Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rejoice and be Glad!

A Homily for All Saints Day: 1st November

Happy are you … Blessed are you … Rejoice … Be joyful. Seems strange and inappropriate to say these words to one who is poor, or someone down and out, or when one is mourning for the loss of a loved one. And yet Jesus, doesn’t pause for a moment to exclaim … happy are you … blessed are you … rejoice … be joyful.

What is this joy that Jesus speaks of? Is joy something that you get when your needs and wants are fulfilled? Is this joy something that we can experience now or only in the next life, after we die? Can there be joy in the midst of troubles, sorrow, pain and suffering?

In the eyes of the world, sorrow and joy are two separate matters. People tend to say: “When you are glad, you cannot be sad, and when you are sad, you cannot be glad.” In fact, our contemporary society does everything possible to keep sadness and gladness separated. We try to hide and forget about death, illness, human brokenness.

But the beatitudes, Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, gives us an entirely different picture. Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow. His life, death and resurrection alone is proof of this reality. The cross is a symbol of death and of life, of suffering and of joy, of defeat and of victory. In the cross, both joy and sorrow can exist together. That isn’t easy to understand, but when we think about some of our life experiences, such as being present at the birth of a child or at the death of a friend, great sorrow and great joy are often seen to be parts of the same experience. Often we discover the joy in the midst of the sorrow.

And so we come to understand that true joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. In other words, joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away. We are, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, the beloved children of God – this is our true identity – this is the source of our joy. To be a saint means to be joyful even in the midst of trials and sufferings.

When does this joy happen? The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. True, it will find its fullness in heaven; but for all that it is a present reality to be enjoyed here and now.

Nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.

Throughout the year, we celebrate feast days in honour of the saints. They are the ‘name’ (famous) saints, the ‘big’ saints like St. Joseph, the Apostles, the martyrs. Today, we celebrate the unnamed saints, the ‘little’ saints. They are the people who quietly tried to lead good, Christian lives, and who in God’s plan never had the occasion to do anything really spectacular or extraordinary. These are the saints who look just like you and I.

Today in this Mass, we should praise and thank God for the little saints, past and present – even the saints that are present in our midst. Each of you have a baptism name, a name of a saint. Today is everyone’s feast day. Happy Feast Day to one and all of you!

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