Joy is what we all seek, yes?

Readings: Is. 61.1-11; Lk. 1.46-48; 1 Thess. 5.16-24; Jn. 1.6-28

Today is known traditionally in the Roman Rite as "Gaudete Sunday," which is translated from Latin into English as "Rejoice Sunday." All four scriptural readings urge us to rejoice. Isaiah writes: "the Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted . I rejoice heartily in the Lord." The Psalm response is "My soul rejoices in my God." The psalm prayer is the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Luke chapter one. The New Testament letter of St. Paul reads, "Brothers and sisters, rejoice always." And the gospel reports John the Baptizer saying, "I am the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord." The reason for the season, and the reason for rejoicing is that the Messiah has come to save us.

Joy is what we all seek, yes? My observation is this, we all seek joy, peace, love, and happiness, but most of us don't stop to reflect on, to distinguish, and to define these words. We use them interchangeably. Most of us have an amorphous sense of some positive feeling. We do better at describing than defining joy, peace, love, and happiness. My concern is this. If we don't define those words, we won't have a clear understanding of what we want. If we don't understand what we want, we won't know what practical steps to take to get what we want. And even if we stumble upon the experience of joy, peace, love, and happiness; we won't know that we have passed through this wonderful experience of God's grace. A sad example of not knowing what is and what brings joy, peace, love and happiness is the news of this past week about the governor of Illinois. In one sense he had it all, i.e., power, prestige, wealth, and the opportunity to do much good for others; but his methods/means could never result in joy, peace, love, and happiness.

Regarding ourselves, I don't want us to lose our opportunity to experience joy, love, peace, and happiness. I'd like to define joy, and outline effective steps to attain what we seek. Joy is the emotional response to the experience of harmony. Joy results from being good and doing good. Our joy does not require that we be loved in return. Our interior joy does not depend entirely on the response of other people. Our joy comes from doing good in praise of God, and placing ourselves at the service of others.

Since joy is the emotional response to the experience of harmony, we need to experience harmony before we will ever experience joy. Harmony is foundational to Joy. Harmony is being in tune, it is being in sync with someone or something. A person can be in tune with God, with self, with another person, and/or with nature. Think of your experiences of harmony, and its resultant joy. Last night, did you enjoy that full moon which was particularly bright? Did you hug your spouse, child, mother or father? Did you share a laugh or good conversation with a friend? May I suggest that steps to harmony and subsequent joy are (1) respecting and appreciating someone, (2) caring for and sacrificing for someone, (3) spending time with, and being present to someone, and (4) communicating with someone. Joy results most fundamentally from being in harmony with God, from being good and doing good because that is God's will for us. God intends for us to be joyful.

Joy has its limitations. An example, and then an explanation. An elderly aunt of mine died this past week. My cousin enjoyed great harmony with her mother, my aunt. My cousin enjoys great harmony with God. Up until the funeral this past week, however, my cousin's son had not talked to her for the past few months. This generally joyful woman had not been joyful with her self-distancing son. Joy may be limited in breadth and depth. Joy may be short-lived or long-lasting. We may be at harmony and therefore joyful, in some relationships but not in all relationships. We might not be joyful all the time even with people who usually make us joyful. Golfers and skiers might not be joyful over all the rain we had recently, or our sick family members and friends might not be joyful about their current physical sickness. But at the same time, we might fundamentally be joyful with God and within ourselves. Joy is the emotional response to the experience of harmony.

The models for Christian joy, especially this Sunday, include the prophet Isaiah, the Blessed Mother Mary, the apostle St. Paul, our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Reflect on today's readings. Reflect that the reason for the season, and the reason for rejoicing is that our Lord has come to save us. Let's try our best to be at harmony with God and God's will so that we might live as St. Paul instructs us: "Rejoice always, Again, I say rejoice."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley