I remember getting the message that my godson was about to be born. Weeks previously, I was honored when my friends asked me to be the godfather for their second child, and then I was shocked that they’d also asked me to be present when that child was born.
After a stressful day, I found myself in the hospital. With her husband by her side, and the nursing staff assisting, this soon-to-be mother gave a few strong final pushes. After the initial excited announcement of “it’s a boy,” silence fell. There was still more activity going on, but everything seemed a lot more peaceful. After about fifteen minutes, this tiny, seven-pound, wrapped bundle of human miraculousness was placed in my arms for the first time.
Having been present for his birth continues to teach me an all-important life lesson. The experience of true spiritual joy comes at a price. It’s not cheap and it’s surely not free.
I’ll never forget the image of labor pains nor the relief and delight when this baby boy was first given to his mother. Oftentimes I sit in the darkness of my hermitage at night, with only a candle lit in front of my crucifix, and I think of the excruciating pains that Jesus endured: the misunderstandings from his closest friends, the intense grief of the death of his friend Lazarus, the heartbreaking image of seeing his mother along Calvary’s path, the vicious torture at the hands of the Roman soldiers, and the utter humiliation and indescribable precision of his execution and the accompanying ridicule of the onlookers.
It is in these quiet nights of prayer when I feel perplexed by life or frustrated by my weaknesses that I have often been reminded that this is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of mine. When all hope seemed lost, God’s mysterious plan continued. After grief and confusion had settled among Jesus’ followers, Jesus did the unthinkable.
And he continues to do so with us.
When, in the first reading, the text says, “Rejoice heartily,” this is not merely the sense of family sentimentality around a holiday dinner. It is not based on someone’s natural personality type. “Rejoicing” is the only proper response of the soul to the Father’s tender, powerful, and uniquely applied initiative in our lives, particularly in those complex realities that we face. When, in the Gospel, it says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” the “rest” is not only a cessation of work responsibilities. This “rest” is not only a temporary relief from unresolved stress. The “rest” that is implied here is the recognition that the Father is in control. The “king shall come.” The “rest” implies, “We’re gonna get through this together. Let me show you how.”
Joy and struggle in this life are inseparable from each other. The conviction of deep personal faith remembers that “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you … [and] will give life to your mortal bodies.” As I learn to let him resurrect me day after day from the false security of my worries, doubts, anxieties, fears, insecurities, addictive behaviors, and jealousies, the intensity of my joy increases as I follow his invitation to “Come to me” from the cave of sin and into the light of life and radiate this light towards others. The more I feel this resurrecting power active in my life through the action of the Holy Spirit, the more I want to come to this inexhaustible fountain of life and joy.
Br. John Marmion Villa
Lord, you invite the heavy-laden to come to you.
We give you our sins and ask your mercy.
We give you our fears and seek your courage.
We give you our worries and beg your peace.
May your Holy Spirit raise us from death to life.
—Prayer of Surrender.