What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Happiness is what we feel when everything is going well and smooth. Happiness is more dependent on our outward situations – our health, fortune, work, etc. But joy is being at peace with whatever situation we may face, whether it is a happy or sad situation. It is that assurance that though everything does not always go right, life still makes sense. It is not dependent on outward circumstances, but rather on our own relationship with God. Another way we might put it is that we have happiness BECAUSE of our situation; we have joy IN SPITE OF our situation. A person suffering from a chronic illness may understandably not feel happy, but they can still remain joyful because of the love and care of those people around them or because of their faith and trust in God. The well-known theologian Teilhard de Chardin defined joy as the most profound manifestation of the presence of God.
Advent should be a period of spiritual reflection on how the birth of Christ has impacted on our own lives today. We may have been celebrating Advent for many years, but if the true spirit of Advent does not transform us to be better persons – does not make husbands love their wives all the more and vice versa, and does not make children value what their parents have sacrificed for them, and if it does not bring us forgiveness and healing to our hurts and pains or even consider forgiveness as an option to improve our relationships – then there is no point to rejoice this Sunday, because if it is still business as usual for us. The liturgical seasons can become nothing but empty cycles without any meaning.
When horrible things happen in our lives or when unexpected and unexplainable things happen without any reason like sudden death, illness or tragic accidents, people can understandably question where God’s love fits in all of these. When I question God if he is indeed for real or not, I always find an answer in the wonderful and great things that he has done in my life in the midst of my weaknesses and sinfulness. And this is where we find the reason to rejoice in God always: that in the midst of our brokenness and sometimes feeling unworthy, God does not abandon us – in fact, he raises us up in order for us to redeem our identity and transform us anew. And because God is our Emmanuel (God is in Our Midst), we always have the best reason to rejoice! Happy Gaudete Sunday!
Edited from a reflection by Fr Cary Reniva Parish Priest St Cecilia’s, nr Portland, OR www.stceciliachurch.org