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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rejoice in the Lord always, Gaudete Sunday

 The word joy has been in the Catholic mindset quite often in recent months mainly due to the influence of Pope Francis, especially after his recently published apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Guadium (The Joy of the Gospel) Today the Church officially brings "Joy" to the forefront with the Third Sunday of Advent being called "Gaudete" or "rejoice" Sunday.  Along with Laetare (which also means rejoice) Sunday which comes in the middle of Lent we have two days placed in the middle of penitential seasons that call us to have joy, to rejoice.  On both of these Sundays the priest is asked to wear rose colored vestments to indicate this call to rejoice.

   What, though, does it mean to have joy, to rejoice.  The fact that both of these Sundays are placed in the middle of penitential seasons ought to give us a clue.  The word joy has several shades of meaning. We could say that there was joy in my home city of Boston this year when the Red Sox won the World Series. Indeed there was joy, but the joy of vicariously celebrating the triumph of one's favorite local athletes, though wonderful, is a fleeting joy. It doesn't really help anyone to eal with life's problems and challenges.

  More to the point is the joy of a married couple celebrating an anniversary after many years of living the Sacrament of Matrimony.  I was delighted to participate a few weeks ago in the surprise 40th Anniversary of my brother Michael and his wife Laureen.  Their joy was a deep one because they had endured many challenges over those 40 years including Michael's suffering a stroke last year. They have raised two beautiful daughters and now are grandparents. They were able to celebrate that their love for each other and their faith in God had sustained them through all the ups and downs that marriage presents.

  On the level of faith joy does not mean being in a state of bliss that removes us from our problems. If we read Pope Francis work closely we see that joy for Christians comes from encountering Christ and from knowing through that encounter that even though we may have to carry the cross there is live and resurrection on the other side of the cross. This is why we talk of "celebrating" the Mass because in the Eucharist that living encounter with Christ is renewed. The Mass is indeed both a sacrifice and a celebration because their cannot be joy without sacrifice--in marriage, in religious life, in the priesthood, in life in general.

   To sum this up I refer you to a meditation that I heard several years ago during Holy Week.  In this reflection it was stated that little children have fun. They play.  Even as adults we like to have fun, and fun is a good thing if we seek the right kind of fun.  But fun is not joy.  In late childhood and adolescence we are more likely to experience pleasure.  Pleasure is something wonderful, but also dangerous.  We can seek pleasure all to easily in the wrong things, or make it an end in itself.  Nonetheless it is good, but it is not joy.

  Finally when Jesus was dying on the cross He was certainly not having fun, nor was He experiencing pleasure.  His heart though was filled with joy because He was pouring out His love for us.
The Letter to the Philipians (4:4) tells us "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice"

  May your lives be filled with true joy.

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