December 17, 2017
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
St. Paul encourages us to “rejoice always”. He even says this is the will of God—to rejoice always. But how can we do this in a world where there is so much suffering, so much sadness?
By calling us to rejoice always, Paul is not saying that we will not be sad. What he is encouraging us to do is to go deeper, to go much deeper than a shallow happiness in the passing things of this world.
Paul, whether he was in prison or free, whether hungry or full, whether persecuted or praised, could rejoice always because he discovered true joy is happiness in God. That’s right—joy is rooted in happiness in God.
The prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the word of the Lord during a time when the people of Israel were returning from their exile to their homeland, which had been destroyed, their life was in ruins, says it this way: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”
Joy comes from knowing we are loved by God. Our lives are rooted in joy because God has become one of us, & one with us in Jesus. God is not distant from our lives, but with us in Jesus, in all things human. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can even rejoice in the face of death, knowing that death does not have the last word, but that everlasting life in Christ Jesus is our destiny.
Joy in the Lord is connected to two other realities: prayer and gratitude. According to St. Paul, rejoicing always only happens when we pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. These three—joy, prayer, and gratitude—are so intertwined that where one is the other two naturally follow.
Prayer opens our eyes to see the gifts of God in our life, which leads to giving thanks, and joy naturally follows. In fact, the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word meaning “the proper response to receiving a gift,” which is thanksgiving. As we pray here together, our eyes are opened to see not only the many gifts in our life, but also the gift of Jesus Christ, whose love has saved us and made us whole. The proper response to such a gift is to give thanks, which leads naturally to rejoicing.
As we notice the gifts God pours into our life each day, we give thanks to God in prayer, which naturally leads to joy.
Or when we find ourselves rejoicing, we want to talk to God in prayer about the reasons for our joy. We may even join the Blessed Virgin Mary by expressing our joy in a very joy-filled way—by singing. We sing with Mary her canticle of Joy, the Magnificat, as we give thanks to God who has done great things for us.
Joy, prayer, and gratitude cannot be separated—they go together. If at times you find yourself “joy-less,” strengthen your prayer life and develop a daily attitude of gratitude, and then joy will follow.
Joy in the Lord is also rooted in the virtue of humility. Knowing who we are, and even more so, who we are not, leads to joy.
John the Baptist teaches us to know who we are by knowing who we are not. Many of the people who came to hear John preach and to be baptized by him thought he might be the long awaited Messiah, or the most powerful prophet of all, Elijah raised from the dead, or at the very least a prophet. But to each of these questions about his identity, John would reply—that’s not who I am.
He realized his role was simply to be a voice preparing people to receive the Eternal Word of God’s love, the promised Messiah. He knew he was not the bridegroom for whom they longed, only the bridegroom’s friend. John knew he was not worthy to even perform the task of a slave for the One to Come, that he was not even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals. John knew who he was and who he was not.
He realized he was not the Savior, that he was not going to be able to save anybody. But there was one coming who could save him, One coming who would baptize not just with water, but with water and the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist teaches us that long-lasting joy, that rejoicing always, means being rooted in the earth, in the soil of humility. He understood that he could not change people, but could only invite them to change. He knew that doing the small things with love paved the way for the Source of All Love to come into people’s lives.
One reason so many people in today’s world are joy-less is because they act like they are God, thinking the world revolves around them. Another reason so many people in today’s world are without joy is because they think they are in control, or should be in control. So when things go spinning out of control, anger and despair and resentment rise up and kill any joy they might have had.
Faith sees clearly what God has done in the past, how God has been faithful to God’s promises.
Hope trusts that the God who has been faith-full to His people will persist in that faithfulness in the future. In other words, hope believes that the God who has walked with us in the past, who has accompanied us through good times and bad times, will not abandon us in the days ahead, but lead us forward.
The bridge between the past and the future, between faith and hope, is love. Realizing that God rejoices in us, we can make the sacrifices which love demands, and as we do, go out of ourselves toward others and experience real joy.
Living lives full of faith, hope, and love lead to rejoicing always as we become instruments of joy to the world. God makes His presence known through us to a world which believes God is absent.
For joy is the surest sign of the presence of God!