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PART II B in the PASCHAL MYSTERY, JOY and DIVINE MERCY series, "COUNT IT ALL JOY"?

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PASCHAL MYSTERY, JOY and

DIVINE MERCY series, PART II B:


“COUNT IT ALL JOY"?

FINDING JOY in the tough times

and  THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL,

     EvangeliiGaudium

     SELECTED QUOTES


EARLY STEPS: OUR CHOICES

A most comforting word from God that gives us great hope as we seek God for more joy in life is one many of us have heard:

“We know that God makes everything work [together] for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 and footnote in NAB).

As we decide to believe that and take it deep into our hearts, our spirits can be lifted to know that even the undesirable things that come our way can have purpose and meaning as God ‘recycles’ them into something “good”.

What an encouraging and reassuring word to remember when troubles surround us, or pain and loss seem empty and unproductive. The truth of that promise does not take away the pain, but it does add comfort and hope.

Choices… We don’t always want to hear that we have choices when sudden or devastating emotional blows hit us. We may feel like collapsing, withdrawing… We may feel frustrated and/or angry. We may be in shock and partially immobilized.. We may feel ill equipped to choose anything at all. The choice we speak of in this next scripture is a choice in perspective and outlook…. for next time trouble comes… or before distress assaults us. We find that we can move toward determining an overall outlook and viewpoint before the next crisis hits.

We have been speaking of finding joy. One of the early steps in seeking more joy, and developing a life-giving perspective, comes in response to a challenging scripture.


COUNT IT ALL JOY

We find in the epistle of James—right in the beginning, in verse 2 of chapter one—a very bold statement… an encouragement to the early church:

“Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2)

As immeasurable as some pain, struggle, and loss can feel, it seems like a contradiction to count “all” things as “joy”. Some may call it irrational, impossible and foolish. If we don’t look any deeper into “higher” wisdom… if we only go by our limited sight and natural ability, or our feelings and impulses, the scripture would only be all of the above. (We could even add “ridiculous”.)

Another verse can help us here. Isaiah chapter 55 (vs 8-9) says:

 “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts

Nor are your ways My ways’, declares the Lord

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth

So are My ways higher than your ways

And My thoughts than your thoughts.’”


We see that God has higher thoughts and higher wisdom, and more-than-panoramic vision and perspectives. His love is impeccably complete (He IS Love) and His judgments are perfectly pure, accurate and merciful. He also can do the impossible, in and through us. His grace is beyond our comprehension.

Finding joy in the middle of difficulty can only happen as we find somewhere for our hearts and heads to land besides ourselves and our own human inclinations. Is it easy? Is it fun? Definitely not. Is it possible? Yes, by grace alone—and Holy Spirit gifting and/or fruit[ing process]. His grace can come in many ways—sometimes even in or through other people that God sends us.

So… let’s look again at this challenging statement… this time, in depth. We will start with the Amplified Bible version of the quotation.

`Amplified version of James 1:2

"2 Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.

3 Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience.

4 But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be people perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing."


REACTION AND RESPONSE

Again, a quick reaction to reading this amplified translation could be:

“Are you kidding? Get real! That just doesn’t jive with what I think or feel!…” These words and thoughts penned by James are obviously not the expressions nor inclinations nor values of the realms of worldly thinking… nor of our natural or fleshly inclinations. They speak of a perspective that turns our natural tendencies in a different—even opposite—direction. (Please see footnote at the end of this article on James 1:2.) *

These verses speak of a “higher” wisdom that can only be graced and led by God and fueled by the Holy Spirit. [The next verse (5) in James invites us to ask for wisdom from God who “gives generously and ungrudgingly”.] And in 1 Cor 2:11-12, we find, “Among human beings, who know what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.”

All this necessitates allowing God to rule deeply over troubled times, and, in fact, seeking and cooperating with “His kingdom come, His will be done.” The simplest concept of “his kingdom” is, basically, to let God rule over our lives. He becomes our “King”, our “Lord”. The concepts of “kingship-lordship” are terms that we citizens of democratic republics can hardly grasp. (Consider reading our 4-part in-depth series “Kings and Kingdoms” plus “From Pharisee to Follower: St. Paul’s Conversion” published throughout the month of January this year).

