Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two ways we sabotage joy; three ways to increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass. 

Several months ago, I described how it’s become habit 
to replace the assigned entrance chants with other hymns. 
But had we used the entrance chant, we’d have sung together, 
either in Latin – “Gaudete in Domino semper,” 
or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Joy” is not the same as being happy or cheerful. 
Although we often speak of joy as a synonym for happiness or success, 
in the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is how we react when we realize God loves us, 
and when we experience 
the goodness and wonder and glory of Creation, 
of all that God has done and will do.

One of the best ways I can think of to make the point 
is with a story about a couple I knew in Piqua. Call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married for over sixty years. 
When his wife became very ill, 
the family gathered around her in the hospital, and they called me. 
I vividly recall how crowded that hospital room was; 
and everyone was praying. Bill was sitting beside his wife, 
holding her hand. They were praying one Hail Mary after another.

And then Ellen couldn’t speak. Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.

And that’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

Now, in reflecting on these readings, 
it occurred to me that sometimes we sabotage joy, in two ways.

First, in getting balled up in anxiety. 

Paul says “have no anxiety at all.” How do we do that? 
Well, Paul talks about prayer, petition and thanksgiving. 
So the next time you are anxious, try those three. 
Try to pray, including petitions to God about the things that worry you, 
and then take time to recall all that you are thankful for.

The second thing we do to sabotage joy is holding onto sins, both our own, and others’.

In the reading from Zephaniah, we hear, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Recall the parable Jesus told of the servant 
who begged for mercy over a great debt; 
then he went and was very harsh on someone 
who owed him a small debt. 

When his Master heard about it, he had the servant thrown in prison. 
And Jesus said: “So will your heavenly Father do to you, 
if you do not forgive one another from your hearts.”  

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.

But when I looked at the Gospel, 
I noticed three ways we can increase our joy:

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
Notice, that means giving away half! 
Some – maybe more than we realize – really are that generous.
Still, for a lot of us, we tend to give from our surplus. 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 
What if we decided that whatever we planned to spend on presents, 
we would give an equal amount away for those in need?

I confess, I am not that generous. But I will say this: 
when I have those moments, it lifts my heart, 
while it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

Today we have an opportunity to be generous 
to the retired members of religious orders who need our support. 
Remember, they took a vow of poverty. 
They don’t have their own IRAs and savings. 
They rely on our generosity.

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 
John told the tax collectors and the soldiers 
not to take more than was honest, 
and not to extort or misuse their power. 
A lot of our practicing our faith seems focused on our own choices, 
and on our personal spiritual life. 

But never forget Jesus told us to hunger and thirst for righteousness; 
This is why we will never stop being prolife. 
This is why a group of parishioners makes regular trips to Haiti. 
This is why we oppose torture and the death penalty, 
and why we stand up for the poor and the powerless. 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
John described Jesus coming to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. 
While some of our fellow Christians take this 
to refer to a special encounter with the Holy Spirit, 
the Church has long understood this as referring to 
how we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. 

But that doesn’t mean those are the only times 
we think about, or seek the help of, the Holy Spirit! 

Some of the best things we can do 
for ourselves and our spiritual life are the simplest. 

If you aren’t sure how to open yourself to the Holy Spirit, 
start this way: pray to the Holy Spirit. 
Ask God to help you be more open to the Spirit; 
to thirst for the Holy Spirit. 
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you obey his promptings. 
There are so many things that don’t happen, because we don’t ask. 

And yet Jesus said, “ask, and you shall receive.” 
He didn’t mean winning basketball games or getting good grades; 
but he did mean, asking for more of his life. 
Ask for the Holy Spirit, and you SHALL receive!

And that is what true joy is.