On the first day of the 19th Chapter of the Mill Hill missionaries the assembled delegates were taken on a journey of discovery of Gospel Joy in a day of recollection led by New Testament scholar and Dominican friar, Richard Ounsworth.
Sharing elements of his personal search for a meaningful engagement in religious life, Fr Richard highlighted joyfulness as the single most attractive feature to determine his choice.
Joyfulness, he stressed, is not the same as cheerfulness. Its roots lie deeper. It can go together with sorrow and distress.
The Singer Mary Black expresses this forcefully in one of her songs:
‘I used to think that joy was the break between sorrows,
like peace was the break between wars’.
But the joy Christ brings goes deeper.
It comes from the knowledge that we are loved.`
‘Joy and sorrow are not like oil and water’. (Song by Indigo Girls)
Joy and sorrow are not incompatible.
True joy finds its origin in the awareness that we are loved into being.
Christ knows that. He knew it on the cross, even when he cried out: ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me’.
Our task as missionaries is to be prophets of joy.
Speaking with consummate ease and without notes Fr Richard then launched into a reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ underlining three important aspects:
Firstly: Gospel means joy.
We preach this gospel as prophets of joy.
The basic fundamental Good News is that we are loved.
Fostering this awareness will set people free.
It will also help us ourselves let go of paralysing concerns re power, success, sex as well as pride, anger, fear.
These can act as a kind of carapace giving us the illusion of invulnerability and being protected from hurt.
The awareness of being loved into being creates the space for allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
“All I have to do is fall” (Suzy Bogguss)
The ultimate vision of vulnerability is Christ on the cross.
Secondly: A call to be prophets.
A prophet is not so much someone who foretells the future as an intercessor.
A prophet speaks on behalf of the people, he/she intercedes.
Priesthood and prophecy are not mutually exclusive, as is sometimes suggested.
After all ministry is a call to authentic service.
The Old Testament prophets rail against hollow, inauthentic religion, but their call is often rooted in sacral space. Cf Is 6
Equally the well-known saying referring to the challenging task of the prophet:
‘Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ calls for some nuance.
Even when addressing the comfortable our message needs to be one of consolation, hope, freedom and joy.
Thirdly: Foretelling and forthtelling.
Prophecy is not so much foretelling the future as interpreting the present.
Yet many of the verbs used in the Old Testament referring to prophecy are in the future tense. But sometimes the function of the prophet is not to predict the future but to change the present. The book of Jonah is a telling example of this.
The greatest prophet, of course, is Jesus.
We recall his saying: “there are some among you who will not see death…..” (Mt 16: 28)
This can credibly be interpreted as an oracle intended to activate hope in us.
‘The kingdom come!’
(Summary of this first talk by Fons Eppink)
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