As I was driving down a main road the other day I noticed a distinctive vehicle pull out from a side street. Behind the wheel was one of the priests from my parish. I recognized the vehicle first, and then saw that it was indeed Father. But what grabbed my attention was the expression on his face: he looked happy and content. He was clearly not aware anyone was looking at him, so I have no doubt his expression was authentic. Of course, I know him and therefore I know that he is definitely joyful in his priesthood, but the fact remains that even without ‘doing’ anything other than driving his car, his countenance spoke volumes.* Upon reflection, I realized that something about his expression communicated his interior disposition which uplifted me without him even knowing anything had taken place. Of course, someone who is happy, whoever it may be, is always uplifting. But recognizing this also gave rise to insights into the power contained by our interior attitudes and demeanor, and hence, our presence, even when our encounter is seemingly indirect. Just as Jesus’ very presence elicited faith and hope in the people He met, so too, should our presence be a sign of hope, and in that way, it should glorify God.
It is not only what we do, but also who we are that should glorify God; that is, people should see Christ in us. This may feel daunting since we know we are prone to sin, but let’s be careful not to think this impossible or that it is too much of a burden to even consider. We must also acknowledge that sometimes we simply do not feel upbeat at all, especially in times of suffering. But if we are sincere and authentic, even in the worst conditions, we can glorify God through our faith and the graces of patience, bearing suffering with dignity, humbly asking for help when we need it, and of course, maintaining our hope in God. Jesus never promised us lives devoid of suffering, but when it does come, it can take on meaning if we unite our suffering to His, offering it as prayer. What Jesus does promise is victory in Heaven, (although it can also happen in certain instances during this life), and we were promised to never be alone in our suffering: He is with us, knowing full well the burden suffering places upon us. We will always need to pray for the graces to bear trial with patience and hope. But in doing so, we are in fact glorifying God by fighting the impulse to let suffering or our need for healing overpower us. Further, we are not meant to be disingenuous in pretending to be cheerful when we are feeling terrible; it is not healthy to be anything other than who we are, as we are. But one can be of ‘good cheer’ authentically, that is, to be filled with joy, even when suffering. This is because good cheer (or gladness) is a disposition of heart: it is about the joy that resides within which arises from loving the Lord and trusting in His care. It is an attitude grounded in hope which indeed glorifies God.
Who we are should be grounded in our relationship to God. It should be obvious to others that we are Christian. This does not mean that wearing a sign such as a crucifix is all we need, but when we do wear one, we should remember it is, in fact, a declaration of what we believe and of Whose we are. What definitively ‘clothes us,’ revealing that we are followers of Christ, is our behavior: it should be apparent that we are His.** This is not to say we must be perfect, (which is actually impossible), but it means we are honest, try to love our neighbor, forgive when we can, be generous as we are able, and ask humbly for forgiveness when we do wrong. The more we glorify God by our actions, the more we grow in love for Him, and therefore find interior peace as we assist in building the Kingdom. This is what it means to clothe ourselves in Christ: as we work at living the Gospel He taught, we grow in the disposition of gladness and joy within our hearts. This leads to gratitude, peace, hope, and greater love of the Lord.
Something we might think of doing is taking up the practice of praying for a ‘stranger’ encountered at some point during the day. In prayer, perhaps before going to bed, pick out a person who crossed your path that day while in a store, at work, school, church, or a service provider or delivery person who came to your home, etc., whose presence touched you or for whom you simply feel inspired to pray. There does not have to be a discernable reason for your choice. Your prayer may make a difference in their life; we simply entrust them to God. This practice can make us more attentive to how we are clothed in Christ and can increase our ability to notice others more sensitively. Being noticed raises the dignity of the ‘other’ from anonymous to brother or sister, and fosters a connection, even if just for a moment. It does not take much to offer God’s love; sometimes a smile is all we need give. Clothing ourselves in Christ, that is, living the Gospel message as His disciples, is how we share love and hope, it is how we can ‘ignite’ our own inner joy, and it also glorifies God.
May we clothe ourselves in Christ and offer that clothing to others as Jesus would have us do! May we recognize Jesus in our brothers and sisters who are as yet strangers! And may we find inner gladness and contentment in the love of God by trusting in His promises! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
* It spoke volumes not just upon the fact that he is a happy person, but his collar and black clerical shirt made it clear to anyone who observed that he is ordained. A happy priest is a great witness to the beauty of the priestly vocation and as such, his happiness is a great ‘advertisement.’ But it also reminds us that we all witnesses to our own vocation in what we do.
** This reminds me of the joke about the person with a bumper sticker on their car that said “Honk if you love Jesus.” Forgetting it was there, the driver got quite angry, making gestures and yelling at all those people who kept honking! Not a great witness, eh?!
-Also of note is that I began the thread about being clothed in Christ in my previous entry. Here are some references from the letters of St. Paul: Romans 13:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:27 and also Ephesians 5:13-17 in which St. Paul told us to cloth ourselves with spiritual armor against the attacks of the evil one.
1. My photo, a car in Rome, Italy. (Check out the model name of the VW. It is a bit of familial fun for me.)
2. Painting, St. Philip Neri. I chose St. Philip because he was known for his raucous sense of humor and for always being of good cheer even in the midst of his own hardship. In my mind, he is the patron saint of joy.
3. Icon, San Jose Flor de Jese, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. While much is unknown in the life of St. Joseph, it is clear that he was the connection between the promise made to David, son of Jesse, and Jesus. I also love how gentle Joseph appears in this icon; his gesture and his face seem to exude gentleness and reverence. You can obtain a copy of this icon in one of a variety of mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-flor-de-jese-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
4. My photo, taken in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We happened to be in Vaduz at the exact time when the cows are taken "home" from their mountain wanderings for the winter. They are adorned with flowers and large cow bells (which ring quite loudly) as they are paraded through the streets in a celebration of sorts. It is a sight to behold. But I did not chose this for the cows! Rather, it was selected for the people interacting.
5. Painting, Corporal Works of Mercy.
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Heart Speaks to Heart