The joy of the Lord will keep you strong!


[3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, Jan 24, 2016 / Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 / Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15 / 1 Cor 12:12-30 / Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21]

IN Italy at the end of the Mass the final farewell is often: “La gioia del Signore sia la vostra forza, andate in pace” – The joy of the Lord be your strength, go in peace. This phrase was uttered by the prophet Nehemiah (1st reading today). What does it mean to live in the joy of the Lord?

When I first came to the Philippines in 1999 I remember one of the first people I met – an old man who had lived through many challenges in his life. He recounted how he had been sick, having to sell his small house to pay for the medical bills. What struck me was not the calamities he recounted but the big smile on his face. The way he shared made us both laugh! What was the source of this joy? I found this man strong and joyful in adversity.

Around that time I heard the words from the book of Nehemiah: “The joy of the Lord will make you strong” (Nehemiah 8:10b) and understood the secret to be joyful in all weather, come rain or shine.

Is my joy this day in the Lord? What might this mean because surely the joy of the Lord is more permanent and enduring than just my joy?

One thing that makes us joyful is to believe that God is working in our lives and to be able to see that, to witness it. In today’s Gospel it tells us of the witnesses who became ministers of the Word, much like this old man who was sharing his experience of faith.

How different when the minister of the Word is first a witness! As Pope Paul VI reminds us, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii nuntiandi no. 41).

To be a witness we first need to see what God is doing in our lives, to “see” what he is telling but to see God’s hand in what is going on we need the help of the Holy Spirit. How great to be close to the Holy Spirit! Our helper, friend and advocate but often ignored.

Many times prayers are made to Jesus and the Father but it is often true that the Spirit is the unknown person in the Trinity.

Let us get to know the Spirit more, acting in our daily lives. Like one mother who was in her house surrounded by the mess created by her four children. She stopped for a moment. She was asked what she was doing. “I am praying to the Holy Spirit because I don’t know what I should do next.”

The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a gift, a gift that can make us joyful. Many times we get stressed because we think it all depends on us. Relax a little, take deep breaths, let the Spirit work! Jesus himself lived in this presence of the Spirit. In his mission he “acted in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). In one moment he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and entered the synagogue “as he usually did.” I was wondering if it was boring for Jesus doing things “as he usually did.” The novelty however is in the Spirit, who makes all things new like that mother asking the Spirit what she should do.

How can we grow in familiarity with the Holy Spirit? As the responsorial psalm instructs us: “Your words are Spirit and life.” Why is it vital to listen to the Word of God? Because it is where we learn to listen to the Spirit, to learn the movements and intuitions of the Spirit.

In my prayer I was struck by the words, “Blessed are the gentle.” It reminded me to be more gentle in my dealings with others. When we know what the Lord is asking of us we can collaborate more. We can be more faithful to the mission entrusted to us.

Each one of us has a mission! Let us not get bored or be idle when there is so much work to be done. May we be joyful in the power of the Holy Spirit and we pray that like Jesus, with his grace we too can also say, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

An attentive listening to the Word of God will indicate which way the Spirit is blowing. Where is the Spirit asking you to fulfil your mission? There may be challenges but we can rest assured that the joy of the Lord will keep us strong.


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