As we seek to allow the Lord to lead us in the various areas of living—both internally in thoughts, needs and priorities, etc. and externally, in schedules, behaviors, and in the daily "triage" of a busy life, etc—His influence and care becomes as extensive as we allow it to be… as we allow Him to be, for us and in us…

An old saying is: “If He’s not Lord of everything, then He’s not Lord at all.” That means that He needs access to all parts of us and our lives, in order to give the best answers to prayers, and to fully bless and lead us in His will and ways. For example, let’s say I am praying for more peace in my life, but I am holding tightly to my own ways and thoughts and behaviors in the very area of my life that He has an answer to [or, at least, the best solution for peace and blessing]…

If I resist instead of relinquishing my will, I can end up easily blocking His access and blessing and His work, because He will not violate our freedom of choice. Each one of us is in a position (continually) to choose to surrender to Him, His ways, His thoughts, His will, His rule. The more we yield to Him, the more He can bless us… and bless this world through us..

It doesn’t necessarily mean that we feel or see the blessing—immediately. Our tough choices sometimes result immediately in great good for others. Or… sometimes in later blessings and answers down the road for ourselves and/or others. It may take some “wait[ing] on the Lord”, but... sometimes it becomes even more than we can ask or imagine.


FINDING JOY

As we walk it all through, it’s likely that this joy (which has been a focus in this series) will not come as soon as we would like. (But God’s “slow” does not mean “no”, thank heavens!). So much in the Lord’s realm is not "instant", as so many of us "modern" Christians have been culturally formed to expect. He’s not a vending machine, drive-through fast-food window, nor a magician. We are accustomed to “instant”/ “fast”/ “quick” in 21st century life. Waiting is hard enough without current cultural expectations…

Despite all the pain and trouble in life—and definitely more in some lives than others—the statement is still well worth making:

The joy of the Lord is quite possible—or rather, one of those “natural” improbabilities/ impossibilities made possible by the action of the Holy Spirit and grace.

Joy is as possible as any other fruit of the (Holy) Spirit… that joy that runs deep, and bubbles up in various ways (not necessarily feeling "bubbly" or extremely obvious).

As we mentioned in Part II, living joy in the midst of undesirable situations is not magic. It’s not like flipping a switch and it’s there forever. But it is REAL. It will be tested at times. And we may fail and fall... many times. But it can be chosen again and again, as we choose to fall into God's love and mercy and grace-filled help.

We open the door when we choose to look where the Lord shows us to focus: on the “good”; on His call; on His grace and beauty, goodness and majesty; on His plans and purposes (requiring, at times, that we tear ourselves away from our own); on all that gives cause for gratitude… [See previous blog, Part II of the series, and Phil. 4:8 "... think on these things..."] In fact, the mind [and peace] of God is very much connected with focus, as previous verses in Philippians reveal.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, is there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about [focus on] these things.”

We need to remember: just because a passage seems beyond our reach does not mean it is wise to dismiss it. As we seek and let God act to help us, we find a larger view and more success—even the impossible becoming possible.

Pursuing joy, hopefully, is, never-the-less, desirable—for Jesus said it is as we seek that we will find. Again, connected to all this is news that we “moderns” may not see as so desirably good. The fact is this: Deep, abiding joy usually comes at a price... that price being: surrender to (then choosing to rejoice in) the Lord and His goodness, His will, and His thoughts and ways.

On the human, emotional, desire-physical-tangible level, we can’t do it by ourselves. And that often means: surrender to the cross... and a willingness to wait... for "Resurrection" ... on His timetable. (Again, volumes could—and have been—written on this paragraph alone.) Our flesh wants to say: “None of that is ‘good’ news to me!”

In the middle of impatience and all that we want right now, we sometimes can’t possibly see this as “good news”. But with some patience and other grace, we can look forward to the Resurrection aspects connected to the difficulties (and even know that some of our surrendered pain is specifically used by the Lord as a “ransom for many” [as it was with Him] for the benefit of others.)

