Pope Francis’ message at the canonization of Junípero Serra was clear: go forward and proclaim the joy of the Gospel.
That theme of sharing the good news was woven throughout the Mass that he celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday. It was in the woman with a cognitive disability who, proclaiming the second reading, told us to “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (Philippians 4:9).
I felt the joy personally; my ticket to the Mass placed me to the left of the altar just behind the orchestra—singing with the choir, to be exact. Prior to the pope’s arrival, there was a Washingtonian air of subdued anticipation. But once he showed up, there was nothing but excitement and joy.
Pope Francis was here to canonize a Spanish missionary priest—Father Junípero Serra—as an example of forward-moving evangelization. You couldn’t miss the point. It started with the first reading in the Chochenyo Native American language. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him … announcing salvation.” [Isaiah 52:7]
Okay, so we’re supposed to announce salvation. I’m not the type to get on a soapbox, though. Where do we begin? Maybe start with this word—no, command!—from the second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Didn’t catch that? “I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Many of us have concerns and responsibilities that can drain us of joy. But maybe that’s the problem. We assume that joy will come when our bills are paid, our work is done, and we can relax. Or we think that joy will come at some point in the future, like at retirement, or only when we are really prayerful at Mass. But according to Francis, we shouldn’t let our challenges quench our joy or our desire to evangelize. Christian joy springs out of gratitude and love for a merciful God, not out of our circumstances.
“For the source of our joy is ‘an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy,’” Francis said in his homily. He’s talking about us! We really can find joy in mission, a joy borne out of our ongoing conversion to the Lord. You don’t think you have a personal story to tell? Think again; rediscover what God has done for you. Then, “tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living.”
Give Yourself Away.
Following Jesus’ command, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” may put us in uncomfortable situations (Matthew 28:19). But there is a reason that during this historic visit, Pope Francis chose to canonize a missionary who entered into intercultural dialogue. Junípero Serra “was the embodiment of ‘a Church which goes forth.’ … He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life.”
This is hard for me. Although I grew up in a comfortable suburb of Washington, DC, I now live in the city, in a neighborhood known for high crime and poor school performance. My neighbors—most from very different backgrounds than mine—sit on their front porches listening to ambulances go by. What does it look like for me to share the good news without an ounce of prejudice or a subtle sense of superiority? I’m learning that it starts with a foundation of respect and continues with a willingness to listen to them and learn from them. This is impossible for me unless I accept my own flaws and open myself to God’s mercy. I need joy induced by mercy. That’s the message that Pope Francis—and every Christian—has to share.
When the banners come down and the music fades and the pope is back in Rome, I need to keep moving forward, remembering his words: “The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
Kathryn Elliott is an editor with The Word Among Us.