Jesus Came to Bring Joy

"Jesus came to bring joy to the world." As the website "Jesus Laughing" explains, this is a central understanding of Jesus' nature and mission, yet we too often forget it - or never grasp it in the first place. But in encountering, breaking bread with, healing, and loving those in His community, He shared in a celebration of God's love and salvation which continues to this day. And the people with whom he most shared this joy - children, the poor, people with disablities - were precisely the people that the rest of us tend to forget about.

This message stands at the heart mission, and thus of our own identity as Christians. Yet we can easily become bogged down with all of our roles and responsibilities in life, even when we are trying to do good work. I'll admit that even the great opportunities provided by work for Maryknoll can also prove stressful. For instance, traveling to the Maryknoll Society building in Ossining, NY, for the first time last week was truly a blessing, yet also put me somewhat behind in my work at the Mission House in Seattle. Moreover, my wife and I are in the process of moving into a new home, so time away from that responsibility is especially difficult.

Sharing in joy with others, then, does not always leap to the top of our list of priorities. In fact, at times life seems too busy and important to "waste" on enjoying ourselves in the company of others. So often, we have to push ourselves to do so, and will usually be surprised by the outcome. My first afternoon at Maryknoll in New York, I was taking a walk around the upper balcony of the building. I was still on Seattle time, did not sleep much the previous night (after a day of traveling), and had just been through a full day of meetings. As I was walking, I came upon Fr. Phil Erbland, a Maryknoll priest who had worked in Peru. Although I was tired, I sat down and began talking with him. Before long, we were sharing our experiences of working in Birmingham, AL - me as a teacher in low-income, all African-American school five years ago, he as a street preacher during the heart of the Civil Rights movement. I was also fascinated in his stories about the struggles in providing quality education in parts of Peru, being passionate about education myself.

He then invited me to dinner, showed me where I could find ice cream, watch TV, and make a sandwich, should the mood strike me. Later, he gave me a tour of the grounds, showing me, among other things, where a small farm on the property was used to grow food for local shelters. We even saw a group of priests and brothers playing musical instruments together at the nursing home on the property.

I'll admit that, at first, I was not up for any sort of adventure or exploration. But I went with it, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I shared in joy with Phil, as well as other Maryknoll Society members and employees whom I met over my short trip. It reminds me of the times that I spend at my wife's school some evenings after work. I am usually tired, and would be happy to go home and rest, but something keeps me there. Laughing with her coworkers or throwing the football with some of her students is worth in joy far more than it costs in time or energy. And that, for me, is pretty tough to argue with.