This piece, by IVC Spiritual Reflector Fr. William Barry, SJ, is a reflection on the spiritual readings and guide being used by IVC volunteers across the country.
In the Introduction of The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them. I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (3). He insists that Jesus wants such a personal encounter with everyone. The whole of this apostolic exhortation rests on the Pope’s insistence that Jesus wants a personal relationship of friendship with every one of us. There is no other way to come to the joy of the Gospel except through a real, personal encounter with Jesus. Pope Francis believes that a real, personal encounter with Jesus will put a smile on our faces and bring us to authentic joy, and that only joyful Christians will draw others to want what we have. Apparently, this was how the early Christians spread so rapidly throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. People saw the joy of Christians and wanted some of it for themselves. This joy also led the early Christians to take care of one another and of their pagan neighbors in times of trouble, and especially in times when contagious diseases were devastating ancient cities regularly. Because they cared for one another and their neighbors, they tended to outlast the plagues better than those who were not cared for. “See how they love one another,” people are reported to have said of Christians, and what they meant was that these Christians showed their love in their care of those in need. Why were they able to do this? Because, I believe, they had encountered in Jesus God who loved them so unconditionally that he was willing to die at their hands and still forgive them. This personal encounter with Jesus brought joy to their hearts and freed them of fear so that they were willing to take care of one another even at the risk of their own lives. Pope Francis is banking everything on this personal encounter with Jesus.
Will we take him up and join him in the joy of the Gospel? That’s the Pope’s challenge in this apostolic exhortation. It’s a challenge Ignatian Volunteers have accepted, I believe, and that lead us to meet those we serve with a smile and with hope.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, Contemplatives in Action, and A Friendship like No Other. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.