“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice…! Have no anxiety at all.”
These words of St. Paul may appear impossible or out of touch for our anxiety-laden hearts today. We are anxious about the possible new variants of Covid-19. We are worried about our health and the future of our loved ones. We are worried about bills to pay, personal struggles, many threats of wars, losing our personal and social freedoms, struggles in relationships, problems in the Church, etc. Yet, in the midst of all these, Holy Mother Church calls us to pause and rejoice this Gaudete Sunday. How can we be joyful in the midst of so many sources of anxiety?
St. Paul’s words to the Philippians indicate two things that can bring us inner joy in anxious moments. The first thing is to receive and believe in joy as a gift from God. The Apostle’s exhortation, “Rejoice in the Lord,” implies that our deepest joy is in the Lord and in what He is doing in our lives. It is futile to seek lasting joy in our achievements, possessions, or conditions. Jesus warned us about seeking for joy apart from Him, “In this world, you will have tribulations; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33) The Christian’s joy must be firmly grounded in the One who has overcome the world and all its anxieties and worries.
Receiving and believing in God’s gifts to us serve as the basis of our joy. We begin our journey into joy by first receiving and believing in the gift of God’s forgiveness for our sins. The Israelites rejoice because God forgives iniquities, “The Lord has removed the judgement against you.” We also enter into the joy of the Lord by receiving the gift of His loving presence with us, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness.” Even St. Paul exclaims, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.” Lastly, we have that joy that comes from His gift of a familial relationship with Him as His children, “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem.”(See Zep 3:14-18) The anxieties of life cannot prevail over the joyful hope that comes from our filial adoption.
However, if our joy is going to prevail in our anxious times, it is not enough to simply receive and believe in joy as a gift from the Lord. We must also strive to live godly lives and so bring hope and joy to others. After exhorting us to rejoice in the Lord, St. Paul adds, “Your kindness should be known to all.” God’s gifts are meant to move us to kindness and compassion for others. Our inner joy grows only when we consciously strive to live for God’s glory and for the good of others, becoming more sensitive and responsive to the greater glory of God and the needs of others.
Those who were baptized by John the Baptist asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” This question is relevant because what we choose to do greatly determines our inner joy. The Baptist responds by teaching practical ways for them to live for God and for others. They are to share what they have, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.” They are to show their trust in God by practicing honesty, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” They are to overcome greed by practicing contentment, “Be satisfied with your wages.”(See Lk 3:10-14)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, by becoming one like us, Jesus Christ has united Himself with every single human person, beginning with the unborn infant. This is why Jesus can say, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”(Mt 25:40) We share deeply in His own joy when we allow His Spirit of joy to move us to treat others with the reverence that they deserve as persons redeemed by the blood of Jesus. No matter the gifts we have received from Him, we forfeit all joy when we treat others badly and ignore their needs because we choose to live selfishly. Our neighbors have become mysterious channels of God’s joy in our lives.
Let us reflect briefly on Mary, the Cause of our joy. Imagine the many reasons why Mary could give in to anxiety. She was pregnant by the Holy Spirit before living with St. Joseph. She could be disgraced and even stoned to death for that. What would people say about such a pregnancy? Who would believe her story? What would become of her and her son? Yet she forgot herself to go and give joyful service to her relative Elizabeth. She knew her joy was clearly in the Lord and not in her status or vocation as Mother of God, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Lk 1:47) She can surely guide and help us to find our true joy in the Lord and what He is doing in our lives. When we do not find our joy in the Lord and His saving actions, we will soon begin to seek joy in worldly things and sinful acts that only frustrate our inner joy.
Our God is a God of joy who always wants to “be in our midst…, rejoice over us with gladness and renew us with His love.”(Zep 3:17) He wills that we are joyful in this world of many anxieties without seeking our joy ultimately in this world. It would be pathetic of us if we are merely waiting for a world without anxieties for us to be joyful. God wants us to be joyful now because He is constantly offering us the gifts that bring us this inner joy – forgiveness of sins, abiding presence, and a deeper relationship with Him.
He offers us all these and more in this Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. Let us receive and believe in joy as His gift and strive to communicate this same gift to others by our words, actions, and presence. This is how we can truly rejoice in the Lord always, no matter the anxieties of our times.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!