May 16, 2021: Homily-Seventh Sunday of Easter


Think about these scenarios for a second:

You receive letter after letter soliciting money for a worthwhile charity. Your conscience starts gnawing at you, so you pull out your checkbook and cut them a check.

A friend who has hurt you comes to you and apologizes and asks to be forgiven.  Part of you wishes she hadn’t – because now you are obligated to say, “It’s ok.  I forgive you,” and move on as if it never happened.

Someone you know from Church calls you and asks you to help with a parish fundraiser.  You really wish they had called someone else, but feel like you have no other option but to say yes.

You find a wallet on the sidewalk filled with cash.  You contemplate the situation for a few minutes, trying to figure out if there is some way you can keep the money and be ok with it, but decide (reluctantly) that you better turn it in.

You stay at home until the last possible second, race off to Mass, arrive late, and duck out after Communion because you want to make sure you have time to get concessions before the movie you are seeing.

You bump into a lonely person you know.  He engages you in conversation – and while you would like to tell a lie to get out of it, you don’t – but instead spend the whole time barely listening, praying for it to end.

Six different scenarios.  Six different situations in which the person does a good thing.  Donate money.  Forgive.  Volunteer.  Turn in a lost item.  Go to Mass.  Chat with a lonely person.  All good.  But something is glaringly missing.  Any ideas?


Joy!  Not a drop of it in any of the scenarios.  Reluctance.  For sure.  Resentment, irritation, annoyance, boredom, impatience -all those things.  All good things accomplished – yet all done with a less-than-honorable attitude, all things the doer probably wishes he or she didn’t “have” to do.

“I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.”

Those are the words of Jesus as he prayed to his Father in heaven, words we heard in today’s Gospel passage from John.

So that they may share my joy completely . . .

If I took a poll on the street and asked people to give a one word answer to the question, “What word comes to mind when you think of a Christian?” I imagine I’d get all sorts of answers.  Some positive – kind, prayerful, moral, forgiving – those sorts of things.  And, sadly, I’d probably get some negative responses too – judgmental, intolerant, self-righteous, delusional – you get the picture.

But exactly how many people would I need to ask before someone answered, “joyful”?  Fifty?  A hundred?  A thousand?  Would I EVER get someone to say ‘joyful”?  I’m not so sure.

And that kind of makes me sad.  And part of that sadness comes from knowing that I’m not as joyful as I should be, that I don’t radiate a joyful spirit that is unmistakable, that I know that others would name fifty things about me before “joyful” ever passed their lips.

 One of the things that can be hard for us to understand (we who show an external commitment to our faith by being here week after week) is how so many people aren’t nearly as interested in faith as we are, aren’t nearly as willing to embrace the things that were more easily embraced by the generations that came before us.  When it comes to organized religion, many in society reflect a kind of “take it or leave it” mentality, an attitude that speaks of the lack of specialness with which religion is often viewed.

There was a time when much regarding religion and matters of faith was rarely questioned.  People simply carried on the faith of their parents because that’s what people did, and had been doing for centuries.  Yet, in Western Society, those forces don’t really apply anymore.  People feel a certain freedom to accept or reject or embrace or not embrace whatever they like – deciding for themselves many things that society had previously decided for them.  And that’s not a bad thing necessarily.  It can be an avenue to more authentic ways of being as people strive to find their way in a pluralistic society.

Yet, that means that the old ways of doing things don’t necessarily have the same effectiveness as they once did, don’t always move people or convince people or motivate people like they used to. It’s not enough just making a good intellectual argument.  It’s not enough to simply drag children to Church but never speak about these things from Monday through Saturday.  It’s not enough to expect people to find meaning in organized religion just because others are doing it, or by taking a “we have the truth and you don’t” kind of approach.

No, people will remain in the Church, people will be drawn to the Church, people will see value and meaning in it when the faithful – you and me – show them the joy that comes with this journey, the joy that comes with doing right by others, the joy that comes with embracing the expectations and responsibilities the Church places before us, the joy that comes from receiving the Sacraments, the joy that cannot be contained in the heart of each and every person who calls Jesus, Lord.

“I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.”

My friends, a life of faith is meant to be a life of joy – not a “pie in the sky” kind of joy, but the authentic kind – the kind that can’t be mistaken for anything else.  And God hopes for that kind of joy for us for two reasons – for ourselves, and for the impact it can have on those around us.

So, let’s be sure that what we do for God, what we do for the Church, what we do for each other, we do with a joyful heart, not a reluctant one.

Who knows what the Church might become, when others are given the chance to see us in that light?

Father Boat

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