Fr. Mark's Homily - December 12, 2010 3rd Advent – Waiting in Joy
As we have journey through Advent we have been looking as different virtues associated with our Christian life and the season of Advent. Today we look at the virtue of joy. The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday which is Latin for rejoice. As Christians we are called to be a people of joy. Our world today seems to be experiencing an epidemic of sadness. There are many reasons for this: people have become self-absorbed, cynical, narcissistic and isolated from family and friends. Christianity on the other hand calls for a life of charity, giving, integration and engagement with others. Christianity is relational and starts with a relationship with the Risen Christ through prayer and it means being a part of a believing community (ie. Sacraments). Following Christ is a radical reorientation of one’s life. Joy should be one of the hallmarks of a Christian’s life. In our faith we speak of the four marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. There should be a fifth added and that is Joy.
Throughout the OT we read that the People of God are to be joyful and sing joyful praises to the Lord. The prophet Nehemiah wrote, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). The Psalmist writes that in God’s presence is, “the fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). And the prophet Isaiah in our first reading declares, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness” (Is. 35:10). In the gospel of John Our Lord says, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full” (Jn. 5:11). St. Paul prays for the Christians in Rome that, “…that the God of hope may fill you with all joy and peace…”(Rom. 15:13) and he says that, “the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). St. James writes, “count is all joy when you face various trials…” (Js. 1:2). And St. Peter writes, “…rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”(1Pt. 1:8) when we are tested with trials. What we see from these Scriptures is that joy comes from God through Jesus, that Jesus wants His disciples to have His joy and that joy in not contingent on everything in our lives being great and wonderful. The joy we speak of is of supernatural origin; it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). We see that joy is connected to hope and peace that comes from God and it is a source of strength in a world where we are all going to experience to one degree or other some suffering and trials. This joy has to do with contentment, pleasure, delight and gladness that we find by being in deep union with God.
The Lord Jesus experienced this joy in his life at various stages. In Luke’s gospel we are told that he “rejoiced in the Spirit” (Lk.10:21) as He thanked His Father for revealing the deep mysteries of the kingdom to the humble and childlike. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that when facing His passion and death He experienced joy writing, “…who for the joy that was before Him endured the cross…”(Heb. 12:2). The lives of the saints attest to experiencing joy and suffering simultaneously. St. Therese of Lisieux while suffering greatly before her death lived her agony in communion with Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. She wrote, “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet His dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery but I assure you that on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it.” St. Therese was experiencing something of that same joy in the midst of her suffering. St. Catherine of Siena was shown by God the Father how joy and suffering can be present at the same time in holy souls. The Father said, “Thus, the soul is blissful and afflicted; afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbours, but blissful on account of the union and affection of charity inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, My only begotten Son who on the cross was both blissful and afflicted” We see here that this joy is a result of deep union with God. It is important to note here that our suffering can never compare to Our Lord’s in either quantity or quality but we can imitate Him by being joyful in the suffering we do experience.
The opposite of joy is bitterness and resentment. There can be no place for either in the life of a Christian. Yes, there are legitimate times that we are going to experience sorrow such as the loss of a loved, loss of job, sickness, the disloyalty of a friend, over a loved one away from the Church, when we see the condition of the world with all the suffering and injustice we can feel sorrow. There will be times of darkness that we go through in life. Jean Vanier once said, “We must learn to be strong and peaceful in darkness, not fighting it but waiting. We must learn to accept the winter as a gift from God and will discover that the snow will melt and the flowers will come up.” We also, should experience sorrow when we sin. The Scripture says, “Godly sorrow produces repentance.” If we have offended God by our sin we can be forgiven and regain our joy in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
As we have been learning, on-going deeper conversion requires us to allow the Lord to transform of thoughts, desires and our actions; the Lord’s truth begins to permeate our minds and hearts, our desires will begin to reflect the logic of these truths. In other words, we will begin to take delight in things that God delights in which are things that pertain to His kingdom such as meditating on His Word, spending time in prayer, wanting to please Him by obeying His commandments, being willing to serve Him with the gifts, talents and resources he has given us, and desiring to see the salvation of souls. These are things that God delights and takes pleasure in. As our desires become directed primarily towards God and His kingdom and not the passing things of this world, we are able to become more and more detached from the things of this world. As we put God and His kingdom first in our lives we can actually enjoy secondary, created things more fully as they are put in their proper place.
As I have stated this joy originates with God. Did you know that God rejoices over His children? The prophet Zephaniah writes, “The Lord you God is in your midst, the mighty One will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). Just as human parents rejoice in their children when they are doing well so does God our Heavenly Father; God delights is us as His children.
Today we can ask ourselves if we are experiencing this joy. If not how do I get it? Or if I have lost my joy how do I get it back. First, this joy comes from being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If we have fallen away from that relationship we need to get back on track and start spending time in prayer with the Lord each day. Secondly, we need to rejoice in God (explain). If we have lost our joy because of sin we need to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation and our joy will be restored. If we have allow the trails of life to rob us of our joy we need to once again refocus our lives on the Lord Jesus who promise us grace and strength in every situation. If we have allowed the “evil one” to steel our joy by falsely accusing us, lying to us, putting doubts in our minds about God’s love etc. then we stand on the Word of God tell him he is a liar. We need to hear the words of Isaiah, “Strengthen those weak hands, and make firm those feeble knees. Say to those who have a fearful heart. Be strong, do not fear. Hear is your God.” We are in a battle and we need to use the weapons God has given us (His Word, which is the Sword of the Spirit, the name of Jesus, the power of praise, the shield of faith to quench the fiery arrows of the evil one). The Scripture says, “Greater is He (Holy Spirit) that is in you than he (devil) that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). We often need to stop being self-absorbed, take our minds off ourselves and direct our thoughts towards God. If we feel unloved then start loving. If we feel no one cares about us start caring for someone else (principle of sowing and reaping). Start giving and serving and we will receive back a hundredfold. Begin to do these things and you will get your joy back. Hear the words of Nehemiah again, “the joy of the lord is your strength.”
If we are looking around at the world and the Church and seeing the upheaval that is taking place understand what is happening. John Paul II often spoke about a “new springtime” coming to the Church. He was speaking prophetically and what we failed to understand in that before spring comes we must go through winter. Winter is barren and harsh. As we go through the wintertime of purification we must remain peaceful, hopeful, patient and joyful. Out of this wintertime will come new life, something beautiful and radiant, as the prophet Isaiah wrote in our first reading, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom, like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing” This is a promise to each of us personally and to the Church corporately. As we enter the 3rd week of Advent knowing that, “the joy of the Lord is our strength” let us heed the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice”(Phil. 4:4)!