My novice master Fr. Franz Dirnberger used to ask us frequently, “ Are you happy?”, expecting the response of a “yes” from the young novices. For him an unhappy novice was a paradox and it was an indicator that an unhappy novice was not meant for this form of life, unless he worked out his difficulties and returned to the “natural joy” of consecrated life.
Absence of joy in everyday life or presence of pervading sadness in a Claretian speaks loudly about his vocational integrity. Consecrated life is a free response to the loving call of the Lord heard in the interior of a person. Often one may find it difficult to hear the call amidst so many of the sounds are furies trumpeting within him and he may find himself pulled and pushed by the many attractions they promise. Unless one learns to enter into the zone of interior silence, it is easy to get confused and get lost in the cacophony composed by the conflicting calls. Cultivation of inner silence and practice of meditation and Lectio Divina are important ways to recognize the voice of the Lord and recover the joy of life.
The exhortation of Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel offers us a compass to navigate in a noisy world. “Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others… an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ” (10). Indeed, joy is the authentic aroma of the disciple of the Lord.
Both in formation process and missionary commitment, joyfulness is an unmistakable proof of authenticity and integrity of Claretian life. The definition of a Claretian gives us a picture of a man on fire with love who vibrates the joy of discipleship. The exhortation of the pope easily evokes in a Claretian the evangelizing style of Claret as the best example of what the Pope points about evangelization.
It is possible that a young man may get lured by the prestige and possibilities open to a cleric or religious in his social milieu and seek religious life. Absence of joy will be more evident in such cases. The heart will not be settled where it does not belong in spite of good efforts and apparent academic success. Sadly people who are in a religious house without an inner conviction and religious motives turn out to be like salt without saltiness (Mt. 5.13) and become a listless presence in a community or mission. A person in such a situation may try to find happiness “out of route” in positions of honor or gratifying relationships, but remain “joyless” as a religious. Joy is the right thermometer to check the spiritual health of a missionary.
Difficulties and crisis in life does not take away joy from life. On the contrary joy prepares that terrain in life which lets one to learn from difficulties and grow through crisis moments. Joy helps one to embrace the necessary trials and pain of life. For a sad person trials and tribulations prepare the tombstone for their dying desires of a generous and free offer of themselves in consecrated life. Experienced formators know how to differentiate the natural discouragement of a soft hearted vacationer who needs some affirmation to tap from his inner resources to face his trials from another whose heart is not settled in his vocation. A well dug on a good source of water needs occasional cleaning to allow free flow of water, but a dry well cannot be maintained for long by pouring water from outside.
There will be moments of desolation in any person’s spiritual journey. They can be seen as the call to purge the heart from the many cobwebs that get collected on the way and get back home. It is precisely the joy of one’s vocation and mission that lets desolation to ring the alarm bell. It is the sense of freedom that makes a prison suffocating. Without it prison would be a home for the enslaved spirit.
We need to take this aspect of Joy seriously in discernment and growth of missionary vocation.
Points to ponder:
Do we check our own pulse of the joy of discipleship time and again to assure our personal spiritual health?
Do we look for signs of joy in a formee when we accompany him in his discernment and vocational growth? Do we tend to undermine this factor in favour of academic performance and talents in a formee?
How shall we make our formation processes a true catechesis for living the joy of the Gospel and sharing that joy to all our brothers and sisters through genuine acts of missionary charity?