This Sunday’s Gospel (John Chapter 9), Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, is my favorite passage of the whole Bible. I love the way this scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth captures the story’s full range of emotions and contrasts the self-absorbed pharisees with the exuberant joy everyone else feels, and should be feeling, over the blind man’s miraculous healing. This scene highlights the essence of Laetare Sunday Joy by juxtaposing it with the type of attitude we must overcome to experience the joy Christ wants for us.
The joy we should experience as Christians is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we live the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and exercise the God-given gifts of the Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) the joy is unrestrainable. We don’t cause it to happen, or call on it when we think it’s the appropriate thing to do. It just happens, and when it does, it overflows and moves others to share that joy or want it if they don’t have it.
Think of a baseball game. Your team is at bat. The bases are loaded. 3 balls, 2 strikes, 2 outs, bottom of the 9th, and your team is down by 3 runs. This last pitch will decide the outcome of the game. And the batter hits a grand-slam!
At this point, you don’t think to yourself, “Alright, self, the thing to do now is to be joyful. Now, get up and scream your lungs out, like everyone else.” Of course not! The only reason you would not be jumping up and down for joy is if you were rooting for the other team.
The pharisees in today’s Gospel obviously need an attitude adjustment. Why aren’t they rejoicing over the blind man’s good fortune? Why can’t they accept his triumph as their triumph? Why are they so bitter at Jesus for performing this miracle? Something is definitely wrong with those people and it needs to change.
Here is the reality check from Laetare Sunday. Where is our joy? If we take other people’s triumphs to be our triumphs we probably do not have to look far to find it — it just happens. Joy springs up automatically when our brother or sister recovers from an illness, gets a new job, has a new baby or grandchild. We are supposed to get happy when others are happy and this should never be difficult or awkward, when it is because of a good thing.
Sometimes, though, it may happen that we know someone who can’t seem to find joy in other people’s good fortune. Rather, they somehow manage to take it as a personal let down and they seem to have a unhealthy knack for bringing others down with them. This could be someone at work, or school, or maybe even someone you know at Church or in your family. They need prayers and good example to move them to be in tune with the Holy Spirit.
This is the grand-slam challenge for Laetare Sunday. Think of three concrete things in your life that give you great joy. Take it to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to stir up that joy in you. Finally, when it surges, don’t hold back, let your supernatural joy overflow and share it with everybody. If you ask God for this and are determined to do it, it won’t be difficult, because when the Spirit of God wants it to happen, nothing in the world can stop it.