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Gift of joy transforms an otherwise painful moment into encounter with Christ

by | Apr 25, 2024

“Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”  Evangelii Gaudium #10

That has to be one of my favorite quotes from The Joy of the Gospel, the 2013 Apostolic Exhortation penned by Pope Francis. And it reminds me of Marlin, a radiology tech I’ve come to know over the last 20 years.

I promise I’m not making this up.

Visits to the radiology lab where Marlin works his magic are not generally sought after — except somehow, they are. Let me explain.

Marlin’s the guy who takes the X-ray of your child’s broken wrist, your husband’s broken leg, and your own broken foot. He’s the one who helps you up on the table when the pain in your spine is so bad you can’t help but emit pitiful yelps as you maneuver your battered body into the correct position for imaging.

It’s pain — sometimes excruciating — that takes you into Marlin’s domain, but from the time he calls you back to the darkened room where the X-ray machine hums, there’s a wonderful smile that lights up his countenance.

Marlin never seems to have a bad day, and if he does, you wouldn’t know it. His joy is infectious, and you can’t help but smile and joke with him, no matter how crummy you feel. He’s got that deep down jubilance and sense of wonder that animates the way he interacts with others.

I don’t know what Marlin’s religious beliefs are, but I do know this: Joy like that doesn’t come from mere human strength of character. It comes from an inner conviction. It comes from the Redeemer whose triumph over the slavery of sin, death and the grave set us free.

“Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change,” St. Paul tells us (James 1:17).

Centuries later, Pope St. Paul VI said much the same in his Apostolic Exhortation, On Christian Joy.   

“Joy always springs from a certain outlook on man and on God … The attainment of such an outlook is not just a matter of psychology. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit…

“In essence, Christian joy is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified (Gaudete in Domino).”

The heart of Jesus — His boundless love — is the well from which joy is drawn.

The interesting thing is that when we are in the midst of pain, smiling often seems impossible — unless someone first shares a smile with us. Joy lifts us out of ourselves and into the realm of God, the source of all joy.

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love,” St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Just this week, I had two visits to Marlin’s lab. (It’s complicated!)

“We’re going to have to do birthdays if this keeps up,” I joked with him. His laughter echoed through the long hallway, carrying me forth on a wave of happiness and gratitude. Gratitude that people like Marlin have a way of making the tender love of God known and felt in the most unexpected venues and just when it’s needed the most.

As I hobbled out to my car, it occurred to me that once again I had had an encounter with Christ — in the X-ray lab, of all places.

Do you worry about your ability to effectively share the Gospel and spread our faith in Jesus? There’s training for that. You can learn methods and best practices and eternal truths. There are classes and manuals and workshops galore.

But there’s no substitute for the joy that we find in Jesus and the way that joy impels us into the world with a deep sense of God’s goodness and His delight in us, frail though we are. He LOVES us and gave His life for us. He stands ready to forgive us and welcome us home, no matter how far we’ve strayed. And that’s good news for you and me and the whole world.

Let’s start living like it and spread the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

Don’t have the joy that comes from knowing Jesus yet? Contact The Soulful Catholic at [email protected] to get started on your journey.

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