Gaudete! Gaudete! Gaudete!
The opening word of the Entrance Antiphon for this 3rd Sunday of Advent you may not hear recited. Singing of an entrance hymn takes priority. But in the title for this posting, you have read it: Rejoice! What a marvelous command. Rejoice because the birth of the Lord is near!
In Isaiah's words today we are reminded that God grants to "those whom the Lord has ransomed (that they) will meet with joy and gladness." Likewise the evangelist, St. John, also mentions the gift of joy that can fulfill a lifetime. "We are writing these things," writes John, "so that our joy may be complete." In two other sentences found in John's writings, he quotes Jesus as speaking/praying "that your joy may be complete.” So this joy is something out of the ordinary.
Hearing homilies and reading Church documents we can easily take "joy" phrases as just another repetition of what some might consider a space-filler. While serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Gorgio Bergoglio described joy as "the fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit." It is important to note that joy is a gift and that gift comes to us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Archbishop stated "Joy strengthens us in times of trials." Here note, as well, that the future Pope sees joy as an antecedent reality to being victorious in times of trail. Perhaps some among us feel their times of trial perdure for what seems to be an eternity. If they would stop and consider this thought of the Holy Father, they might be able to understand that it is joy that exists in our hearts and minds which enables us to become victorious in times of testing. What lies hidden within these words of Archbishop Bergoglio is this: if joy is strong within our normal way of being, we should see that it is like a magic potion that can change our lives.
Our times no longer have the "strengthening" traditions that were the hallmark of strong, faithful and happy believers. Somehow what was meant to be a potion to help us in our faith and in our daily lives has been lost or forgotten. In the place of genuine joy and the virtue of hope, we find an abundance of negativity, cynicism and their likes. Joy is a consolation lost by many! If, as some suggest, we believe that joy is a sign of harmony and unity, it is not surprising to hear that true joy is not a plentiful commodity in our marketplace of life.
A renewed sense of joy brings to us a sense of astonishment. Consider, please, the sense of awe and astonishment younger children at this time of the year that is so evident in their excitement and expectations of Christmas morning. Naive, yes, at least to a degree. But these younger ones are teaching us about the value of joy and happiness that seem to send weak signals to our hearts hearts unless there is some extraordinary event or moment. A dose or two of astonishment is a remedy for unhappiness. It is this very sense in the hearts and minds of truly happy people that can become a genuine gift for those suffering loneliness or frustration. What a Christmas present that would be when or where it is needed.
In our society a genuine and full sense of freedom is missing, is lacking. I am speaking of the freedom that captures a heart when there is a definite intention or activity each day to recall that each of us is a child of God. Does this arouse astonishment in the heart? It should give us a super-charged awareness of how blessed we are. It should make joy a reality and give freedom a new power in our lives independent of the usual association with political or historic moments. Have you ever encountered a joyful heart that is not at the same time a heart alive with freedom, the freedom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit? Why do these realities come about? Because, as Pope Francis and his spiritual advisor, St. Ignatius Loyola, have noted to peace as the basic component of joy.
As we draw closer to yet another celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, let us pray to be free of bitterness, independent of harmful gossip and free of the all-too-often moments of destructive criticisms of others. Let us incorporate in daily living the powerful sentiment of St. Paul: "Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor 13: 6-7). Do what you can to drive sadness from your heart. Let us, during the Advent season and surely afterwards, come to make joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a characteristic of our essence as a human being, as a child of God. Open your heart to goodness and awe: the reward to true joy! Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord!