Jan 17, 2012
One of the great icons in the Catholic Church today is Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York making his way up the aisle to commence Sunday Mass at St.Patrick’s Cathedral. While the congregation belts out the opening hymn, the good Archbishop thumps his episcopal crozier on the ground,beams at all and sundry, kisses babies, embraces young and old, calls out the names of friends he recognizes and generally speaking,spreads good cheer in every direction. One would have to be either catatonic or positively Scroogian in temperament not to find the scene utterly delightful.
And this is far more than effective PR. In point of fact, it’s one of the reasons why Timothy Dolan is,arguably, the most persuasive Catholic evangelist in the country today. The Archbishop of New York is a remarkably intelligent man (his principle academic interest being American Catholic Church history) and he brings his significant gifts of mind to whatever he says and does; but he also knows that radiating a sense of the joy that comes from friendship with Christ is the key to bringing others to the Lord.
In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, we hear about two young men who, at the prompting of the Lord, come and stay with Jesus. So thrilled are they by this encounter that they immediately begin to announce to anyone who would listen that they had “found the Messiah.” In that little episode, we see the fundamental rhythm of effective evangelization: they meet Jesus,they find the experience life-enhancing, they want to tell everyone about it. The very best bearers of the Gospel are those whose joy in Christ is contagious.
The second part of Thomas Aquinas’s masterpiece the “Summa Theologiae” deals with ethics, the question of how precisely we ought to live. It is most instructive to note that this massive treatment of Christian morality begins with joy, what Thomas called beatitudo. Ethics is all about what makes us happy.