Also, combined with Jesus’ prayer “that His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven”… we can hope and believe in some aspects of resurrection life down here on earth—in His ways and in His time. (Consider reading Footnote #2 in Part II of this series on the topic of restoration, recompense and justice).

We can pray for the hope and the confidence and the obedient heart to (1) stay on the journey long enough to reach resurrection time and (2) cooperate with the process of resurrection—even if it means bearing with suffering, grief or pain longer than we want… even, at times, longer than we would have hoped.


Although we wrote a blog in 2015 specifically on Pope Francis’ THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, this seems like a good time to take another look at some of what he had to say about “joy”. So we will end this blog with some quotations from Pope Francis, in the Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”. Also included is a collection of scriptures on this topic.


THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, Evangelii Gaudium (selected quotes)

Pope Francis expressed the joyous and contagious attitude from which the “good news” was to be spread throughout the earth. He had thoughts about the need for this, about how this could be carried out, and some affirming reflections on “joy”, itself…

“… [T]hese instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ… Thanks solely to this encounter—or renewed encounter—with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from the narrowness of self-absorption … For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? “

“[E]vangelization is first…preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face… It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’… Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty, and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”

“ ‘No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. ‘ …No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her… The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk: whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms… No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.

Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will… [H]is life… impels us onward!”

Pope Francis presents many scriptures concerning “joy”.

“ ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy!’ [Isa. 12:6]…

‘Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength… ‘ [Isa. 40:9].

‘Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! …For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.’ [Isa. 49:13].

‘Rejoice greatly…! Shout aloud…! Lo, your king come to you; triumphant and victorious is he.’ [Zech. 9:9]

‘The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives you the victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing, as on a day of festival.’ [Zeph. 3:17]” 1

“The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice…

‘Rejoice!’ is the angel’s greeting to Mary. [Lk. 1:28].

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth makes John leap for joy in his mother’s womb [cf.Lk 1:41]… Mary proclaims: ‘My spirit rejoices in God my Savior’ [Lk.1:47].

When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: ‘For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled’ [Jn. 3:29].

Jesus himself ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’ [Lk. 10:21]… [and] brings us joy: ‘I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’ [Jn. 15:11].

Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart… ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy’ [Jn. 16:20]…

‘But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’ [Jn. 16:22].

The disciples ‘rejoiced’ [Jn. 20:20] at the sight of the risen Christ…

[T]he first Christians ‘ate their food with glad and generous hearts’ [Acts 2:46].

Wherever the disciples went, ‘there was great joy’ [Acts 8:8]; even amid persecution they continued to be ‘filled with joy’ [Acts 13:52]…

Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”

[SOURCE:The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, Vatican translation, Pauline Books ]

So...

Why "should we not also" [desire to, seek to] "enter into this great stream of joy?"


Look for more on PASCHAL MYSTERY, JOY AND DIVINE MERCY in the last three parts of the series coming up: 

Part III: “PASCHAL MYSTERY VICTORY: TO LIVE IS CHRIST; TO DIE IS GAIN”

...Dying and rising with Christ

...Joy in the midst of pain

...Joy comes in the morning

AFTER PART III, WE WILL BE PUTTING A SHORT PAUSE IN THE SERIES TO PAY ATTENTION TO TWO KEY FEAST DAYS IN MARCH: ST PATRICK AND ST JOSEPH.

The series continues with:

PART IV: DIVINE MERCY IN THE MODERN WORLD: WARNINGS MARK HIS MERCY


FOOTNOTE:

*This James 1:2-4 scripture speaks of more positive perspectives AND of character-building. What makes this even more distant from our culture’s practices and thinking is the fact that “truth” is no longer considered an objective, agreed-upon “fact”. Our larger culture has publicly determined that there is no “absolute” measure of “truth”. Not only has that left the modern world without clear definitions of “truth”, “right” and “wrong”, but it has made many of us less mindful (and even less caring) about “character” (virtue/ true righteousness) and the character-building process in our own lives, our families, and our church life… or sports’ teams, schools, etc. Integrity still matters in God’s eyes. [K.B., blog author]

The above blog article is taken in large part from an article we published last year on March 6, 2018, and in 2017, by Kathy Boh, on this website—trinitychurchsupply.com


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