Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2005
Open heart leads to joy
Priest urges school staff to seek God's presence everywhere
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Seeing God's presence in everything leads us to experience joy. That we rarely do so struck Father Stefano Penna during his grandfather's funeral four years ago in Saskatchewan.
His younger cousins could not understand Penna's joy in celebrating his grandfather's life. They thought he was drunk.
"We were joyful in a free-ringing mirth that came from delight in reflecting on what happened in my grandfather's life and the discovery that this family was still alive. It was deep joy," he said.
Speaking to some 3,000 staff and teachers of Edmonton Catholic Schools Feb. 2 at the district's annual Faith Development Day, Penna says that to open our schools and our hearts to Christ is not to pursue happiness, but to experience pure joy.
"In the mosaic that makes up Catholic education - every school, board office and parish - every morning we open wide the doors to Christ, who comes in with muddy boots, running noses and rubbing sleep from his eyes," said Penna, assistant professor of theology and religious education at St. Joseph's College at the U of A.
"He is in the maintenance workers, secretaries, teaching assistants and principals . . . to present our hearts and reflect upon how we are open doors to Christ."
Teaching young adults at St. Joseph's College who themselves want to become Catholic educators gives Penna a sense of joy. It is the manifestation of God in us spreading his word, he said.
"Catholics are quite comfortable with the (Scripture) passage that says we make up in our body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. It is a wonderful way for people to interpret the burdens they have of sharing in the redemption of the world today through Christ's suffering.
"The Apostles are telling us that we make up in our joy what is still lacking in the joy of the Church of Christ."
Joy, not happiness
Happiness is commonly associated with joy - an association Penna thinks is inaccurate and misleading.
"Happiness means to happen upon; to trip over something. Joy is a whole different kind of experience. It is a way of being. It isn't dependent upon what happens. It's opening the doors and seeing God's gift," he said.
"The one way to guarantee not having happiness is to pursue it."
Penna believes people filled with the Holy Spirit should sing out and let the world know. "You can't argue with joy," he said. "Joy is attractive."
Christians need to stop and consider if they are people of joy. Penna likened joy to the raw enthusiasm of a young couple who have just fallen in love, or the smile on the face of a priest who has just been ordained.
"People think, 'Wow, I was there once. What happened?'"
To look back and see ourselves starting out with such want is to become uncomfortable with our present lives. We begin to recognize how angry we have become, he said.
"We go to board meetings and listen to the same old stuff. Another kid with a smart alec remark . . . the telephone ringing. Modern life is a thousand absent fathers, bills, duties, harsh words, gangs and mortgages. This kind of modern existence is why we are so nice to each other on roads and so patient with each other in department store lines," he quipped.
Penna observed that we are like the tree in his mother's backyard. An arborist told her the tree was not healthy because it had too many branches shooting out in every direction. She refuses to kill it because the tree is her.
"She said there are too many branches in her life; too much stuff. But she has to have hope that the tree will survive," he said. "Too many branches drawing out the sap. We are tired. We look for releases from that tiredness and that is anger."
It is Christ who comes into our hearts and fills us with joy, calling us to live in faith, Penna said. Faith in Jesus is to live an ethical and moral life.
"Christ knows our anger and our tiredness. He is the pruner of our branches and the vine - the lifeblood that pours into us," he said.
Penna told the crowd that as Catholic educators, support staff or maintenance workers they should interpret with gratitude what they experience daily.
"We get paid to walk through the door into the arms of Christ so that we can be the arms of Christ for all of those who walk into our lives," he said.
"That is cause for joy."
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