Let the joy of the Lord be our strength Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

In these last days of Advent, before our joy-filled celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and the Christmas Season, we are offered a taste of that joy (during this penitential season) on Gaudete Sunday.

In the book of Nehemiah, but also in the book of Chronicles, there is a prayer which goes simply: “Let the joy of the Lord be our strength” (Neh 8:10).

As a matter of fact, in many of the translations of the Mass (in both Spanish and Italian, for instance) that phrase is inserted at the time of the final dismissal. “The Mass is ended, let the joy of the Lord be our strength, and let us go in peace.”

Before the new English translation came out, I myself was known to use that dismissal. Blessed Pope John Paul II never left it out when he was celebrating Mass privately. “Let the joy of the Lord be our strength, and let us go in peace” — that is the perfect attitude with which we should leave Mass.

“Let the joy of the lord be our strength” sums up the whole First Reading from this past Sunday (Is 35:1-6a, 10). We celebrate joy breaking forth and immediately hear, “strengthen your weak knees,” “strengthen your weak knees,” “be strong, fear not!” Joy and strength go together. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength!

Finding the joy of the Lord

Sometimes when we feel weak, in times of temptation, we might ask ourselves, “Where is the joy? And if the joy of the Lord is my strength, why do I feel so weak?” In those times we should recall: “Let the joy of the Lord be our strength.” We should seek Him, and the joy that He offers, to provide strength to overcome our weakness and our temptation.

In the Gospel of Gaudete Sunday, we heard Jesus saying, “and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:6). It could also be translated, “blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me,” or “blessed is the one who is not led into sin because of me.”

Why should Jesus even need to say this? Who would be led into sin by him? Indeed, many people in the Scriptures were led into sin because of Jesus, because His sayings were sometimes hard and led people to reject Him.

For instance, when Jesus said, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood so you will have life” (Jn 6:53-71), the Gospel writer indicated that Jesus simply was too much for some of His followers. He came to bring salvation, but some people reacted sinfully to Jesus, so as to merit their own condemnation. They were the ones who took offense at Jesus. They were the ones who were scandalized by the Truth. They were the ones who were led into sin because of Him.

To live in the joy which comes from God, through and in Jesus — the joy which is to be our strength, means that we can never take offense at Him. Jesus is joy in itself. No joyful person could ever be led into sin because of Jesus. It’s impossible.

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Perhaps another way of saying that is, “Blessed is the joyful person,” because those who let the joy of the Lord be their strength are never led into sin at hearing the word of Jesus.

Joy is the key to strength

Joy is the key to strength. Joy is the key to being blessed because we take no offense at Jesus. The joy that we celebrate in our life of faith is not a superficial, fleeting joy — such as that that we can find at the bar on a Saturday night. The joy that we celebrate has everything to do with Jesus, who is joy, and the impact that He wants to have on us.

We have to remember that the Body of Christ on earth is the Church — the Church which was established by Jesus and which carries on in its Apostolic nature. How many people take offense at the Church? How many people are led into sin because they reject what the Church teaches in her magisterium?

The latest thing that I hear is, “I’m not going to listen to you, bishop. You don’t sound like Pope Francis.” To say that is to take offense at the Church and it is creating division where there is none. It is the job of the bishop to gather all people together and to keep them bound to the Bishop of Rome and to Christ.

Never did I hear, “I like you bishop, you sound like Pope Benedict,” or “I like you, you sound like Pope John Paul.” It would seem that while my work is the same and while our Catholic faith is the same, people’s perception of Pope Francis is so different that despite the fact that I keep trying to bind people to him, in the minds of some, we are divided.

If someone thinks that Pope Francis and I are divided, they either haven’t really heard all of what Pope Francis is saying, they haven’t really heard all of what I am saying, or they are willful in their self-deceit.

Wrapped up in personal likes and dislikes

Regardless, it would seem that Christ’s establishing a Church on His Apostles, with St. Peter as first among them, is a teaching which is respected only if someone likes an individual apostle. If that is the case, and if the truth being passed on through Church is being rejected for personal likes and dislikes, then people are taking offense at Christ, Himself. This is sad and scandalous.

Pope Francis just said this week, “Isn’t it a shame that people are so wrapped up within themselves, and their own tastes, and their own likes and their dislikes, that they can’t hear the homily anymore?” Too many say: “I decided I didn’t like that pastor 20 years ago and I’ve never listened to one thing he said since.” This is probably not you, but this is some of your friends. You know people like this.

They take offense because of Jesus through His body the Church. They are led into sin because of Jesus’ body, the Church. And these people, by the way, never have joy! They’d rather find fault and make themselves miserable. They’re the ones that Pope Francis calls “the sourpusses.” They don’t seem to know that the Pope calls them sourpusses. They just know who they think is like Pope Francis and who they think isn’t.

So, the joy of the Lord is the key to our strength. The joy of the Lord is the key to never being led into sin on account of Jesus or the Church. That joy is something without which you and I cannot live, because in the end that joy is Christ himself.

As we approach Christmas next week, let us prayerfully consider how Joy itself was made flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ, for the salvation of a joyless world. Let us increasingly be ministers of the Joy of His Gospel in the world that remains far too joyless. And let the joy of the Lord be our Strength! Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thank you for reading this, and may all the blessings of Advent be with you and yours!