Today’s readings have a distinct theme. The Prophet Isaiah says “I rejoice heartily in the Lord. My God is the joy of my soul.” St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice always.” In the responsorial psalm, we hear Mary’s words: ‘My soul rejoices in my God.’
In case you haven’t gotten the message by now, today is Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Advent when the Church and Scripture call us to add a new dimension to our waiting and watching – the experience of joy that is the reason for the season.
Even though we are still in the midst of Advent, waiting patiently – or impatiently as the case may be – for Christmas, the Church tells us it’s not only OK to rejoice but that we must do so because the One Who has changed and will change everything is on the way!
That was Isaiah’s message to the Israelites and Paul’s command to the Thessalonians. These two Scripture writers told their communities, despite whatever was going on around them, to ‘hold on’ and to wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord.
Today, these readings give us that same message.
Now some of you may be thinking – easy for them to say. Life was simpler then. They didn’t have Christmas shopping to do in those times. They didn’t have to figure out how to pay huge electric bills as a result of burning Christmas lights for two months. They didn’t have children with Christmas lists longer than they are tall. Easy for them to say ‘rejoice!’.
They probably didn’t have to think about a relative who wouldn’t be joining the rest of the family for Christmas dinner because of a debilitating drug addiction or because they are unfairly and unjustly imprisoned. They probably didn’t have to worry about a son or daughter being killed by random gun violence while in school or by police brutality while driving the family car. They probably didn’t have to be concerned about losing the healthcare coverage they only recently were able to afford. Or to have their whole world turned upside down overnight by the fear of being dragged away and deported back to a country from which they long since fled.
Easy for them to say ‘rejoice’. They didn’t live in our crazy world -- a world where things seem to change minute by minute, making it hard just to keep up. Where we are constantly inundated with so much bad news that our reality has become distorted and it’s difficult to see a way out.
Truth be told, with what is going on all around us today, many of us, including myself, find it awfully hard to see a reason to rejoice. With our world and our country seeming to be so out of control, it’s a challenge to rejoice today, let alone always!
Yet, you might say, we should rejoice, for who among us wouldn’t appreciate more joy in our lives? Not just fleeting happiness but the real thing – a deep and abiding sense that all is well and all will be well. The question is how? How do we find and consistently sustain joy in the midst of our everyday hassles? How do we find joy in the face of human suffering? What are we to do?
What are we to do when the number of homeless and displaced people in this country and around the world continues to rise and no new, affordable options are made available? What are we to do in light of the growth of hate groups and hate crimes in our country? In the face of the growing impatience, incivility and rage in our society that stands in total opposition to our professed Christian and American values? What should we do when so many people struggle to put food on the table for their families while many with abundance simply ignore their plight? What are we to do when our children are so influenced by social media, movies and other people that they have lost all sense of morality, of right from wrong? How do we find and maintain joy in our lives when our society is so out of balance?
Well, St. Paul offers us his 5-step process. He says that we should ‘pray without ceasing.’ ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ ‘Do not quench the Spirit.’ ‘Test everything; and retain what is good.’ ‘Refrain from every kind of evil.’ Putting these practices into place will most certainly change our lives for the better.
But personal transformation is not enough. Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel, provides some more concrete actions to restore right relationship in our world. He says, ‘work on behalf of those who are poor, eliminate the structural causes of poverty’; ‘promote the integral development of all people’; ‘work for access to education, healthcare and full employment, and against the idolatry of money’; ‘uphold the dignity of every human being, privately and in the public square.’ But most of all, share the ‘Good News of God’s saving love in the person of Jesus, the Christ.’ This is not only the essence of The Good News and the basis of our Christian faith but the way we find joy and peace. This is indeed how we experience and share joy – the Joy of the Gospel.
My friends, our God is faithful and Jesus is the source of our joy. No matter what is going on around us, we are called to hold on to the joy of that vision Isaiah described. We are called to announce that that vision is being inaugurated on this earth, in this day and at this time. The vision where people are poor no longer, where those whose hearts are broken are healed; where captives and prisoners are set free from whatever is binding them, where there is a year of favor from the Lord and a day of justice and vindication by our God. We are called to bring about that vision on earth and to return to right relationship with God and with one another.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like the kingdom of heaven on earth to me.
And that is surely a reason to rejoice! Amen!
Joan F. Neal
Joan F. Neal is an experienced strategist and independent organizational development consultant who has successfully helped leaders and organizations achieve their internal and external goals.
Ms. Neal has a wide range of experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, particularly with faith-based institutions. Currently, she volunteers as the Strategic Advisor and Government Affairs Fellow at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. In addition to handling her own client base, she is a former consultant with The Reid Group and worked with them to execute a strategic pastoral planning process for the Archdiocese of New York.
Ms. Neal served as Vice President and Chief Planning Officer at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania where she oversaw key institutional planning processes and Mission Integration. Prior to that she was Executive Vice President of U.S. Operations at Catholic Relief Services, an international relief and development agency in Baltimore, Maryland. There she founded the U.S. Operations division and developed and led the strategy for the agency’s outreach to Catholics in the United States.
Before relocating to the East Coast, Ms. Neal served as Associate Director of Leadership Greater Chicago, a leadership development network; Vice President of Public Affairs at Harris Bank/Bank of Montreal and Vice President/Branch Manager at the First National Bank of Chicago, among other leadership positions in the financial services industry.
Ms. Neal serves as a member of the Boards of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, and Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She is a former member of the Boards of Jesuit Refugee Services and the National Catholic Reporter. She holds a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies as well as a Certificate in Biblical Spirituality from Catholic Theological Union (Chicago) and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Loyola University (Chicago, IL).