by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
“The source of Christian joy is the certainty of being loved by God, loved personally by our Creator, by the One who holds the entire universe in his hands and loves each one of us and the whole great human family with a passionate and faithful love, a love greater than our infidelities and sins, a love which forgives.”
This quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI articulates the great central truth of our Christian faith. It is the truth of God’s amazing love for us revealed by his immersion into our human condition. As Christians, we believe in a God who pursues us and has revealed himself to us. Thus, for those of us who embrace this central truth of Christianity, our natural state of life is joyful thanksgiving.
In December, I had cataract surgery performed on both of my eyes. My doctor counseled me that if we live long enough, most everyone will need this surgery. My cataracts were not severe enough yet to impair my ability to read or to negotiate most aspects of everyday life. However, I was experiencing challenges with glare from bright lights.
I was amazed after the surgery how brighter the world seemed. The colors of nature were much more vivid and beautiful. Previous to the surgery, the sharpness of my vision had gradually dimmed over time. In fact, the process had been so incremental that I did not appreciate what I was missing.
With the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday, the Christmas liturgical season comes to a conclusion. Each year, the Advent and Christmas seasons are meant to be like having cataract surgery on the eyes of our soul that have become dimmed to the beauty and power of the miracle of the incarnation — God becoming flesh.
Our heart can become callous to the goodness and beauty of the Christmas miracle, God’s amazing love for us. The glare of the bright lights of the fleeting but alluring pleasures of this world can blind us to the awesome beauty of God’s faithful love for us.
A month ago on the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard St. Paul’s message to the early Christians to rejoice always and everywhere. Christians should be known for our joy. Pope Francis reminds us of all the things that can impede us from witnessing the joy of the Gospel:
“Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos that simply keep us comfortable. At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy, which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence that our heart grows numb.
“What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?
“Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says to us now: ‘Go forth! Proclaim!’ The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
There is a very important and powerful connection between Christmas and the Eucharist. The same Jesus born in the Bethlehem cave makes himself present to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
The same Lord of lords and King of kings, who revealed himself to shepherds and wise men in a manger, a crude vessel to feed animals, comes to nourish our hearts and souls with his love and peace through the Bread of Life. The same one whom the shepherds came to adore comes to reside within the manger of our hearts.
During June of 2022, the church in the United States begins a three- year pastoral initiative to revive eucharistic amazement among American Catholics. May the vision of our hearts never be callous to the amazing miracles of the Incarnation and the Eucharist! May our souls not become dulled to the vivid colors of God’s amazing grace that is available to us each time we receive holy Communion and welcome into our hearts the One born in Bethlehem!
How do we keep alive and vibrant the joy that comes from encountering the love of God, when we eat the Bread of Angels, the only food that can satisfy the deepest hungers of our souls? By proclaiming with our lives the joy that results inevitably from communion with God, from friendship with Jesus.
Each time we receive holy Communion, we also receive a mission to become the sacrament of God’s love for our families, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers and especially for the world’s poor, forgotten and wounded.
Our own joy intensifies the more we strive to share its sweetness with others.