My Johnny just has a way of making friends with everyone. I especially admire the way he sees someone sitting by themselves at an event, even adults, and will go and sit next to them and strike up a conversation. Just the other night we had someone over for the first time. When it was time to start a game, Johnny jumps into the seat next to him and declares, “I’m on his team! I don’t remember what his name is but I’m just going to call him my buddy!”
Classic Johnny. So full of joy that just spills over to all around him.
What a sweet gift that God has given to his little soul that he naturally seeks to make all feel welcome, especially those that are by themselves. What a difference a smile can make in someone's day and Johnny has a great big toothy smile!
It seems to me to be an increasingly cranky world. Smiles seem hard to come by, especially with everyone looking at their phone! Eye contact, striking up a conversation with someone who looks lonely, or simply smiling can change a person’s day - including our own.
The younger the kid, the easier it is to get them to smile. Peek a boo is enough for Therese! Yes, they can get fussy when they are tired or hungry - but in general they run around happily. So many things to do and see. A popsicle is enough to make it the best day ever.
As my kids get older, the moodiness increases. “I’m bored,” becomes a favorite thing to say. Any injustice is likely to send them into a tailspin. Little by little they lose that wonder of the world, more and more they focus on themselves, and inevitably they are unhappy more frequently. As I type, Joseph is declaring that everyone is being mean to him and he has isolated himself in the living room. For the moment, the devil has won.
This is just as true in our adult world. The more we focus on ourselves the crankier we become. The devil seeks to distract us from all that God has poured out into our life.
I was at a funeral yesterday of a man that died young, only 60. His name was Dan McCullough. Just a little over 14 months ago he was diagnosed with sarcoma. From the moment he found out, through all his treatments, until his last breath - he never lost his joy and peace. He was happily married with three adult children and grandchildren. It would seem he had every right to despair over a life cut short. Instead, serenity. In the homily which was given by his son, Fr. McCullough, he gave three reasons for this.
First, his great love of the Rosary. Each day he would take the time to withdraw from the world and it’s troubles to reflect on those events in Christ’s life that meant the most. In doing so, he walked with the Lord each day. When you spend this time with Christ, it cannot leave you unchanged.
Second, his great devotion to the Eucharist. He once remarked to a priest that he was happiest and most comfortable when receiving the Eucharist and when he was with his wife. To this insight, the priest remarked, “Perhaps that is because those are the two people that love you the most.” Yes, when we encounter that love of Christ who gave his very life for us, and experience that love in our own lives, we find ourselves equipped to love all those around us. This is not just a love reserved for those that are close to us, but a love of all we encounter. It is not a love of self - but a love of others.
Finally, Dan had a profound appreciation for the mercy of God. Oceans and oceans of mercy that He desires to pour out on all of us. Dan knew himself to be a sinner as we all are. Knowing that God forgives those sins in confession gave him a grateful heart. Jesus not only loves me, a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins. Reflecting on this cannot help but leave you grateful, and a grateful heart cannot help but lead to joy. (I know I say this alot, but it is so true!! Grateful heart=joy!)
Reflecting on the life of Christ, encountering the love of Christ in the Eucharist and loved ones, gratefulness for the great mercy of God - yes, you can see why Dan never lost his peace and joy. A life not centered on self - but on God and others - this is the recipe to true joy. A joy that takes you through the most tremendous suffering and loss. This is what Dan had.
For my own children (and for my own self that can become cranky), I will seek to instill these three things. In a world that tells you that you can only be happy when you focus on yourself, I will endeavor to show them that true joy is focusing on Christ and neighbor. We need more of that Johnny Joy in the world. A joy that cannot help but affect all those around us. A joy that cannot be shaken.
This is exactly what we read in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
You will be happy to know that Joseph is back out playing with his siblings. The devil’s victory was short lived, praise God!
Please pray for the repose of Dan McCullough’s soul, and for his family who will miss him so. JMJ