The Joy of Believing
Our journey through Advent has highlighted hope, the virtue that keeps us going through darkness and coldness. We are going through a winter under the restrictions of coping with the Covid virus. It is a severe winter for the homeless and for people who have lost their jobs. Hope keeps us anchored in the belief that God is real, God loves us, God is with us and God will see us through.
Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete, the Sunday of Joy. In today’s Second Reading Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians: “Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because that is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus. Never try to supress the Spirit.” Paul is not advocating a superficial clap-happy game. Rather, his focus is on a deep spiritual joy, rooted in God and growing through constant prayer, gratitude for all things, and cooperating with the Holy Spirit.
Pope Paul VI, obviously a fan of Paul the writer, wrote a beautiful letter on Christian joy. He identified three sources of joy: giving, seeing and believing.
It is in giving that we receive. Giving involves moving out of the shell of selfishness. Pope Francis tells us that when we live out of a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened up to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. On the other hand, when me flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts it is a form of slow suicide.
It’s a matter of how we see things. Chesterton said that there is no shortage of wonders but what is missing is wonderment. When Jesus urged us to be childlike, surely he referred to seeing with the child’s sense of wonder. Children love games of peeping, through their fingers, around a corner or a partially opened door. Patrick Kavanagh took this image to begin his poem on Advent:
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
Pope Francis reflected on the compulsion to test and taste the latest gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods, at times leaving no room for God’s voice. We can be so preoccupied with these compulsions that we miss the big picture.
The Washington Post newspaper arranged a test to see how people in a stressful situation would react in the presence of something beautiful. The place chosen for its bustle and stress was the entrance to a railway station. A man with a violin began playing. It took three minutes before anybody noticed him. A kind woman tossed a dollar without looking at him. The first person to stop was a three-year old boy. The performance lasted forty-five minutes. Twenty people contributed a total of thirty-two dollars. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest in the world. His violin was worth over three million dollars. The previous night he played a sell-out concert where the cheapest ticket was a hundred dollars. People didn’t realise what they missed. The experiment showed how much the stress of boarding the train blotted out the experience of extraordinary beauty.
For many people today the beautiful message of Christmas has been lost. While we were on Level 5 Lockdown I heard somebody say that we will have no Christmas this year. No shops, no Christmas! How can we step out of this rat race to find room in our lives for Jesus?
The third step towards joy is in believing. In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tells the people that “there stands among you -unknown to you- the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal strap.” Sadly, for many people today the real Jesus is unknown, reduced to no more than a word used as a profanity. The first Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis is called The Joy of the Gospel. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
People who encounter Jesus in faith belong to a religion of extraordinary beauty. If everybody took the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount seriously, we would have no more wars or hatred or abuse of people. His Resurrection from the dead opens up a whole new meaning and direction to our lives. The Blessed Eucharist is the Lord Himself coming as the Bread of Life.
We have seen the sins of the Church, the darnel choking the wheat. But the wheat has the stronger roots and the weeds are cast aside. Let us not lose sight of the beauty of our faith. Open up your minds and hearts to the Saviour. God is real, God loves us, God is with us and God will see us through.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.