St. Paul Exhorts Us to Find Joy in Our Suffering

This weekend, we hear part of a letter Paul has written from a prison cell.  Paul’s message to the Philippians has a very specific message of unity, the emergence of joy from suffering, and the defining characteristics of leadership modeled on that of Christ.

Paul emphasizes the significance of suffering in the growth of God’s kingdom.  His words resonate with tones of joy.  I can’t imagine that prisons in Paul’s time were pleasant places to be, yet he offers joy from his place of suffering.  He writes to the Philippians to show them that his imprisonment had not impeded the spread of the gospel, but had actually hastened its expansion. He offers them that same joy-in-spite-of-suffering if they will embrace the Gospel message.

He doesn’t tell them it will be easy, however.  He admonishes them to carefully put on the humility of Christ.  He warns them not to make the mistake of arrogance, not to do the work of God for their own vanity and glory. But, in the end, there is no suffering that God will not use for His good.

We are here, today, living out our personal and communal faith in the backdrop of yet another major challenge to our parish.  We all have a role in shaping the way we respond to this moment in our history.  Our hope, our trust in the God who wants only good for God’s people, will permeate the very fabric of our community conversation.  We can choose, as Paul did, to see the joy spring forth from suffering.  For over 150 years our parish has weathered changes, challenges- thrived in the midst of hardship and transition.

How many of us have been, and continue to be, challenged because of the disturbing behavior of a few members of our local church?  Not only do others often ask me why I still want to be Catholic, but in my lifetime I’ve also asked myself that question.  This last year or more, I’ve certainly needed to pray about and think about what our Catholic faith truly means.

I recently read, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, and was uplifted and fortified by what our Holy Father has to say about this very question.  He says, “The joy of the Gospel is such that it cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.  The evils of our world- and those of the Church- must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and our fervor.  Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow.”  Like so many, I find great hope in Pope Francis’s dedication to the mission of Jesus.  I believe that one of the ways we can lean into our faith is to put it into practice.  Pope Francis implements, every day, actions that are living examples of the Gospel at work in the world.

He goes on, “With the eyes of faith, we can see the light which the Holy Spirit always radiates in the midst of darkness, never forgetting that ‘where sin increased, grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20).”  As we face the current darkness of our own local church’s past and present, we have the ability to look, too, into the light of its mission.  Catholic Christians have been doing amazingly loving things for centuries.  That work goes on.  It continues here at St. Peter’s.  It persists in the people- lay, religious sisters and brothers, deacons, and priests, of our Archdiocese.  In the world, Pope Francis is an awesome example of the Light of Christ walking among us.  The message of the Gospel is still joy.  It is still the Good News.

Each one of us has a responsibility to be revelations of this joy. We are all leaders in some way. At work, in our homes, in shaping the faith of our children.  Pope Francis’s lesson in his letter and Paul’s message regarding leadership with the mindset of Jesus help us to understand how to continue.  Leadership in the Christian setting in very different from worldly leadership.  Leaders outside of this context are prized for being out in front, making a name for themselves, giving orders and seeing them carried out.  Not for us.  Not for those leaders who model themselves after Christ.  The demands of leadership as we value them are humility, our goal is not celebrity but to help others discover and use the gifts God has given them for the good of our community.  If we’ve mimicked Jesus well, there will be many in our lives who won’t have any idea who we are, but their lives and their faith will be enriched and empowered anyway.

For the sake of the world, and for our own, we must commit ourselves to finding the joy of the Gospels.  Putting it into action in our daily lives will be a remedy for the afflictions we face today in the Church.  The Church will go on and, we can have hope, will emerge from the darkness of sin abounding in grace.

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