(My homily was based on notes, rather than a text; this is my approximation of what I said, post hoc.)
The words "joy" and "rejoice" are mentioned in almost all the prayers and readings of today's Mass. That's why it's called Gaudete Sunday, which is Latin for "rejoice." So the Church wants us to pay attention to this. So let's look at it.
What is joy?
First, let me explain what it is not. Joy does not equal happiness. Let me offer an example. I knew a couple in Piqua, there names (changed) were Bob and Elizabeth. They were married over 60 years; a faithful couple. And when Elizabeth's health began to decline, they called me to come, and I did of course; I came several times, as I recall, anointing her and giving her Last Rites.
What I remember most is the last time I was with her. When I came into the hospital room, I could barely get in! The room was packed with her children and grandchildren. And sitting at her side, holding her hand, was her husband Bob. They were praying Hail Marys over and over, and Elizabeth was leading them. Well, her voice began to fade, and eventually, she couldn't speak any more. And then Bob stopped; and we all stopped. We knew: she had died.
That's when Bob said: "I'm broken-hearted; but I'm joyful." And there it is.
Now, I don't have to explain why he was broken-hearted. But why was he joyful?
Well, because they had lived their Faith, and she was ready. She had received all the sacraments, and she was as ready as she could be. Bob had no doubt, nor do I, that she went to receive what had been promised her by the Lord.
So joy is not something that we only have when our life is in order, or our health is good, or we have our relationships or our act together.
This is good news for those who don't feel happiness at this time of year. That may seem odd to some of us; but for those whose families aren't happy, or they are out of work, or have bad health, or they lost someone they love, this isn't necessarily a happy time. And that's OK.
But you can still have joy.
So what is joy?
Joy, Saint Paul says in one of his letters, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But even more simply, joy is a relationship with Jesus -- heart to heart. Jesus in our heart.
How do we have a relationship with Jesus? That may sound odd to some; Jesus is God! How can I have a relationship with God?
But that's the whole point of God becoming human. That's the point of the Cross -- the whole thing. God did all this so that we can have a relationship with him.
Yes, we can have a relationship with Jesus! Remember what he said to his apostles: "I no longer call you slaves; I call you friends." And again he said, whoever keeps the will of my Father is "my brother and my sister and my mother." We can be friends with Jesus; we can be his brother or sister!
So how do we have a relationship with Jesus?
First, I have good news: your baptism made you a member of God's Family. You don't need to be shy, and press your nose against the glass, and wonder if you can come in. No! There's a place at the table for you; you are invited; you're expected. Come on in!
Second, if we realize some things are in the way, if we need to clear the air, that's where confession comes in. I spoke at length about confession last week, so I won't say much. But in our relationships, we often need to ask for forgiveness. And someone says, "I forgive you; I won't bring it up again." Ha! That's not what happens, is it?
But with Jesus, that's what happens. He never brings up anything he forgave. When he forgives, it's gone, gone, gone!
And then, third, the heart of the relationship: talk to him! It's just like that girl across the cafeteria you want to get know; or that boy you see in the hallway. You have to go talk to him or her. It's the same with Jesus.
Of course, I'm talking about prayer; and I think a lot of people don't want to admit, they don't think they really know how to pray. So I'm going to make it easy for you and just explain that now.
There are lots of ways to pray, and we're familiar with our memorized prayers, and the Rosary and so forth, which are great; but the heart of prayer is conversation.
We can use Scripture; and if you want to try that, I suggest starting with the psalms, because they have every human experience and human emotion reflected in them. Someone in trouble, someone in temptation, someone at a high point, someone giving thanks, someone betrayed, someone in war, someone facing death, and so forth.
We can pray with the Rosary or with litanies. Now, some don't care for this or understand it; but what happens is the repetition calms our mind and allows our heart to communicate with the Lord.
But the heart of prayer is conversation. We talk to the Lord; and we are quiet, so he can talk to us.
The key is time alone.
I notice something at daily Mass; sometimes our parents will bring one of their children, and it reminded me of something from when I was a boy. When you get to have mom or dad all to yourself, that is really special -- not having to share them with your brothers and sisters. And couples, isn't that how you became a couple? And doesn't that help sustain your relationship?
Now, in order to do this, there's no secret: we make a plan, and we make a decision we're going to start. Just like starting an exercise regimen or learning a new skill. Of course, what happens is we want to start something, but we run out of steam.
May I suggest we start small? Even a few minutes with Jesus every day is golden.
But if you find you just can't get going, let me offer another suggestion.
When I was thinking about becoming a priest, I reproached myself, because I'd wanted to start the habit of daily Mass, and when morning would come, I wouldn't get out of bed in time. Here I was, wanting to be a priest, but I couldn't get to daily Mass! That's pretty important.
So here's what I did. I prayed for the desire. So if that's you, pray this prayer, five words: "Lord, give me the desire." That's it. Pray that every day, and see what happens.
So: what happens if we make time with Jesus a priority every day? Let me make some predictions:
> Our priorities will sort out.
> We won't be so afraid -- we will find more strength. Remember when Peter was in the boat, and he saw Jesus coming across the water? He said, Lord, if that is you, let me come onto the water -- and Jesus said come! And Peter walked on the water! But when he took his eyes off the Lord, that's when he sank.
>We will find that the void in our lives, which we fill with too much food or drink, or with gambling, or complaining, or looking at the wrong stuff on the Internet...that hole in us will be filled with what it was made for: for Jesus in our lives; and we won't need all those other things to fill it.
> And I predict we will experience Holy Mass in a new way; it won't be just a series of things that happen; but an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ.
In a word, time with Jesus means joy. Not material success or good health, or a job or a nice home; because all those things can be taken away.
But there's no reason we should ever lose Jesus.