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“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant,” (Lk 1, 47). I have often wondered why Dante condemned to the 5th circle of hell “the sullen.” Perhaps it had a deeper meaning in his day than in ours. On the other hand, there is a certain betrayal of the Christian spirit when we do not project joy.
Indeed, it is incumbent upon every disciple to show forth the virtue: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (Phil 4: 4-5). S ocial commentators such as Emil Durkheim, have noted that ours had been a “sad” century. And such an atmosphere seems to continue. As we scan the headlines of our newspapers or catch the day’s highlights on TV, we realize that the atmosphere of our age is less than joy-filled. In another context, one of the enemies of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche, caustically noted that Christians do not “look” redeemed. In other words, we do not project the “good news.” At any rate, joy is a contagious virtue. Our experience teaches us this. We might recall how easily we are drawn into the laughter and happiness of others. Of course, there will be times of sadness and tears in every life. But the underlying spiritual foundation of our life must be joy. The popular Christmas carol, “Joy to the World” hints at this truth. Joy was always to be a part of the people of God’s spirituality (cf. Ps. 132). And in His farewell discourse, Jesus indicated that we should be depositories of joy: “...my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete,” (Jn 15,11). It is to be a part of His redemptive message by which we lead others to Jesus. The reasons for our joy are too numerous to list in a reflection such as this. However, we must highlight some of the truths upon which our joy must be built. Primarily, we should realize that we are beloved children of our heavenly Father. Each one of us may be considered as that pearl of great price about which the Gospel speaks and which the Divine Merchant purchased. Even when we fail, His loving and forgiving hands are outstretched to lift us up and support us. Again, Christ has called us “friends” and as God-with-us, He accompanies us on our pilgrimage. We can turn to Him in our needs. Nor should we forget the invisible work of the Spirit leading us and prompting us to move beyond self. And finally, we should reflect upon the gift of time which allows us at any moment to be in contact with the Divine. In the second part of the verse quoted above, Mary mentions that God “looked with favor on His lowly servant.” Again we have a line with explosive connotations. We might begin with an often overlooked truth. Of old, we were taught that Baptism confers on the recipient an ‘indelible character’ or seal. Theologians often try to decode the meaning of this. For my part, I have concluded that with Baptism, the indelible face of Jesus is imprinted upon you and me; He sees the face of Jesus and is compelled to love us. (Here is another reason for our joy and thanksgiving) I do not believe that I am digressing when I mention that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on love asks us to pray for the grace to see others through the eyes of Jesus. Of course, his intention was to heighten our awareness of how everyone of our brothers and sisters enflesh in themselves the image of God and consequently are to be recipients of our reverence, respect and when possible, our assistance. I believe, moreover, that we must also learn to look at ourselves through the eyes of Jesus. Such is not a sterile exercise. As we look into His eyes, we are drawn to His compassion which seems to give direction to His vision— a compassion which must be reproduced in our own lives. And as we read the Gospels we glimpse a hidden aspect found in Christ’s eyes. He does not concentrate so much on the actual state of an individual, but more upon his or her potential, i.e. the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery. In His eyes, I believe that He sees in each one of us the potential of truly bringing Christ to our world, especially by our acts of compassion. “0 Come, Emmanuel” — and may my life hasten your continuing birth in our world. Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is residence at St. Mary, Dedham.