How do you keep your joy when someone mocks or demeans your faith? Is there such a thing as “the joy of the martyrs?” Our readings today are those of St. Lawrence, a third century Roman martyr. Lawrence was known as a man of great humor and joy, as well as great holiness.
Lawrence’s job as a deacon in the Church of Rome was to care for the poor and sick. He loved his work and the people he served. When the Emperor Valerian ordered Lawrence to bring him the wealth of the Church, Lawrence promised to do so in three days. He went through the city and rounded up the poor for whom the Church cared. “Here is the wealth of the Church,” he said to Valerian. Valerian was not pleased! He decided to martyr Lawrence slowly on a grill over a low fire. Even this did not deter Lawrence’s sense of humor. He reportedly said after a while, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”
As a marriage and family therapist, I can tell you that a sense of humor is a great help in family life. If you can laugh at whatever it is, it loses its sting. You have a protective coating between you and the evils of life. I talked with a ten year old the other day. Her family is in a serious crisis. She was talking about how her cousin said something that really put this child’s family down. “Oh,” I said. “That must have hurt.”
“Yes,” she answered, tears welling up in her eyes.
“What did you do?”
She got a very earnest look on her face, then she grinned. “I looked at her in the eye and I told her, ‘That was not a nice thing to say. You should be ashamed of yourself.’ Then I kept staring at her until she went in the other room.”
No need to worry about this child falling victim to bullies! She can keep her joy.
Our Scripture Readings today give some helpful advice for those of us who are not quite as bold as St. Lawrence and this child.
Miserliness breeds negatives. Bountifulness breeds joy. The first reading says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
There is something inherently joyful about a sense of plenty. Mother Theresa told the story of the woman whose family had no food. When Mother took her some, she divided it and took half to her neighbor whose children also had not eaten for a few days. When I read that story, I sense great joy—in Mother who saw, in the woman who gave, and the woman who received.
St. Lawrence loved the poor he cared for. They gave him joy. He bountifully shared them with the Emperor. I break into a smile when I picture that scene—even though it costs Lawrence his life.
Accept What the Day Brings
The reading goes on, “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” When I think about it, most of my “bad moods” come because I do not want to face the tasks of the day—whatever those tasks are.
When I was a child, I lived in a family where work was expected of children. That is what life on a farm is like. My father was an English teacher as well as a farmer. When I grumped and groaned, instead of punishing me, he would have me memorize poetry. One poem I quote to myself to this day when I’m putting off a difficult task or feeling overwhelmed by it, includes these lines:
“But just buckle right in with a bit of grin,
Without any doubting or quit it.
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done…
And you’ll do it! (from “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest)
To this day I cannot say that poem without smiling and recovering at least a bit of joy.
Remember God Is Enough
St. Paul continues, “Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.”
I tend to lose joy and get crabby when I am thinking “I can’t do this.” For us Christians, we don’t have to “do this,” whatever this is. God gives us the capacity. Whether what it seems we can’t do is make it until nap time with rambunctious preschoolers or find where we made an accounting mistake or spend the afternoon with a parent who is dying, if we ask, God will give us the grace to do it. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” St. Paul says in another place.
Delight in God’s Commands
The Psalm today begins, “Blessed the man who fear the Lord, who greatly delights in his commands.” People with joy see goodness is what God asks. It isn’t, “I guess I have to be kind to this difficult person, even though she will just attack me for doing it.” It is “If I can be kind to this difficult person, I can give her a gift of goodness that just might plant some seeds of kindness in her.”
When God asks we respond to the world around us with joy and delight in doing things God’s way, it is not to give us gloom, but rather to give us opportunities to see with different eyes.
Not just beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
With God, Even Losing is a Source of a Joy
In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Even if it seems I give myself up for nothing—with God that is not true. True, I may bear fruit in a bigger picture. It may not be with my design on it. It may not be what I would choose.
But our faith tells us God has the big picture. He can and will work it out for good.
Pause for More Thought
As I finish this reflection, I am not delighted with it. It feels rather dry and textbook like. Reflecting on that I realize today I am writing about something I only sometimes do. This isn’t faith sharing. It is preaching to myself.
My joy is often not full. I do not always see the bountiful and trust in God’s Goodness. If I were St. Lawrence, I would not say “Roll me over, I think I’m done on this side.” I do not look enemies in the eye and ruefully say, “That wasn’t very nice. Stop it.”
So my prayer today is that poem my father taught me
Somebody said it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied,
That, maybe it couldn’t, but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so til he tried.
So he buckled right in with a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quit it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done.
And he did it! (Edgar Guest)
Help me, Lord, today, to tackle grumpiness and let you fill me with joy. Amen