At the deepest level, joy—not pleasure, not something fleeting, but deep, lasting, profound happiness—is God’s will and plan for each of us. It is not the result of good fortune for the lucky few. It is our birthright. But as we all know well, joy is not automatic. It is not what we all experience. Joy is also a decision. We have to make a very conscious and intentional decision, not once, but every day, to notice joy, to experience it, to feel it, and to celebrate it.
This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, has long been known in the Church as Gaudete(“Rejoice”) Sunday, which comes from a line from Philippians that is used as part of the opening rite for the day’s Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). All through the readings for this Sunday is a command to rejoice, to experience and show our joy. The first reading invites us to rejoice in the Lord’s commitment to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the captive. The Psalm holds up the example of Mary, who rejoiced because of the great things God had done for her. The second reading tells us to rejoice always, to be joyful and grateful in all circumstances.
If you have been in church recently, and particularly if you were able to join us at St. Joseph or St. Luke for Mass last weekend, then you have probably heard of Pope Francis’s letter, The Joy of the Gospel. This document has had a profound impact on many in the Church, including the pastoral service team, and is one of the main influences shaping what we are trying to do here in our community. It is precisely the joy of the Gospel that we are all being asked to share with others.
But it occurs to me that this phrase--the joy of the Gospel—is also not something automatic, not something that everyone in the Church has experienced. Many Christians may never have felt joy in following Christ. Many may not know “from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly” (The Joy of the Gospel, #266).
And even those who have known true joy in following Christ need to decide to experience it again and again. The joy of the Gospel is a decision. We have to make the very conscious and intentional decision to nurture our relationship with Christ, to notice and celebrate and share the beauty and meaning we find in knowing him.
Whether we have known the joy of Christ, and thus are called to prepare for the coming of the Lord by renewing and deepening and sharing that joy; or whether we have yet to know the joy of Christ, and thus are called to prepare for the coming of the Lord by opening ourselves to that possibility; none of us has to achieve that movement by ourselves. We can put ourselves in a frame of mind to receive the Good News by noticing joy all around us. And then we can put our trust in God to do the rest: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (1 Thes. 5:24).
Take Your Next Step: Decide to be joyful today, even for one moment. Fill in the blank for yourself: “God has been so good to me by ______.” Share your joy with someone else.