
To be a saint is to live in God’s grace, which is God’s life in us. This is what today’s gospel tells us. Jesus assures the apostles that he will not leave them orphans because he will send the Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus and his Father live in us. “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.”
If God then lives in us, how can we be sad? “Run, jump, shout, play,” Don Bosco used to say, “have fun; just don’t sin.” Only sin can take God away from us. Dominic understood this so well that he was ready to lose everything, even life itself, but not God. His motto was “Death rather than sin.”
Last Sunday, we learned that to enter the Father’s house means to enter into the heart of God and participate in his life. To enable us to participate in God’s life (which is love), the Father sends us the Holy Spirit, who is “God's love poured out into our hearts.” (Rm, 5:5) Through the Holy Spirit then, we are empowered to love God with God’s own love and thus be inserted in the circle of the Trinitarian life. Wow! What greater joy can there be?
This is the joy that filled the city of Samaria when its people came to know Christ. Experiencing the same joy, St. Paul could only ask, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Rm, 8:35-37)
When the people of Samaria encountered Christ, the whole city was turned into a City of Joy. We have our own City of Smiles. May our smiles be true expressions of inner joy because not all smiles are. Some are merely painted on the masks we wear. Only when we live God’s life will we experience its true joy, which nothing can take away from us, not tribulation or distress, not loss of job or financial breakdown, not even Covid-19.*
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