On January 14, the renowned Catholic author and philosophy professor Alice von Hildebrand was called by God from this world to Himself. She was just weeks short of her 99th birthday. The widow of the brilliant Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, Alice was an inspirational presence on EWTN where she spoke as plainly and as convincingly as Mother Angelica did about the true meaning of being a disciple of Christ in His Church. Watching video from the EWTN archive of the two of them discussing how to be faithful to the Lord amidst the challenges of modern life is a delight. It was my privilege to be a friend of Alice, and when she asked me to celebrate her Funeral Mass (in the Extraordinary Form) at her parish church, which was also my parish growing up, I was moved by this sign of friendship. Always addressing me as “Dear Father,” she had a tremendous love for those our Lord has set apart to feed his sheep with the Word of God and the sacraments.
Preparing the funeral homily was much easier than usual since Alice left behind a marvelous body of work touching upon a wide range of topics. Friends also wrote down and shared things she said that were striking and beautiful. For instance, in February 2016, Alice reflected on joy in this way:
Today it occurred to me that joy is the most important apostolate. Because so many people have no joy at all in their lives. You can’t have joy without peace. And you can’t have peace without being obedient to God’s laws. This apostolate of joy should be so strong that people feel it in your presence, without any words from you. Then they will come to you and ask, where do you get that? How do I get that?
Joy is the fruit of the peace we experience in obeying God’s law. This truth should be a constant subject of our meditation. Joy is not found in trying to escape from God’s law; it is the gift we receive through our observance of His plan for mankind. God’s law is not an unwelcome imposition that frustrates our search for happiness by denying us what we want. Rather, it is the architectural plan which, if followed, permits us to build our lives properly and securely on the solid rock of truth. Joy is inevitable when we live as we are supposed to live—in harmony with our nature, fulfilling our duties to God and to our fellow man.
And joy is attractive and inspiring. Think about all the joy-filled people you have known. I doubt that any were selfish, self-centered, or arrogant. Joy-filled people radiate a peace that comes from the depths of the soul. With joyful people, you can tell the book by looking at the cover. What you see is what you get. Cardinal Newman spoke about this joy in a prayer he wrote, one which is recited daily by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity after Mass:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go. Flood my soul with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine. It will be you, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me. Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You. Amen.
The apostolate of joy is something we can all do, or rather, that God will do through us when we embrace His law with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength.