As all of us are painfully aware, last Friday morning, in Newtown, Connecticut, a town in the Diocese I previously served, an unspeakable tragedy occurred and now people all across the nation and around the world are mourning the loss of so many innocents.
For me the tragedy struck in a personal way for Newtown was a community I often visited and of which I was very fond. Among those who lost their lives were members of St. Rose of Lima Parish. I ask your prayers for the people of that parish and community, especially for parents and families coping in these days just before Christmas with a grief like no other grief.
II. The Irony of “Gaudete”
How ironic it seems to celebrate Gaudete Sunday merely two days after that terrible tragedy which has saddened us all and left us asking once again why and how such a thing could ever happen. This liturgy, so near to Christmas, speaks of rejoicing yet our hearts feel sad and empty, anything but joyful as we contemplate an event that has revealed the face of evil.
So, in these circumstances, we may find ourselves asking the same question that the crowd asked St. John the Baptist so long ago: “What are we to do?” For the people who flocked to the desert and to the banks of the Jordan River were searching for a light to break forth & to light the way, in the words of Scripture, “to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet to the way of peace.”
What then are we to do to find light, truth, peace and joy, not only in the wake of this terrible tragedy in Newtown but also amid the turmoil of the times, amid the routine of daily life, amid all those things which day to day can rob us of joy, whether it’s broken relationships, difficulties in the workplace, illnesses that beset us or our loved ones, economic hardship, anger, grudges, or infidelities. Amid all this, what are we to do?
III. The Key to Joy
The answer John the Baptist gave to the people’s question, ‘what are we to do’, also applies to us in our situation, some two millennia later. John the Baptist didn’t give a long and complicated answer to the people’s question but rather a very simple and practical answer. He told people that, if they wanted to find the joy they are searching for, then they should share what they have with one another, especially the needy. He told people who handled money, especially other people’s money, to be fair, honest, and just. He told those with power to use it wisely, for the good of others, and never to succumb to greed.
John the Baptist is saying the very same thing to you and me. Whatever our vocation – marriage, priesthood, or religious life – whatever work we do or daily responsibilities that we shoulder, we should engage in these things as well as we can, we should live our lives as virtuously as we can and as lovingly as possible – not because we imagine we can pull ourselves up to heaven by our own bootstraps – as it were, earning our salvation by keeping the rules – No, we live this way because the Lord is near to us. We strive to keep the commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes because the Lord has come to visit us with His love and His grace beyond all understanding.
Yes, the Lord is near to us, very near to us, in all the realities and events of daily life – its routine, its joys, its disappointments, and yes, even in unspeakable tragedies, for he came into the world to share our humanity in all things except sin. In leading good Christian lives, living in the world with our hearts set upon the world that is to come, we discover the joy that Christ came to bring us, a joy and a peace which nothing and no one can ever take away from us.
IV. The Joy of the Holy Spirit
For the joy which Christ offers is not a mere feeling of elation or satisfaction that comes over us when we realize that things are going our way, when we find that the people around us are happy and healthy or when we sense that we are respected and making progress in life. Such joys are gifts from the Lord, they are good things, but they inevitably come and go in our lives and are not the lasting joy which the Lord seeks to give us.
Jesus, the Son of God, was born in time, He assumed our humanity, He preached the Gospel, cured the sick, He died on the Cross & rose from the grave, so that you and I might experience joy in the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who not only gives us joy but who IS joy, joy right in the heart of the Holy Trinity. The Lord is near to us in the drama of our daily lives precisely to give us this joy, the joy of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to share in His victory of sin and death. The joy of the Holy Spirit is the joy of abiding in the Lord’s presence, abiding in His love and friendship, convinced in the depth of our souls, that sin, and death, no matter how tragic or heinous, are not the last word about our human existence, about our lives, and about human history itself. In that same Holy Spirit, we are near to the grieving families in Newtown and to all those around us who need and deserve our love and compassion.
So on this Gaudete Sunday, let us indeed rejoice but not with a flimsy joy but rather with joy and a love that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. Let us rejoice in the Lord’s mercy by making a good confession in the remaining days before Christmas, and let us rejoice in seeking and finding the face of Christ in the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the suffering.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it, rejoice!”