Finding Joy in Times of Sadness

1370004Today we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday” – a day of rejoicing in the season of Advent. We hear it in the words of the scriptures, we hear it in the lyrics of the songs, we see it in the rose color of the vestments and the Advent candle. This third Sunday of Advent is described as the Church’s way of “further heightening our expectations as we draw ever nearer to the celebration of Christmas.” (US Council of Catholic Bishops)

But, frankly, it’s hard to feel joyful when we consider all of the evil and challenging events happening in our world, especially when we think about the senseless killings of innocent school children and adults in Connecticut this week.

How do we get past such a tragic event and find joy in this season of preparation? How do we get past these feelings of sadness and back to the feelings of happiness and joy we usually experience in this season of Advent and Christmas? The Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, makes these important points from his Facebook page today:

  1. He reminds us that joy is deeper than happiness
  2. While happiness may be fleeting, joy is permanent
  3. Joy is about a relationship – a relationship with God
  4. Joy can carry us through difficult times, and even tragedy, because it is rooted in God’s love

These are great thoughts and can be helpful as we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

What should we do?

We hear the question, “What should we do?” asked several times in today’s Gospel. Different groups are coming to John to be baptized. He instructs them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Savior. Each group asks John, as baptized people, what they should do to “produce good fruits” in their lives. He tells them:

  • Develop a generous heart. John tells the first group to be generous with what they have; to share with those who have nothing (share your coat, share your food, share whatever you possess). This is similar to what our parish is experiencing as we participate in our Christmas Outreach to support the families of Fertile, Missouri.
  • Develop a heart of justice. John tells the tax collectors to not take more than they deserve. He instructs them to do what is expected in their work, but do no more that would harm others.
  • Develop a heart of peace and love. John instructs the Roman Soldiers to not lie and to not steal; to be satisfied with what God has given them

I think John’s words are still speaking to us today. We, too, are called to develop hearts that are generous, just, peaceful and loving. This is the type of heart that will bring us closer to God and will help us experience joy in our lives.

I encourage you to take some time in prayer this week to reflect on the words of the Gospel. How do we (individually and collectively) help bring peace and joy into our world? How do we rise above the evil that touches our lives? How do we help others know the good news of a loving, merciful God?

Let’s take some time to practice this now.

I invite you to close your eyes and envision standing with John on the banks of the River Jordan. Hear the water flowing. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, the coolness of the desert breeze. Listen to John as he proclaims the good news of the Lord. Then, turn to John, as a person who has been baptized and redeemed, and ask him:

What should I do?
What should I do to produce good fruit in my life?

And then, listen … just listen.

No deacon or preacher has to tell you the answer. Just listen to what God has already written on your heart.

I encourage you to practice this several times this week. Ask … and listen.

Extraordinary

As I was preparing today’s homily I recalled a song I wrote some years ago titled “Extraordinary.” The first verse of the song goes like this:

Live an ordinary life, but focus it on Christ
and share extraordinary grace
that comes from God above. His most
abundant love makes life extraordinary.

John didn’t tell the people that they had to do anything extraordinary to be a follower of Christ. And I suspect he will tell us the same thing if we speak to him in prayer.

Certainly, we all do some extraordinary things in our lives, and we are called to be the best version of ourselves. But, the truth be told, most of us (by definition) are “ordinary.” And that’s OK. Being ordinary is not a bad thing. But, being ordinary and focusing our lives on Christ is a great thing – an extraordinary thing.

To paraphrase Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: We are not called to do great (extraordinary) things, but to do small (ordinary) things with great love.

Think about how we will soon experience Christ in the Eucharist. We will bring our ordinary gifts of bread and wine to the altar. And something extraordinary will happen there: through the prayer and blessings of the priest, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. We will encounter Christ in a very special way. That encounter will help give us the strength, the grace, to be (extraordinary) followers of Christ in our (ordinary) lives. We will grow in relationship with God and can live a life of joy.

Rejoice!

As you are taking time to pray this week, should you need additional comfort and confidence in discerning how to produce abundant spiritual fruit for yourself and for others, I recommend reflecting on our Second Reading today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
(Keep your focus on God)

Your kindness should be known to all.
(Be generous, just, peaceful and loving)

The Lord in near.
(He is near in our happiness, in our sadness – in our joy)

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and
petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God.
(Build that God-centered relationship. Ask … and listen)

And if we pray in this way, we will share in the beautiful blessing that Paul uses to close his letter:

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I pray you will continue to experience a joyful Advent and a blessed Christmas!

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

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