There’s a word we hear in the prayers
and in the readings for Mass today:
“Rejoice.” We hear it a lot this time of year.
Sometimes we equate “joy” with being happy.
While they often go together, they aren’t the same.
The way we often figure this out
is when what makes us happy is taken away.
I remember being at the bedside
of one of our parishioners this year,
as she peacefully died.
She and her family were praying.
And when she passed, her husband of so many years,
who didn’t want to let her go,
yet knowing where she was headed;
still holding her hand—and with eyes brimming with tears,
said, and I quote: “I’m broken-hearted; but I’m joyful.”
And there it is.
“Happiness,” at any given moment,
we may or may not have.
But joy—true joy—isn’t a mood,
and isn’t a measure of the things we have.
True joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We all have the Gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism.
But we can easily take it for granted,
until everything else is at risk.
In the first reading,
Isaiah describes himself as anointed with the Spirit
to heal the broken-hearted
and to liberate those in bondage;
on one level, it’s about
his message to God’s People in his time;
but it’s even more about Jesus—
who liberates as no else can.
One of the most powerful ways to experience
that is in the sacrament of confession.
We’ll have our Penance Service
at St. Mary, this Tuesday, at 7 pm.
There’s no defeat or shame
like feeling bound up in a habit of sin.
And there’s no liberation
like having sins forgiven and gone!
And they really are taken away just that fast:
as fast as the priest speaks the words of absolution!
There are many things that are hard being a priest,
But this isn’t one of them.
This is one of the best things I get to do.
Passing out gold like St. Nicholas did doesn’t hold a candle
to assisting Jesus Christ as he takes away sin.
I get the privilege of witnessing that;
Some people will say they feel a tremendous freedom;
But even if the person gives no sign at all,
I’m telling you, sometimes I can just tell
That a tremendous weight has been lifted.
And I’m telling you:
guys, if you’re thinking about being a priest—
there is no Gift you’ll ever give anyone
anywhere as awesome as that.
There’ll be six priests here Tuesday night
giving out pure gold—for free!
Forgiveness! Come and get some!
This joy, that comes from the Holy Spirit,
Not only sustains in times of trouble,
But also makes it possible, even easy,
to do what otherwise would seem impossible.
As you know, this weekend we take up a collection
for our retired religious brothers and sisters.
When we look at those who take vows,
if we see only as the world sees,
it can be hard to figure out why they do it.
Voluntarily embrace poverty and chastity?
Work hard for others; take risks? Why do this?
I think of Sister Dorothy Stang, of Dayton,
who was trying to help the poor in Brazil,
she dismissed the threats, and finally they did kill her.
She didn’t care.
And I think of Father Saint Damian,
who served lepers in Hawaii,
until he died of the same disease.
What makes that possible?
The joy that only the Holy Spirit can give.
Of all the special collections we have through the year,
this one is the best received. And it’s obvious why.
The same Holy Spirit that works in our dear religious
rises up in our heart in gratitude.
So I ask you to be generous;
but I already know you will be.
So I come back to where I started.
“Happiness” as opposed to joy.
If your health is good, you have all you need,
you are surrounded by love and blessings—
you have every cause for happiness.
Even so, some around us don’t have all those things.
And if they lost someone special,
the ache is worse this time of year.
If “happy” isn’t a word you want to use right now…
But know that with or without
what usually counts as “happy,”
the Holy Spirit is still yours.
That is the true joy that counts.