In 2000, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, our Pope Emeritus, made the following comment: “The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory… the inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice — all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.”
Today on Gaudete Sunday, the Church calls us to rejoice, and that’s the reason for the rose-coloured vestments and Advent candle.
The reason the Church is inviting us to rejoice is because Christmas is coming closer as we have reached the halfway point of Advent. But also the Church calls us to rejoice because we have much to be joyful about.
In just ten days, we will celebrate once again the coming into human history of our Lord and Saviour, who is himself the source of all Christian joy.
What is Christian Joy?
To understand what Christian joy is we have to separate it from the many false and empty joys that surround us, the tinsel-like joys of commercials and advertisements. It is sad but true that many people look for joy in all the wrong places. Blessed Pope Paul VI noted that “Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual.” (Gaudete in Domino)
Christian joy begins with remembering the first principle of who we are.
St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, put it so well in his spiritual exercises: each person was willed into being by God so that each could praise, reverence and serve God.
It’s only this that brings us real joy. All the other good things of life and this world are second principles; important, wonderful, good, but not the first principle of life.
It was so that we could know and understand this first principle, and live it, that Jesus came to earth. And not just that we could be taught about it but that we could see Him live it, in His life and keep living it even when it hurt and even when it lead to his death.
That’s why He is our joy – and our wisdom and our hope. He is the source for us of a joy strong enough to shine out even in the middle of life’s hardest trials. That is the unique characteristic of Christian joy. It can exist together with trials and sufferings. In fact, trials and sufferings can bring us closer to Christ, because in them we can learn to let go of all of our God-substitutes and direct our deep desire for love and happiness toward the One who alone can fulfill it. (Christopher West) Trials and sufferings can even be a source of joy.
To Show Us God’s Love
The Son of God also “became flesh” was “so that thus we might know God’s love” (Catechism #458).
God didn’t have to save the human race after its rebellion. He could have said that was a bad rough draft and started his creation all over again.
But God didn’t because He is love and love wouldn’t let him.
God’s love is like the sun: it just keeps on shining. Even when clouds obscure it, it is still shining above them. God can’t help himself. God can do nothing other than love and keep on loving. God’s love is unstoppable.
Throughout our own sins and whatever suffering comes to us, God’s love towards us never stops or wanes.
This is another reason for our joy, because the deepest desire of the human heart is to be thoroughly known and thoroughly loved.
And only God knows us through and through, all the good and all the bad. The best of human love is an image, a tasting of God’s immense love.
And by coming to earth as our Saviour, the Son of God shows that even while knowing us so well, he is still willing to sacrifice himself to come and save us. That’s how unhesitating and complete is God’s love for us.
What a relief to us! What a cause for rejoicing!
This is what Isaiah expressed so beautifully in today’s First Reading:
God’s love for us is the “glad tidings to the poor.” It is what “heals the brokenhearted.” It is what gives “liberty to the captives” and “releases the prisoners” enslaved by sin and self-doubt.
This is what Christmas is really about: The Son of God become one of us, to save us, to prove God’s love for us, to teach us the art of real living, and to share his very life with us.
And those are the reasons for Christian joy.
But they will not fill our hearts with joy if we don’t give them a chance to do so.
In the ten days remaining before Christmas, let’s make sure we do give them a chance, by spending some more time each day alone with God in prayer; by going to Mass during the week; by time spent in Eucharistic adoration; by saying the Rosary.
St Paul wrote in today’s Second Reading, “Rejoice always,” and in the very next line he wrote, “Pray without ceasing.”
Prayer allows joy to blossom in our hearts. Our time spent with the Lord in prayer also gives joy to his heart, which has loved us so much and yet is so little loved in return.
Let us not become so busy that we don’t take time to pray. Advent is so short. It’s almost over. It’s not like the long haul of Lent. Don’t miss an opportunity to fall in love with God again and to receive the real and lasting joy that can only come from Him.