Pope Francis returned to the topic of Christian joy Thursday, calling the joy of the Gospel the ID card of a true Christian and “the touchstone of a person’s faith.”
“Without joy that person is not a true believer,” said Francis in his homily at morning Mass in the chapel of the Saint Martha residence, where he lives in the Vatican.
It is not “cold doctrine” that gives joy, Francis said, but rather faith and hope to meet Jesus. And it is a “sad believer” who cannot rejoice, he said.
The Pope echoed the words of the great Spanish mystic and doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila, whose 500th anniversary will be celebrated on Saturday. To mark the jubilee of Teresa’s birth, Pope Francis issued a message in which he reflected on the saint’s virtues, especially her joy.
The Pope recalled that Teresa asked her Sisters to “go cheerfully about whatever services you are ordered to do” and added that “true holiness is joy, for ‘a sad saint is a sorry saint.’”
Feeling God’s love, Francis said, “A contagious and unconcealable joy was born in the Saint that she radiated around her.” The Pope also said that God “feels joy conversing with people,” and He “becomes joyful with us.”
St. Teresa’s joy was “neither selfish nor self-referential,” the Pope said, but was born of a generous heart, “placing herself at the service of others with unselfish love.”
“The Gospel is not a bag of lead which one drags around arduously,” he said, “but a font of joy that fills the heart with God and impels it to serve one’s brothers and sisters!”
Teresa’s joy came from her vibrant life of prayer, Francis said, which she defined as “being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us.” Prayer is not a means of escape, Francis said, but a deep friendship with the Lord, the “true Friend” and “faithful Companion.” To pray, he said, quoting Teresa, “it is not so necessary to think much as to love much.”
The joy of faith was unknown to the teachers and doctors of the law of Jesus’ time, Francis said Thursday. “They did not understand the joy of the promise; they did not understand the joy of hope; they did not understand the joy of the alliance,” he said.
“They did not know how to rejoice because they had lost the sense of joy that comes only from faith,” he said. “Our father Abraham was able to rejoice because he had faith,” whereas they “had lost faith.”
The doctors of the law lived in “an abstract world, a world without love, a world without faith, a world without hope, a world without trust, a world without God,” and that is why “they could not rejoice,” Francis said.
We need to ask the Lord for the grace to “rejoice in hope,” he said, the grace “to see the day of Jesus when we will be with Him.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.