Forming our future
By Karla Luke
The word “joy,” when considered in a spiritual sense, is a lasting contentment that is strongly rooted in our faith, God’s grace and inner peace. Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, is the first apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis written in 2013. It is a practical outline or roadmap to lead the church on the path for a new evangelization. Pope Francis intends for us to purposefully examine our vocation as missionary disciples and more importantly, to embrace that mission with joy.
It is for this reason that our schools have chosen to study The Joy of the Gospel as part of our Annual Catholic Identity Study for the ongoing religious formation of our educators.
Pope Francis is known for his humility and straightforwardness in speaking about the mission of our church. In many of his talks we often hear “encounter, mercy, unity and go forth.” These words govern how we should be in relationship with others. It is through our encounter with others that we are able to encounter Christ. He explains how important it is for our church to seek others as Christ sought us, to show mercy to others as Christ has shown us, to live joyfully in community and to go out and spread the good news of the Gospel to everyone we meet.
Sometimes these concepts stand in direct conflict with what society represents. He calls the Catholic Church to contradict the polarized world view and to represent the true joy of being a follower of Christ. We used Pope Francis’ choice words to develop our four Catholic Identity Units this year: Joy in: Encounter, Joy in Mercy, Joy in Solidarity and Joy in Going Forth.
Joy in Encounter – Every day when we meet others, we encounter the person of Jesus Christ. Whether it is a student, parent, or colleague, we have an opportunity to demonstrate our love for Christ by our interactions with others. We show students that we are not meant to travel this Christian journey alone. We were created to be in community with each other. Sure, we often confront challenges but we cannot let those challenges be obstacles to our salvation. Our Catholic schools are “mini societies” where challenges are faced every day. However they are also ideal communities where we can teach/model love, joy, kindness, acceptance and self-control. We demonstrate daily in our schools, “We love others because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Joy in Mercy – As God showed mercy to us by sending Jesus His Only Son, we must show mercy to each other. In Matthew 5:7 we are told, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Christ, Himself, is telling us to show mercy to one another. Again, in the Pope’s exhortation, he acknowledges there are worldly temptations that may serve as obstacles to our salvation; but he urges us, as the church, to resist those temptations.
We must show mercy and compassion for those who have fallen victim to the economy and unbalanced financial system, to those who are culturally marginalized. The students in our Catholic schools eagerly welcome opportunities to help the poor. Our students from Pre-K through high school, live out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Solidarity – The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that solidarity is a “direct demand of human brotherhood.” With varying demographics of gender, culture, race, religion and economic status, we must work harder than ever to achieve solidarity.
It is fitting that solidarity is encouraged in our Catholic schools because we are able to learn more from our differences than our similarities. Our need to be unified as one human family is beautifully illustrated in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” Our church models, by our existence, the beautiful, diverse Body of Christ.
Joy in Going Forth – A memorable quote from Pope Francis is “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.” Pope Francis advises us to venture out, not only into our communities, but also past the invisible walls of our own insecurities, prejudices and intolerance. He wants us to find the lasting contentment and peace in being with others for this is how we express our love for God.
“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.
When we allow ourselves to encounter Christ in others, show mercy and compassion, be unified with each other and go forth and make disciples of all nations, we insure our salvation and experience a lasting contentment, God’s unfailing grace and inner peace which is true, unending joy!
(Karla Luke is the Coordinator of Operations and Support Services for the Office of Catholic Education in the Jackson Diocese. She will continue this series on the Joy of the Gospel on page 3 in future editions of Mississippi Catholic.)