Today is a day for us to rejoice! Of course, every Sunday is a day of rejoicing because it’s the day on which we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. On this third Sunday of Advent, however, joy and rejoicing are special themes that run throughout the prayers and Bible readings appointed for today’sMass. That’s why today is traditionally called “Gaudete” Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.” And that’s also why the candle we lit on the Advent wreath today is pink, a more festive and joyful color than purple.
Joy is something that all of us long for and search for. Deep down, every one of us wants to be a joy-filled person. “God made us for joy,” said Pope John Paul II. That’s why it’s important, I think, that we give careful consideration to what today’s scripture readings suggest that we do. For instance, the first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, doesn’t tell us simply to rejoice. It tells us instead to rejoice “in the Lord.” That’s a critical distinction, because so many people today try to find joy in something other than the Lord.
Yet that’s a hopeless quest. Because while there are many things in our world that can bring us some passing happiness, true and lasting joy can only come about through a personal, life-giving relationship with the Lord. As Isaiah said, “In my God is the joy of my soul.” This means two things. First, joy is God’s gift to us when we’re in relationship with him. Second, if we want to be joyful people, we need to work on our relationship with God. Joy, then, is something we need to cultivate.
One way we can cultivate joy is to remember, on a regular basis, all the wonderful things that God has done for us. We heard Isaiah do this when he rejoiced that God had clothed him with a robe of salvation and wrapped him in a mantle of justice. And we heard Mary, the Mother of Jesus, do the same in today’s responsorial psalm, which is a selection from her Magnificat, the song she sang after Jesus was conceived in her womb. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she sang. “The Almighty has done great things for me.”
Attending Mass frequently, even daily if possible, is an excellent way we can remember the great things that God has done for us. In fact, this is one of the reasons why Jesus gave us the Mass. “Do this inmemory of me,” he said. And every time we honor that command, we recall Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension- all done out of love for us, for our salvation, and for our joy.
Praying the rosary is another excellent way we can bring to mind the great things that God has done for us, because it helps us to reflect upon the significant events in Jesus’ life, and Mary’s too. It’s also essential that we read the Bible. If you don’t do so already, I would recommend, during the week, prayerfully reading and studying the Scripture readings appointed for Sunday Mass.
A second way we can cultivate joy is by counting our blessings. This is what St. Paul tells us to do in today’s reading from I Thessalonians. “In all circumstances give thanks,” he said, “for this is the will of God.” So often, however, we go through our day taking things for granted and being bombarded with materialistic messages. We wind up envious of the things we don’t have, and ungrateful for the things we do. This can rob us of our joy. That’s why we should follow St. Paul’s advice to give thanks for anything and everything. We can give thanks for even the littlest things: A morning cup of coffee, the fact that the toilet flushed, a smile from a stranger. We can even give thanks for difficult and painful things, because they’re opportunities God gives us to exercise patience and forgiveness. If we give thanks for all things, we’ll recall how much God loves us and provides for us, and our joy will grow.
St. Paul also told us today to “pray without ceasing.” This is another way we can grow in joy. Praying without ceasing may seem like an unattainable or unrealistic goal. But ask yourself how much you pray now, and you’ll be sure to find that you can pray even more. One way to pray more is to make it a habit to pray at the beginning and the end of regular daily events. For instance, say a prayer when you first wake up. Instead of saying, “Oh no, it’s morning,” say “Oh God, it’s morning” and then ask for his blessings upon your day. Prayer also when you go to bed at night. We can also pray at the beginning and end of meals, commutes to and from our jobs, and when starting and finishing our work. We can pray when we tuck our kids in, pray when we drop them off at school, and pray when we pick them up. We can pray in the shower, in the car, and while we fold laundry and do the dishes. And many people today offer morning and evening prayers from devotional books or magazines.
The bottom line is that we joy for which we seek can only be found through a relationship with God. And anything we do to grow in that relationship will help us to grow in joy. Because with God, we’ll receive the joy of being forgiven. We’ll experience the joy of being unconditionally loved. We’ll know the joy of being promised an eternity of happiness. And we’ll find joy in the assurance that God is in control, that he walks by our side, and that he has a purpose and plan for our lives. Truly, in the words of John Paul II, “Our God is the God of joy!”
Readings for today’s Mass:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121111.cfm