Choose Joy

What a strange month it has been.  Indeed, a strange year!  While it looks like we are moving toward the other side of the pandemic with regulations being lifted, we are still faced with many stressors and crosses.   There is still fear and more will get sick.  There are many who have taken extreme blows to their livelihoods.  Some of us are struggling with loneliness from isolation, while others feel stretched stuck at home with their family without diversion or a chance to break away.  Still others have lost friends and loved ones or suffered through severe illness. 

As we continue through this journey, it is tempting to focus on the negative.  These are real issues and we don’t need to pretend they don’t exist.  We can acknowledge our pain and suffering.  But, let us not get too bogged down in this, that we fail to recognize the blessings God is at this moment pouring upon us.  Our Lord is boundless in generous grace.  He loves us into being in every moment and He is constantly offering us more graces than we are even able to accept in our weakness.  Let us look for what He has bestowed on us, not in spite of, but because of this pandemic.

The people of the Diocese of Pueblo have been filling our social media with a deep spirit of gratitude.  We hear gratitude for our livestream Masses, services, and classes.  Gratitude for the seasons and for the gift of Easter.  This grateful spirit is a true gift, but it is a choice.  To be grateful for a loving God who suffered, died and rose again, and all the gifts He gives is possible even while acknowledging and experiencing the pain and evil in the world around us.  The people of God are doing just that.

When asked how God has blessed them through the pandemic, the most popular answer was the precious gift of time with family and friends, whether in person or virtually.  For some of us, this time is an answer to a prayer.  For others, it is a wake-up call to change our usual schedule and prioritize family and relationships.  Many people expressed that this experience gave them a deep appreciation of what they have and what really matters.  To appreciate our gifts and to be content in a holy way allows us to live in a state of joy. 

How to live joyfully amidst this uncertain time?  Many of our people found the answer.  Their greatest blessing through all of this was time and desire for prayer, growing and learning about their faith.  In prayer, we can quiet ourselves and open ourselves to the abundant spiritual gifts God is pouring upon us.  In prayer, we can come to know Jesus, loving us in a deep and personal way. By growing our prayer life, we can hear the voice of God which has the power to change us forever, as He calls us to follow Him.  Deacon Dan Leetch is now offering an online video course on the 4 Levels of Happiness which can help you in this effort.  Our upcoming virtual Convocation on the Sacred Story is another way to powerfully grow your relationship with Jesus.

We have all felt the absence and hunger for the Eucharist.  It is truly a cross for many.  But we hear our people embracing this longing and experiencing joy at the thought of the reunion with the Eucharist to come.  When asked what blessings God has given, Virgilia Goodwin of St. Mary’s in Walsenburg answered, “Awareness of my need for the Eucharist!”  It may sound strange to respond to a loss with this kind of joy and gratitude, but that is the power of grace.  Virgilia chose to be grateful for this longing and to allow God to grow her in holiness through it.

God has surely given spiritual graces through this experience, but sometimes the blessings are more tangible.  Trisha Sperry, from St. Benedict’s in Florence, had a long-time prayer answered.  Her older brother had been estranged from her family since she was 16.  She had prayed for years to find him and reconnect.  She tried the usual avenues including online services.  In the midst of the lockdown, her brother reached out to her mother on Facebook.  Brother and sister were soon reunited.  Why?  The pandemic gave him time and reason to think about what mattered.  He realized he may never see his sister again and reached out.  God brought joy to this family in a way so dear to Him!  The father in the story of the prodigal son felt nothing but joy at the return of his lost son.  Trisha shares that same joy.  Our Father in Heaven revels in every soul who heard His voice call to them in the pandemic and moved more closely to Him.   

This joy and these blessings do not make the true hurt and loss of this pestilence go away, but we can choose to embrace the joy of that which can never be taken from us, the genuine, powerful, intimate love of our God, the true friendship of Jesus, who is good all the time. 

How do we do this?  How do we choose joy when we may feel weighed down by hurt, pain, or evil?  Dr. Gregory Popcak of Pastoral Solutions Institute and host of More2Life on EWTN explains,

Being joyful doesn’t mean denying our problems or pretending that things are better than they are.  It means prayerfully bringing our challenges to God, intentionally recalling all the times he has delivered us in the past and the ways he is blessing us in the present, and facing our problems knowing that with God’s grace, we can create something good even out of this.

Yes, we can see that in the Diocese of Pueblo, God is creating good out of this, in cooperation with His people.  Thank you to all who have shared these blessings and your gratitude and joy with us.  If you know someone who is struggling and suffering, please pass this on to them.  Encourage them.  Share your love and the love of Jesus with them today.