I suspect that women appreciate this gospel better than men do. Jesus says, “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” A single mother whom I know once told me that the birth of her daughter was so painful that she would never have another child. Sixteen years later, having been abandoned by her husband, she told me that her daughter was the only source of joy that she had in the world.
Today Jesus assures us that, even though we suffer, he will give us joy. In fact, he says, “No one will be able to take my joy away from you.”
It is extremely important that we live our vocation with joy and that we encourage others to follow Christ joyfully too. Joy is contagious. When priests and brothers radiate it, people are drawn to them.
Robert Frost, in his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” said this:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.
Notice the striking image in Frost’s poem: “Only where love and need are one”, as “two eyes make one in sight.” As sharers in St. Vincent’s charism, this is crucial for us. Where need exists, we seek to bring practical love. Wherever we see need, we ask: “What’s to be done?” The answer in principle is simple: “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was homeless, you took me in.” But the answer in practice is much more complicated. With the limited resources that I have as an individual, or with the limited resources that we have as a group, what can we do to confront the most urgent needs here in the USA or in Panama or in Kenya with practical love? Today I encourage you always to be looking for the ways individually and communally to respond to urgent needs with both love and joy.
I leave the last word to St. Vincent. In 1628, he wrote to Louise de Marillac (CCD:I:36):
Please, Mademoiselle, be quite joyful in willing everything that God wills. And because it is God’s good pleasure that we remain always in the holy joy of His love, let us remain in it and attach ourselves to it inseparably in this world, so that we may one day be merely one in Him, in whose love I am, Mademoiselle, your most humble and obedient servant.
We rejoice in the Lord today. He has shared with us his own vocation to evangelize and serve the poor. It is a wonderful gift. So, as we leave this place of retreat, let our hearts be filled with gratitude and our lives be filled with joy.