1. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This weekend we celebrate Gaudate Sunday, that is, You, Rejoice. Liturgically, the reason for rejoicing is that the Penitential Season of Advent is over half over and the feast of Christmas is nearly here. The priests wear rose-colored vestments. The Rose color is obtained more or less by mixing the penitential color of Purple with the Feast Color of White.
2. Scripturally speaking, rejoicing is a source of strength. Although through fasting and prayer, we can obtain many blessings, in truth the purpose of Christianity is not to make fasting and penance our aim. The purpose of fasting is so that we can feast better. The purpose of penance is so that we may celebrate more. The purpose of carrying our cross and accepting a share in the passion of Christ is not so that we will suffer bitterly, but so that we may rejoice in sharing His resurrection. After all, Jesus did not stay in the tomb, but He rose and ascended into heaven. When He returns, it will not be to suffer and die, but to reign gloriously forever.
3. Because we know how things are really going to end: with resurrection and with glory, we are able to rejoice always. Even in the midst of sorrow, a Christian should carry within them a joy which cannot be taken away.
4. Last Monday, one of my friends made her vows as a Missionary of Charity (that is Mother Teresa’s group). There were eight young women making their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Present at the Mass were around 50 other sisters of the same group. Some were novices, and others fully professed nuns with years of service. What was striking about all of them was their joy. They were all so happy and smiling. Maybe they were happy because their sisters in the order were fulfilling their dream of making a serious commitment of their whole lives to Jesus Christ. Possibly, being a nun just made them all that happy. I am not sure, but I know that I have never been around so many joyful women at the same time.
5. After the Mass in which they made their commitment to Jesus Christ as a religious, they retired to their convent where they received their assignments. Within the week, each newly professed sister would be leaving the convent in San Francisco to serve the poorest of the poor in another city. I was with the families downstairs. From upstairs where the sisters were, we could hear them stomping their feet and shouting for joy at receiving their new assignments. My friend came down and breathlessly announced that she was being sent to Haiti. Now Haiti is a beautiful country, but it is beset by great suffering. Sister Esther would be going into the midst of all that. Yet her face was radiant as she announced it to her family. All the other nuns who announced their assignments were similarly happy.
6. What gave them the power to be joyful instead of fearful? It was their love of Jesus. Because of their relationship with Him, they could be just as joyful being sent to Haiti as they were getting to see their family the first time in five years.
7. That same joy is available to us. Some of you may be called to religious life, but the majority of us are not. (A diocesan priest makes promises of obedience and celibate chastity, but we do not make make vows to enter religious communities, our community is the parish and the local presbyterate). Saint Paul tells us: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. It must therefore be possible to do these, and they are connected. If every facet of our life is saturated with prayer and gratitude, then joy will be ours even in the midst of problems.
8. I once visited a man in the hospital who had a heart attack. He and his wife were saying how grateful they were that the EMT's had arrived so soon and taken such good care of him. And how they were thankful that they were able to be in a hospital that could care for him correctly. A few days later, he had another heart attack in the hospital. I visited again. And once again this couple could do nothing but rejoice and thank God that the man had his second heart attack in the hospital, nears the nurses and doctors. Their grateful and prayerful spirits exuded joy.
9. How does one pray without ceasing? It certainly does not mean praying vocal prayers the whole time, although those are necessary. The first step of praying without ceasing is to realize that God is present in every situation. We may think that there is a part of our lives that God is not in, or a part of our house that God is not present, but He is there. Even when we sin, God is right there. He does not approve, but He is present. The Lord is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
10. The second step is to absolutely believe that through our baptism we are the beloved children of God the Father. The Father might not approve of everything we do, but He loves us and sent His Son Jesus to save us.
11. The third step is to focus our hope on the resurrection at the end of the world. All these things in the world which we like to pay attention to may be beautiful, and some may even be holy. But this world will pass away.
12. If we love Jesus in every thought, word, and action. If we do that, we will pray always. And the joy of loving Jesus will fill us to overflowing and it will not end.