Spreading joy: Pope Francis leads the way in showing us how to do it Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, May. 23, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

It’s his smile. That’s what we have noticed especially about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. His smile literally lights up St. Peter’s Square — and that’s a big place!

It’s not that our previous popes haven’t exuded happiness. They did show us joy, too. But Pope Francis has been unusually open in approaching people, walking right up to them in the crowds, touching people and picking up children (I’m sure his security staff is pretty nervous at times).

I think his joy his contagious. People have been responding to him in person and have been enjoying watching videos. Catholic News Service has posted some wonderful videos of Pope Francis interacting with people of all ages. Some of these videos can be found on the Catholic Herald website (www.madisoncatholicherald.org) on the home page. If you haven’t watched these videos, I encourage you to take a look. You will come away smiling.

Don’t be ‘pickled peppers’

In his characteristic bluntness, Pope Francis recently underscored the importance of being joyful by contrasting sad Christian faces — which are more like “pickled peppers” — with the testimony of a beautiful life.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported on a homily he gave in the chapel of St. Martha’s residence at the Vatican on May 10. The pope said, “Sometimes these melancholic Christians’ faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.

“If we keep this joy to ourselves, it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled, and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy, only nostalgia and melancholy which is not healthy,” he added.

Not the same as having fun

The Holy Father said Christians should not keep joy “bottled up” for themselves because they risk becoming nostalgic. Christian joy is not like “having fun, which is good,” he explained, rather it “is more, it is something else.”

“If we want to have fun all the time, in the end it becomes shallow, superficial, and also leads us to that state where we lack Christian wisdom, it makes us a little bit stupid, naive, no?” Pope Francis said.

“Joy is something that does not come from short-term economic reasons, from momentary reasons, it is something deeper, it is a gift,” he said.

Joy: a gift from God

The pontiff described joy as “a gift from God” that “fills us from within” and “cannot be held at heel, it must be let go. It is a virtue of the great, of those great ones who rise above the little things in life, above human pettiness,” he said.

He explained that it is a virtue “of those who will not allow themselves to be dragged into those little things within the community, within the Church” and that “they always look to the horizon.”

Spreading Christ’s message of love

In the Catholic Church we recently celebrated the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost. The Scripture readings for both of those feasts emphasize the role of all people in spreading the message of Jesus Christ.

When he ascended into heaven, Jesus told the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. After Jesus ascended, two men in white clothing told the upwardly looking disciples: “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven’” (Acts 1:11).

Jesus’ disciples were encouraged to go out and spread the Good News that Jesus had taught them. But they seemed to be afraid. It wasn’t until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they received the strength to go out and preach to all nations, sharing the joy of God’s love.

That is the joy we see in Pope Francis. It is a confidence that he is loved by God and he wants to share it with everyone he encounters.

How we can share joy

He is showing us that we, too, can share that joy with others in our everyday life: with our family members, our co-workers, our neighbors, the people we run across at the grocery store.

It means giving a friendly greeting, smiling at those we meet — even when we ourselves might not feel like smiling. It might mean sharing the joy of God’s love with those in need by visiting the sick, giving someone a ride to a doctor appointment or to go shopping. It doesn’t mean being artificially cheerful, but instead showing a genuine concern for others.

“They will know we are Christians by our joy” should be true for everyone who professes belief in Jesus Christ and life everlasting. After all, we can look forward to a happy life after our time on earth. Just like Jesus, we have the opportunity to ascend into heaven. That should — above all — bring a smile to our face!