Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give us Joy Over Happiness

Second Sunday of Advent Year C

Is there a difference between Christian joy and the feeling of happiness? Certainly. A big difference. Happiness is no guarantee of joy, whereas one can still experience joy in the midst of sorrow. There is a story told about St. Francis. One day, one of the brothers asked St. Francis: What is perfect joy? St. Francis gave this answer: Once, I thought that perfect joy meant that all the kings and queens of Europe would be converted to Christ and live exemplary good Christian lives. I thought that was perfect joy. But now I know that if this really happened, it would still not be perfect joy. Then, I thought that if the Great Caliph and all the Mohammedans accept Christ and were baptized, then I would experience perfect joy. But now I realize that this was not so. There was also a time when I had wished that all the Christians of the world joined my congregation and became Fransiscans. I thought that would be perfect joy. But now I realize that that too will not be perfect joy. Finally, I realize the answer. I can imagine one day coming home to one of my religious houses, tired, hungry, thirsty, hoping to find shelter and welcome among my brothers. But instead of welcome, they do not recognize me and I’m thrown out of the house. If I can remain joyful throughout this experience without complaining to God or curse my brothers, then that would be perfect joy!!

This then is perfect joy. It is the knowledge that God “who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.” It is a joy based on what God can do rather than what we can achieve. This is the joy of the apostles and the saints, even when they experienced persecution, rejection and met their death at the hands of their enemies. These were definitely not happy occasions. Happiness and sorrow are feelings. Feelings are always beyond our control. But Christian joy is a choice. It is decision based on faith and hope. Christian joy is based on the knowledge that God will not abandon us, no matter what happens. God did not promise us an easy life, free from sorrows, pain, illness, obstacles, problems or even death. But God promised us that he will be with us throughout all these experiences. And God is faithful to what he has promised. In today’s gospel reading, we read the fulfillment of one such prophecy. St. Luke quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah: “All mankind shall see the salvation of God.” It is Jesus who is the salvation of God. It is Jesus who is our salvation, promised from of old. He is the source of our joy and our hope.

With such a joy, we should no longer live lives as if we are defeated. We should no longer live as if we are victims of tragedy. Yes, we may have undergone failure. Yes, we may have experienced pain, disappointment and encountered many problems. But our joy lies in knowing that God has already won the victory for us. We may not see the signs of God’s victory at this point of time but it is there. This is God’s promise. God will be faithful to it. We may experience all these obstacles, but nothing can take away the love of God for each and everyone of us.

What must we do to experience this joy? We must prepare a way for the Lord. In other words, we must experience conversion in our lives. We must reject sin and our old selfish ways. My prayer for you and our prayer for each other must be like the prayer of St. Paul in the second reading. He prays that “your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.”

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