“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and isolation.”
This month we lost my sister-in-law’s husband to aggressive cancer. At the too-young age of 59, Mark leaves behind a devoted wife of more than three decades, four incredible children and 30-day old twin grandsons who brought countless smiles to everyone in the final weeks before Mark’s passing. In addition to the obvious sadness for Katie and her children, Mark’s passing was difficult for our clan. It made us confront very directly what cancer can do and how quickly it can do it. Mark is also the first from among my generation to die, and so one can’t help but be reminded how quickly life moves. At his funeral Mass, Mark’s three oldest daughters offered some words of remembrance. Beyond being so impressed at how poised these young ladies were in their seamless and eloquent delivery, I was incredibly moved by the focus of their reflection – "shared joy." While one might think to steer away or devote less time to an excruciating eight-month battle with cancer, Jessica, Meghan, and Mary Catherine leaned in and spoke about all the shared joy that their family had during that time. They spoke of their joy for my sister-in-law in her unwavering care for her husband, of the moments and memories one-on-one with Mark, and even Mark’s last night where they shared the joy of all being around him.
What was undoubtedly a terrible cross to carry over the last eight months was described in terms of shared joy. Beyond imagining Mark’s pride for his daughters in that moment, I couldn’t help but connect their words to the gift that discipleship is for all of us. Despite the ever-increasing darkness that seems to fill the world, as a people, Christians have always been about the most special "shared joy." It is particularly the mark of discipleship that we stand before suffering and hardship not as a curse or a tragedy, but as an opportunity for encounter, for reconciliation, for fulfillment, an opportunity for deep joy. In what relationships or experiences in my life am I missing the opportunity to embrace that shared joy? Whether in my parish or my workplace or my family, how do I help others see and embrace the joy that we hold, believe and experience in common, especially in difficult circumstances? I will be forever grateful for the witness of my nieces and how authentically they demonstrated how present the joy of Christ is even in the deepest sadness. Prayers for you to find and share that joy this week.