When Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz arrived in the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2007, many of those who met him in the early days of his ministry here came away impressed by the same thing. They were amazed at his apparently endless supply of energy, and they were enchanted by his ever-present smile.
Archbishop Kurtz appeared to one and all very happy to be here. But there was more to it than that.
He was quick to tell anyone who’d listen that his smile was a true and accurate reflection of the life God had built inside him.
He was, in fact, happy.
Happy to have been a son and brother. Happy to have been a priest, then a bishop, and now, in Louisville, an archbishop.
In an early interview shortly before his installation as Archbishop of Louisville on Aug. 15, 2007, Archbishop Kurtz said he believed that priests — happily called by God to their vocation — should make it easy for people to see that they are happy and joyful in their decision to follow Jesus Christ.
“You can’t pretend to be joyful,” he said. “People will pick up if you have a joyful personality; they will look to see if there is a sense of joy in someone’s life.
“And people who are using their gifts with a sense of purpose have joyful personalities. That’s the primary movement of vocations.”
It’s been five years since Archbishop Kurtz came to lead the local church and his energy seems undiminished and his smile is as ubiquitous as ever. And it may be that his smile, his joy, are just what’s needed to help with the “new evangelization.”
That’s what a friend of Archbishop Kurtz believes. Father Robert Barron leads the “Word on Fire” ministry, and he’s convinced that good, effective evangelization begins with joy.
Father Barron notes that, just as with our own archbishop, Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan of New York seems filled with boundless joy, too. Watching him make his way up the aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral “spreading good cheer in every direction,” Father Barron writes, “one would have to be either catatonic or positively Scroogian in temperament not to find the scene utterly delightful.”
“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,” Father Dolan said in a recent column at the Word on Fire Web site.
The Archbishop of New York — just as the Archbishop of Louisville does for local eyes — radiates the “sense of joy that comes from friendship with Christ,” Father Dolan said, and that is “the key to bringing others to the Lord.”
In his article, Father Dolan also relates the story from the opening chapter of the Gospel of John “where we heard 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 they had ‘found the Messiah.’ In that little episode,” he writes, “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.”
Joy. In the knowledge that God loves us. In the knowledge that love binds us all together.
That joy ought to put a smile on our faces.
That’s something to remember the next time we’re making our way to Mass with anything but a grin at the corners of our lips.
Faith brings happiness to Archbishop Kurtz, Archbishop Dolan, Father Barron and other leaders of the church that we know and love. Faith should bring happiness to us, too.