Lent is a time of reflecting on how to better ourselves in our relationships with our friends, our family, and our God, as well as a time to reach out to those less fortunate than us and show them the love of Christ. Most people probably do not think of this Lenten journey as a time of joy, but I do, for not only does Lent allow us to refocus ourselves on Christ, but it also calls us to share in the suffering of Christ.
During Lent we hear how Christ’s ministry unfolded and how people came to see him as the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. Christ’s journey was not easy. He endured pain and suffering for our sins in order that we might be reborn to new life through the sacrifice of his body and blood. St. Francis of Assisi wrote in “True and Perfect Joy” that the sick could be healed and the whole world could be evangelized, yet true joy comes in a mutual suffering with Christ on the cross. But how can suffering be joyful?
Here on earth, in this life, the greatest and most intimate experience with Christ comes from our participation in the Eucharist. However, by also sharing in Christ’s suffering our relationship with him grows even more intimately. Indeed, taking part in Christ’s suffering allows us to more deeply share in the mystical Body of Christ. St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” During Lent each of us is called to share in Christ’s suffering in a unique way, whether that be sacrificing our usual daily donut, praying a rosary each day, or taking time to serve meals to the less fortunate. We need to recognize that in these sacrifices we share in some small way in Christ’s suffering, and thus are brought infinitely closer to him. How can this not bring us joy?
Since Pope Francis recently released Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel,” it seems prudent to also reflect on how we are called to live out his concept of joy this Lent. In the introduction of this exhortation, Pope Francis talks about rejoicing in the cross, “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (Evangelii Gaudium, 5).
The joy of which Pope Francis speaks, joy coming from the Gospel, is a joy that radiates from our love for Christ and our willingness to serve Him and others. It is through our ability and desire to follow the Lord’s commandments and our attempt to imitate Christ’s relationship with the Father that we are able to share in this joy. There could not be a better message this Lent as we try to refocus our faith and to better ourselves before our Lord!
I have challenged myself this Lent to live out these two conceptions of joy each day: sharing in Christ’s suffering and my continued desire to serve Him. It is through each of these that we not only build up our own faith and discipline, but also have the ability to share it with others. We can bring Christ’s joy and peace to His people here on earth. Through this participation in Christ’s mission, we get a small glimpse of Christ’s infinite love for us. Pope Francis says it best as he reminds us of what joy should look like in our lives, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (Evangelii Gaudium, 6).
Nicholas Shields is a senior and the Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus at The Catholic University of America