In the pathways of sadness,
sweetest lilies may grow:
Let us sow seeds of gladness-
let the joy overflow.
– Eliza E. Hewitt
An insightful chapter by Fr. Greg Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart is on “gladness.” The stories he shares bring the deep meaning of “gladness” to light. Boyle has a gift for finding grace in the ordinary and even pedestrian aspects of life. His spirituality is deeply incarnational as his faith in Jesus, God incarnate in the ordinary, leads him to see God in simple people “and be glad.” Boyle’s grace-filled narratives invite me to consider where I have found deep gladness in unexpected places. These situations I have encountered in my three-year service as an Ignatian Volunteer have been seeds of gladness scattered around that planted in me a sense of gratitude.
I serve at St. Mary of the Angels in inner city Boston. Our parish is a wonderfully eclectic, active, Christian community with a proud history of social engagement in a tough neighborhood. Economic scarcity and fear of violence do not dampen the joy expressed at the parish—especially at the sign of peace, which can last over ten minutes as everyone is greeted. Underneath the joy expressed at Mass are the life stories of people who do not let their circumstances define them. As the microphone is passed around at the Prayers of the Faithful, we are invited to share in the pain and gratitudes of those whose lives we know. Lynn shares weekly about her family and prays that where suffering and division occur, may they know that God is always there. Lynn plants the seeds of faith in her family so that the gladness and gratitude will be there. Ashley prays for her teenage friends who get caught up in drugs and violence. She is a bright model to them of living with gratitude and joy while holding the tension of pain. As I listen to the prayers, I realize that when we lose tolerance for vulnerability and sharing in each other’s pain, joy becomes more distant and hollow. Gladness, as Fr. Boyle knows, comes when we practice seeing the ordinary moments as times of gladness and we express our gratitude for these moments.
A dying, bedridden man with a sparkle in his eyes asked Sr. Virginia and me if he could give us a blessing when we started to leave after our pastoral visit with him. His blessing filled us with his inner light.
Gladness grows through vulnerability and gratitude. I thought that I was sent to my Ignatian Volunteer site because of my experience working over twenty years in Pastoral Ministry. On the contrary, I am the student receiving gladness and blessing from a man who has practiced gratitude his whole life.
At my IVC site, I regularly meet people who are not burdened with a fear of scarcity but who have lived daily with “the less.” They have found ways to live their lives in gladness. To be glad or joyous you need to see with gratitude. William knows this. Without any formal schooling, he does not know his colors or numbers. Yet, what William does know is how to give love to everyone he meets through his smiles, hugs, and joyous “thank you” to life. His love of life is infectious. I feel light and happy when I am around him.
Tom has spent all the extra money he has to refurbish the house of his father-in-law next to the Church as a gift for his daughter. Sadly, the house has been burglarized four times this year, causing Tom to lose many of his valuable tools. Tom, though, remains generous and self-giving. He continued to come over while my son, Greg, and other scouts were building a Peace Garden on the parish grounds and offered extensive knowledge and his own tools to help with the Eagle project. As I witnessed this simple man give of himself without reserve to my son and as I saw my son develop a sincere affection and respect for this generous, scruffy stranger, I am pretty sure what welled up within me was “gladness.” I practice being grateful for all that is.
Gladness radiates from the faces of the youth who are asked to help with the Good Friday walks, and from the elderly who are honored at the Senior Dinners. Our joy can overflow as we practice planting these seeds of gladness. This beautiful word captures our response to the grace of God we encounter in ordinary human actions.
Diana Gaillardetz is grateful to the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in the New England region for offering an opportunity to work as a pastoral associate at St. Mary of the Angels parish in the Boston Diocese. Times of joy at the parish have come from her work with the Confirmation youth, elderly Bible class, social justice projects and just having a “ministry of presence” in the community/parish. Diana is married to Dr. Rick Gaillardetz and they have four sons, Andrew, David, Brian, and Greg—the oldest, twins, are spending this year of service after college graduation as a JVC in Houston, TX and in the Rostro de Cristo program in Ecuador. Living in gratitude.