As our last election cycle showed and as we continue to see in the ongoing debate about the results, it seems that this country is so divided politically that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation with people who disagree with us – who are on the other side of the political spectrum. What the polls tell us is that liberals and conservatives just don’t think that the other side is wrong, stupid, or ignorant, but they think the other side is evil and out to hurt them. What has many concerned is that those who have adopted the woke ideology of social justice have already shaped the culture such that contrary or heterodox opinions or perspectives are not even permitted in the public square. Someone who expresses an opinion that questions or is not in line with the dominant narrative not only risks having their Twitter or Facebook account suspended but risks job security and social marginalization at work if they are perceived to object to or are not conforming to the “inclusion, diversity, and equity” training set forth by the human resources department. What is particularly disturbing is that the Social Justice Warriors dominating the conversation on the left are not really interested in “tolerance” or “equality” when it comes to the opposition. They are not interested in winning over the other side through an open discussion. Rather, their tactics are designed to shut down discussion. They see law and government as a means to punish and to humiliate their opposition. They’ve adopted a politics of vengeance. The result is frequent self-censorship out of fear of reprisal among those who hold a different perspective.
I got together with some friends a few weeks ago to talk about how to live our faith in such a climate where what we profess as Catholics is at odds with the dominant cultural ideology. One person asked, “Where is the point of contact – what do we have in common with people who see the world so differently? How can we connect when dialogue seems impossible?” While our religious practices might seem quaint or odd and the teachings of Christ and the Church backward or offensive to modern sensibilities, what appears as new, attractive, and credible in the life of the person of faith is joy. Among the young – the millennials – depression, anxiety, suicide, and “deaths of despair” from drug overdoses are on the rise. They are not happy. What they lack is joy. The witness of joy in this life while living in the same circumstances as our secular brothers and sisters is how we make the connection. Joy is the fruit of recognizing that the Lord is near. The experience of joy is how one recognizes Christ.
The passage from Isaiah that points to the Messiah was the passage quoted by Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth who then said, referring to himself, “today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Here Jesus outlines his mission of authentic social justice rooted in divine mercy and love that will bring glad tidings to the poor, healing or salvation to the brokenhearted, and liberty to those caught in the prison of sin. Those who bring the good news – who bear Christ to the world, “rejoice heartily in the Lord. In God is the joy of their soul.” The Psalm today is taken from Mary’s Magnificat – the hymn of praise that she sings when visiting her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb, John the Baptist, leapt for joy. Mary’s song echoes and fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
The question for us today on this Gaudete Sunday is, “Am I living my life with joy?” If not, why not? What is the obstacle that is keeping me from living the joy of the Gospel? What is the obstacle that is keeping me from receiving Christ and bearing him with joy to the world like Mary? John the Baptist was the one who awakened the desire or the expectation for Christ – he prepared the way of the Lord, and he did it by calling the people to repentance – to acknowledge their sins. Sin is the obstacle to receiving Christ and experiencing his joy – the joy of his presence. If we are not joyful, may that be a call to repentance – a call to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession. Let him set you free from your sin and heal your broken heart.
If we wish to be instruments of healing and peace in a divided world, we don’t need to have better arguments or answers. We need to be witnesses of love and joy – a joy that testifies to the light of Christ, a light that shines in the darkness and is a light for everyone. May God bless you and grant you his peace and joy!