Today is Gaudete – Joy Sunday! The Church wants us to feel the joy which comes from a sense that Jesus is coming anew into our hearts at Christmas. What is this joy? Bill Gates said he wished everyone could have vast wealth and be famous with all they dream of to realise that these things do not bring happiness. Albert Einstein said he was suspicious of the pursuit of happiness; to be led by this particular appetite. He felt that we must follow what the heart truly hungers for: love, compassion, forgiveness and such like. “These truths”, he said, “are worth laying down your life for”. John the Baptist would agree. John is a ‘not for profit’ – prophet. His sole concern is to prepare hearts and minds to be receptive to Jesus as He comes to them. He wants to create uncluttered lives orientated to authentic values embodied in the Lord. You meet people in life who point out the problems but offer no solutions. John diagnoses the illness and offers the cure. John wants people to be compatible to the message and mercy that Jesus brings; what will make the necessary space for God in a human life. This space is created by repentance; true sorrow for our sins and a desire to allow God’s love to completely change our lives for our good and the good of others.
John is a very happy person. His joy is not transitory, short lived, or dependent on whether life is good or bad to him. It isn’t there when things go well for him, and quickly evaporates when things go wrong. John’s joy is enduring and mature. It comes from His role of doing God’s will. This is the joy of satisfaction; the greatest joy a servant of God can have. I am sure John smiled every time he felt he did God’s will and he must have smiled a lot. You see, John knew the world can only take away what it gives you; it cannot take away what God gives you. He was rich in God’s gifts and secure in his vocation, in short he was content. For John, the message was the purpose of his life. the Baptist is clear in our Gospel from St. John today, he is not the one, but he does point to Jesus Who is. A Chinese proverb says: “When someone points us to the light, only a fool continues to stare at the finger”. John is content to be God’s pointer. To connect people to Jesus and to stand back, vocation complete. A truly wonderful and humble man.
John has overflowing happiness. He preaches as outreach to people to share his joy that the Messiah is coming to them and is in their midst. The promises of old were being fulfilled. The time of waiting for salvation is at an end. Generations had hoped they would be the ones; and died waiting. Now the Messiah was here and they were the privileged generation to receive Him. The Baptist incentivises his listeners. They catch his sense of urgency. His message rings true in their ears. They know John speaks for God and his message resonates with their deepest needs. They knew they had to make changes but lacked the motivation. Now John cries “Repent! Prepare! Get ready!” and the people readily respond. They confess their sins and are baptised in the Jordan. What a relief to be unburdened and to make a fresh start with optimism in your heart.
St Paul is a great teacher of God’s joy. This is clear in our second reading from his first letter to the Thessalonians. He tells us to “Be happy at all times”. Like John the Baptist, Paul has such affinity with his vocation that he is bullet proof when it comes to God’s gift of joy. Paul wants all to feel the salvation of God. Paul’s call for Christians to be happy isn’t a request, it is a command for all times and for all circumstances. This is challenging for us. Paul sees this enduring all pervasive joy as rooted in faith. He knows God will never give us more that we can handle; we will not be overwhelmed. Paul wants us to see our crosses in life as circumstances when God’s grace is powerfully at work as it was on Calvary. My mom always said, “God fits the shoulders for the burden”. Faith gives us the vision that everything in life, good or challenging, has a purpose and can be used by God in His mission of love and the establishment of His Kingdom on Earth. Paul’s prescription for happiness is: be at peace among yourselves, support the weak, be patient, do not repay evil for evil, aim at what is best, always rejoice, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you (I Thess.5:14-18). We must also avoid: stifling the Spirit! (v.19)
The author, Leo Buscalgia tells a story from his childhood. One day his father came home to tell them his business partner had been dishonest and caused their small firm to collapse and they were now destitute. All his children were confused and upset for him. Leo’s mother immediately went out and pawned her little bit of precious jewellery and bought food for a wonderful feast for her family and her neighbours. Some observers criticised her action as foolish as the jewellery was all left of value for the future. The mother replied: “My husband was very low, the time for joy is now, not in the future! Now is when we need joy most to lift us from our state of sadness. We have faith, God will look after us”. Leo said this made such an impression upon the family that it shook them out of the paralysis of gloom. They were very moved by the confidence of their mother and her trust in God’s providence. The meal had broken the hold of despondency and they worked together as a family to recover from their setback and they succeeded. The mother’s quick action and deep faith had given them the impetus and stick ability to recover.
I was reading my book on Chinese cooking. I fished it out during the lockdown. In the preface it says that the secret of Chinese food is in the freshness of the ingredients and the quality of pre-cooking preparation. The traditional Chinese woman puts such love and care into her preparation that she knows with conviction that those who eat her meal will enjoy it. There is no doubt in her mind, the family/guests will be content. I know John the Baptist ate wild locusts and honey but he also knew the joy of preparation, but I am sure he would have loved a Chinese cooked with such love and devotion.
Fr. Gerard X