The following homily was delivered by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the concluding Mass of celebrations marking the centenary of the arrival of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Australia.
Where would Jesus have found a child at such short notice? As we just heard (Matthew 18:1-5), the group of disciples had asked about power and authority, and Jesus immediately called a little child to sit among them, as a model for them. But where would he have found a child so quickly?
Perhaps we need to imagine where Jesus would have been with his small band of disciples. In all likelihood, they would have been out in the public space of the village or town they were in. Like in so many locations, even today, it was in the public square, the piazza, or simply the open space around which homes and shops were built, that people gathered. It would have also been the place where the children played, under their parents’ supervision.
There, in the public square, Jesus would have readily been able to call over a kid from their play, to join in among the adults. Jesus might have known the child already: Miriam’s kid, Joachim’s boy – “Come over here for a moment.” The child herself might very well have been a bit irritated at being taken away from her friends, yet also a bit pleased that she was being called to be among the grown-ups.
And there she was, hearing Jesus tell the adults that they needed to become like her. What a treat! What did she, and the other children have, that Jesus saw in them, which would make them the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven? Perhaps we can find an answer in St Paul’s words to the Philippians. He said, “Always be joyful; I say again, be joyful.”
While dictionaries tend to define joy merely as an emotion, which is fair enough but limited, joy in faith is a work to be done. The work is the pursuit of what is good. So, joy is the characteristic of someone who is pursuing something that is good. Children have this in abundance, and St Paul wanted it – above all else – to be the principle characteristic evident in the followers of Christ. Be joyful, always. Not sometimes, but all the time.
This is why joy is fundamentally distinct from happiness. Happiness is an outcome, not an activity. Joy, on the other hand, is a disposition, a way of living. You can be sad, yet joyful; in pain, but joyful; struggling, and joyful. Joy is found in gratitude and peace, as St Paul indicated; and to pursue these is to pursue the way of joy.
This is how the gospel is truly what the word means: good news. The joy of the gospel – evangelii gaudium – are clearly the most repeated words of Pope Francis. Nearly all his major letters and teachings begin with some version of the word ‘joy’. And again, as Jesus indicates, this is most evident in children.
Don Bosco found the children and young people to whom he would dedicate his life in the exact same places that Jesus found his little child – in the public squares of Turin. The oratories he established, as a way of living and learning, were a development of this same location. Are not the four ‘locations’ that characterise the Salesian way – home, church, school and playground – extensions of the ‘place’ where Jesus found the kingdom joy modelled by children?
As you celebrate this concluding Mass of the centenary of the arrival of the Salesians in Australia, might the call of the Lord to gospel joy be the ongoing mark of your lives, and may the good of God’s little ones be the model for your actions today, tomorrow and onwards.