That Your Joy May Be Complete
Reflections on 25 years as a Roman Catholic
To the Clergy, Consecrated and Lay Faithful of the Diocese of Sioux Falls
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
-G. K. Chesterton
Twenty-five years ago, on March 31, I stood before the sacred altar in Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Madison, Wisconsin and professed faith in the Roman Catholic Church. That humbling Holy Thursday I was also confirmed, offered my first confession and received my first Holy Communion. It was the turning point in an unpredictable journey that has been filled with great blessings and humble lessons, with pride challenged and mercy granted. It was a day of joy. Like the author of the poem above, a fellow convert, my world turned over and came upright, and I live. Deo gratias.
“I tell you this that my joy may be yours and that your joy may be complete,” Jesus prayerfully told the Apostles (cf. Jn. 15:11). It is my prayer for each of you. Our Lord Jesus Christ not only wished and wishes you joy, but He offers it. On my own faith journey I sought that joy in ways that did not fulfill. Thankfully, God is persistent in offering His love to us. When we own up to our distractions and seek His mercy, His love can transform us. He allowed me to exercise my freedom to stumble but also allowed me to recognize where true peace is found, in Christ alive in His Church. It has resulted in the joy that I experience as a priest and your bishop, appointed by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, who himself is a source of joy.
In this Pastoral Letter, which is in truth a personal letter, I share with you several sources of joy I have discovered in the Roman Catholic Church. Through the Catholic Church, we can discover joy, because it is precisely in and through the Church that we encounter Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, and therefore, if we wish to find Christ and the joy that He brings, we must look to the Church. This letter, then, is addressed to you the faithful active in your parish, and it is addressed to you who are struggling in faith or in your personal life from fear, from wonderment, from doubt or from confusion. It is especially addressed to you who are seeking purpose and meaning in your lives in the secular world, as did I. And it is addressed to any who have “fallen away” from the Faith yet remain searching. I pray for you and wish for you to return home. As one who has “fallen in”—in love with Christ and His Church—the joy I have found I wish for you all.
The joy I speak about is not an empty happiness that protects us from the realities of life. Such vacuous happiness is soft and fleeting; joy in Christ touches our souls and sustains. It is a joy that offers perspective in times of challenge and hope in times of trial. We all yearn for that peace that comes with resting in God. We all need encouragement to continue our journey of faith in a world full of division, violence, loneliness and mystery. We all seek the strength to be open to God’s will and God’s way every day, but especially when it is hard. The Church, one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, instituted by Christ, offers us that strength and encouragement. Through the Catholic Church we can know Christ and experience lasting joy.