Sunday, December 16, 2018

We can either sabotage joy; or increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass; 
we didn’t actually use it, but we might have. 
In Latin it would be, “Gaudete in Domino semper”; 
Or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

When we think of “joy,” maybe we imagine someone 
with a wide grin plastered on her face.
We think of happiness or bliss.
But joy is something deeper. It may or may not come with a smile.
But it always comes with peace, immense peace.

In the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is that overwhelming feeling that fills us 
when we realize we are loved – above all, by God.

Here is a story of joy – and it will surprise you,
Because it involves suffering and loss, and how can that be about joy?

There was a couple I knew in Piqua; call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married over sixty years. 
When Helen 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.

This went on for awhile, till Ellen couldn’t speak. 
Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.
That’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

We don’t always get good news. 
Truth is, what happened for Bill and Helen 
comes to us all sooner or later; it really hurts at Christmastime. 

But there is a powerful reason why that experience was truly joyful. 
Not because there was no pain;
But because those hearts were united in faith, in love, and in hope.
The Holy Spirit was filling that hospital room. That’s the joy!

Now it occurs to me that 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 first reading, Zephaniah told us, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Look: people wound us, and it’s hard not to remember that.
It’s difficult not to harbor that memory.
But who’s carrying the burden of that? You are! 
To forgive someone does not mean the wrong never happened.
It doesn’t mean what that person did to you was OK.
Rather, to forgive is to turn that person over to God.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.
The more generously you and I experience being forgiven, 
the easier it becomes to be generous in mercy toward others.

OK, so those are ways we let the joy drain out of our lives.
But the Gospel shows us three ways we can have more, much more joy.

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
That means giving away half! 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 

I confess, I am certainly not that generous. 
But when I have those moments, it lifts my heart,
Even if it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 

This is why we will never stop being a voice for the unborn.  
There is a bill in the Ohio legislature 
that would restrict the death penalty 
from being applied to those with severe mental illness.
There is information about this in today’s bulletin.

I haven’t talked much about the situation on our southern border, because it’s complicated, 
and nations do have the right to control their borders. 

Still, we can ask, is how our government is handling it now 
really the best way? Could employers take a greater role?
Can we do more to facilitate legal entry into our country? 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
We first receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, 
and in a deeper way in confirmation. 
When we go to confession, it is the Holy Spirit who washes us clean.
It is the Holy Spirit who, at Mass, brings us to the Cross, 
and who changes bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

But that’s only some of the ways the Holy Spirit is at work.
He is always with us, always helping us.

It’s kind of like on a summer night, 
when you turn off the TV and the computer 
and everything finally becomes quiet, 
do you notice how suddenly you hear things in the background?
Crickets and frogs and trees rustling, and even faraway sounds?
It was there all the time – but you couldn’t hear it!

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you open up to him; 
And it won’t hurt to turn off the TVs and computers!

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.

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