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Jesus-Optimist

When we reflect on our Weekend experience, we fondly recall the moments of joy and fun amid the discovery and realization of the Christian Vision. Deep interior experiences are like that: they open us up to joy and joy transforms us at least temporarily—long enough to make us feel optimistic about living the Christian life and sharing it with others.

Likewise, Jesus was an optimist who liked moments of joy. By comparison with John the Baptist who did not drink wine and often went without food, Jesus was seen by His adversaries as a man who feasted and drank. Mt 11: 18,19. When a disciple of John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples fast as we do and as the Pharisees do,” Jesus answered: “Should the bridegroom’s friends mourn and go without food while He is with them.” Mt 9:14,15. Evidently being with Jesus was like being guests at a wedding party. We need Jesus as our model of an optimist, because the human tendency is to take our optimism and push it to an extreme, causing it to be an obstacle to spiritual progress.

Human Way. We can take the joy of our spiritual experiences as being the norm for the spiritual life. We may look upon pain as a great spiritual evil to be avoided. To have nothing interfere with our joy, we may try to avoid all conflict, even sweeping the dirt under the rug. We may become procrastinators, putting off what is unpleasant. Instead of completing what we have already planned, we may go off making more plans. Of course, when things don’t work out, we may become tense and irritable. Or we may engage in some form of escapism.

Jesus’ Way. The basis for Jesus’ optimism was His deep faith that “the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” Mt 4:17. He had the vision to see that although the Kingdom was the promise of joy in the future, the only way that the future joy would come about was to accept the problems and pains of the present. The troubles of the present moment are the signs and preparation for the joyful future planned by God. That is realistic optimism and Jesus expressed it with various illustrations. “I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth. Unless I die I will be alone—a single seed. But my death will produce…a plentiful harvest of new lives.” Jn 12:24. A mother endures great labor pains before she has the joy of bringing new life into the world. Jn 16:21.Jesus was a realistic optimist!

Remedies. First, if we find ourselves compulsively seeking joy in our spiritual life, we must face the reality that the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit is at the heart of our faith, and therefore must be at the center of our spirituality. His life mirrors our life. That’s reality. We cannot enter deeply into Jesus’ life or even our own life unless we understand and fully embrace the Paschal mystery in Jesus’ life and how that mystery works in our life to heal our woundedness.

Second, we must realize that the spiritual life is not a superficial way of life. In our exuberance we may think that we are experiencing spiritual joys in scripture reading, good liturgy or the camaraderie of Christian community. The reality is that spiritual joys to be the work of the Holy Spirit must be integral parts of a faith experience. We have to recognize and work on the Spirit’s invitations to greater faith, hope and charity.

Third, we must act against the grain. We must grow in a disciplined life. The discipline of giving the spiritual life top priority. The discipline of loving God and others even when we are not in the mood. The discipline of staying focused. The discipline of always being open to explore new understandings of God, Jesus, the Risen Christ, and Spirit as well as new insights into our own compulsions and weaknesses.