“Gaudete Sunday” takes its name from the first word of its opening scripture verse, the introit from Philippians 4, which is also the Epistle for this Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus prope est. “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say it, Rejoice!... the Lord is near.” From the perspective of a sinner facing judgement, the nearness of the Lord is fearful, as in the Dies irae sequence. But from the perspective of the sinner facing final redemption, his imminent arrival is joyful. We want to get on with the necessary judgement so we can get through Purgatory and on to Heaven. We want the Lord to come quickly, because the arrival of the Lord is always our supreme good. Thus the priest and the altar clothe themselves in rose vesture to indicate the joy of the Lord’s imminent arrival.
Joy is More than a Feeling
St. Paul does not ask but commands us to be joyful, in the imperative. He does not suggest; he requires that we radiate joy. Remember that birthday party when you were pouting and your mother said “You will be happy!” St. Paul can command joy because joy is not just a feeling. As they say in Retrouvaille, a program for troubled marriages, love is not a feeling; it is a decision. I will love you, even when I don’t feel love for you! I will radiate joy, especially when I don’t feel joyful. Sound “inauthentic” or “fake?” It’s not. It’s called fidelity. Contemporary culture, following the dictates of the sexual revolution, commands us to follow our feelings. Jesus commands us to overcome our feelings and to practice goodness even and especially when we don’t feel good. The good news is that we can choose to exercise joy even when things around us make us feel sad.
Joy is a virtue: it’s a habit we form by repeatedly choosing a good behavior.
Joy is a duty: God calls his disciples to radiate confident joy in his divine providence, the unshakable conviction that “all things work for the good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Joy is a net by which we catch souls, beginning with our own. A sad Christian is a bad Christian. We can lose our own soul by grumbling, by complaining, by falling into a pervasive negativity. When we grumble we throw God’s gifts back in his face. Complaining is a kind of blasphemy. And finally, joy is possible. God does not command the impossible, and we all know people who have suffered terribly but remain serenely joyful.
Prayer Guarantees joy
How can I retain that joyful peace when so much is wrong within and without? St. Paul’s answer is clear: prayer. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. “Have no anxiety at all, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Like everyone else, I struggle with sadness, frustration and discouragement. Being a priest in a culture that marginalizes priests because it ignores God is not easy. Being a priest in a Church whose leaders are confused is confusing. Being a practicing Catholic in a Church whose leaders have been living criminally double lives is discouraging. The betrayal of our leaders drains our courage to be Catholic. We all struggle to put on a joyful face every day with our co-workers, our children, our spouses, and with that most difficult of person, the one we see in the mirror every morning. Personally, what saves me is getting my old carcass out of bed and into the chapel every morning. What can we do when everything else fails but come before God?
The Star of the New Evangelization
The great image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to my left is still with us from her feast last Wednesday. She brought joy to an entire continent at the lowest point in American history. The most highly developed civilization on the American continent, the Aztec empire, was in its death throes. When she appeared to Juan Diego Cuat-loat-at-zin in 1531, his civilization and the sacred beliefs of his ancestors were being destroyed by the Spaniards. She said to him, “Escucha, ponlo en tu corazón, Hijo mío el menor, que no es nada lo que te espantó, … no se perturbe tu rostro, tu corazón; … ¿No estoy aquí yo, que soy tu Madre?” God gave us His mother, so that we would believe in his tender love for us. By coming to Him through her, we will never flag in Christian joy. Our Lady of Guadalupe, cause of our joy, pray for us!