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What will bring you lasting joy?
Many things bring us temporary joy. Leaving the dentist office brings us grateful relief—knowing that we survived physically and hoping that our insurance will pay part of the bill at least. Running and finishing a marathon or race provides the pleasure and exhilaration of a physical achievement. Learning that some crazy in-laws have had to cancel their visit during the holidays can be a source of immense joy and gratitude to God.
On this Third Sunday of Advent the Church invites us to heed and make our own the words of St. Paul in the 2nd Reading. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” In today’s Responsorial Psalm we chant the Magnificat of the Blessed Mother, “My Soul rejoices in God my Savior.” Her expression of joy at the announcement of her giving birth to the Messiah echoes the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the 1st Reading, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”
For the believer, lasting joy is always found in God alone. Because worldly joys are bound by the dimension of time, they pass away like dust in the wind. But, the joy we find in God is eternal because God lives forever. A popular Mexican song written in 1868 entitled “Dios Nunca Muere” (God Never Dies) captures this sentiment. The song reflects the pain of the people of the State of Oaxaca, Mexico who had to leave for other lands to seek opportunities to better their lives. But the songwriter says, “I know that I shall later enjoy the joy and peace that in God I find”, for ‘God never dies’.
In good times or bad, follower of Christ possesses an inner joy. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus, “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him endured the Cross, heedless of its shame.” At the Last Supper Jesus promised the Apostles. “I will give you a joy that no one can take from you.” What is the source of this joy? The certainty that nothing can ever separate us from the Father’s love—not suffering, persecution, or death. After being whipped and then released from the Sanhedrin, the Apostles left “full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill treatment for the for the sake of the Name.” Christian joy remains even in the face of suffering, and for the saints it increases when they realize they are called to share more intensely in the Passion of Christ.
Leon Bloy says that “joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God”. And St. Francis thought there was something wrong with a friar who exhibited no joy. But joy, of course is meant to be shared. Just as St. John the Baptist was called to help prepare for the joyous coming of Christ, each of us who are baptized have the call to bring Good News to the other people God has placed in our lives.
When we make of our home a place fit for the presence of God by our prayer, sacrifice for one another, and mutual forgiveness, we spread the joy of the Gospel. When we open our hearts and are generous to the poor and needy, we act as messengers from God, bringing them mercy and love. For, we are most like God when we cheerfully give to another, especially to those most in need.
As we draw near to the Feast of Christmas, may we find our true and lasting joy in being like our generous God. He will then reward us with the eternal joy of heaven.