We just heard from today’s Gospel that when John the Baptist preached the message of repentance, many were converted and asked him, “What must we do next?” He reminded them that they are henceforth to be generous, honest and just.
As we celebrate the Third Week of Advent – traditionally called “Gaudate Sunday”; “gaudate” in Latin means “Rejoice.” It seems to me that it is more appropriate that we reflect on this theme of “joy” today.
Our Opening Prayer for our Mass already launched us into this spirit of this “Joy” of the Third Week of Advent, when it proclaims, “Let us pray that God will fill us with joy at the coming of Christ . . . let us look forward to the birthday of Christ and experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.”
Before Pope Benedict XIV became pope in 1740, he was put in charge of the process of canonisation of saints. There he wrote a book highlighting that the sense of joy as the first essential quality to look for in a saint. He said that if “joy” is missing in a person then he/she is simply not worthy to be considered a saint/canonisable. This is because “joy” is an essential sign of holiness.
Malcolm Muggeridge, in describing the Mother Teresa’s Missionary of Charity sisters wrote, “these sisters life is tough and austere by worldly standards; yet, I have never met such delightful, happy women or have experienced such atmosphere of joy which they always create when they are together.
What then is the “joy” about? This “joy” is clearly the “joy” of living for Christ and loving Christ in all that we do think and say. And this is precisely also what we are celebrating today in this third week of Advent. We are celebrating the joy of acknowledgingGod’s cominginto our lives to fill us with a happiness and peace that the secular world cannot possibly give.
There is a story of a king who asked his advisers to help him get rid of his anxieties and depression in life so that he could live a happy and fulfilling life. They told him, “Your majesty, you must sleep in the shirt of a happy man for some nights, then you will be happy.”
The king then sent his men to look all round his kingdom for a happy man so that the king could sleep in his shirt. Every person they approached had some form or misery; and has encountered someone or something that had robbed them of their true and complete happiness. At last they found this farmer who looked very peaceful; he was sitting at the front door of his simple shed looking out into the fields.
When the king’s men asked him why he looked so peaceful and happy, he said, “Actually, I work very hard in the fields every day in order to provide enough food and a decent shelter for my family. Even though the harvest can be unpredictable in some seasons, we somehow will have enough to get by; so I have no worries in life, and my family and I are always at peace and have joy in our hearts. This is mainly because we believe that God will always somehow provide for our needs and care for us regardless of what happens.
Then the king’s men asked the farmer, “Could our king buy the shirt you are wearing? His majesty would be willing to pay you a huge sum of money for it because he had been advised that if he were to sleep in your shirt his anxieties and depression would disappear. The farmer smiled and said, “my shirt is simply a worn and torn shirt.” It is not the source of my peace and joy in life. The source of my peace and joy lie beneath my shirt. It is found in God who resides within my heart and fills my home.
The king’s men then returned to report to the king what the farmer said. From that day onwards, the king began to realise that the true peace and joys of life lie beneath the royal robes that he wore and is also beyond the powers that he holds because he realised that deep peace and true joy in life can only come from God who is the source of all life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this simple story in many ways do remind us that at times we too can think and behave like the king’s secular advisers who believe that peace and joy is found in the external possessions of life and be bought. However, the truth of the story lies in the wisdom of the farmer who found true peace and joy in life making God the foundation of his life and finding Him residing within His heart and filling his home.
When we too have such wisdom in our daily living, everything that we do, think and say will flow from God who is the source of our life. We will also begin to realise that we really don’t need much in life; whether we are a king or a farmer . . . there will always be peace and joy in our lives . . . and most of our worries would disappear. This is because when we see the world and people around us from the perspectives of Christ, then what are essentials and what are non-essentials of life will become clear.
However, if we choose to take on the perspective of the king’s secular advisers (as in our story above) who are under the distorted impression that peace and joy come from the externals of life, then our worries in life will immediately surface. The German word for “worry” is “wurgen” which means “to strangle, to choke.” Jesus in the Parable of the Sower too reminds us that when the “worries of the world enter” our hearts, they will choke the Word of God (Mk 4:14.19).
Charles Swindoll, in his book, “Laugh Again,” explains graphically that, “worry can throttle our thinking, and choke out the truths of life and as such, our lives do not bear the fruit that it ought to bear . . . this is because with worries we can become so mentally harassed, emotionally strung out, and even spiritually strangled. Worry can cut off our motivation and lifeline of joy too. . . In spite of all these consequences, more people are addicted to worries than all other addictions combined.” (pp.197-8).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good to ask ourselves today, “What type of perspectives do we have in life?” Do the perspectives of the secular and materialistic advisers of the king or the wise perspective of the farmer whose life is founded on God describe your perspective in your daily living?
To conclude, I would like to quote St Paul in today’s Second Reading who reminded the people of Philippi, “I want you to be happy in the Lord . . . there is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayers and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.” This message too is addressed to each of us here today.
So, “Do we want to choose to be swamped by the unnecessary worries of life or do we heed God’s Word and be filled with the joys of Christ?”
(Adapted from: Hearts Burning, by Nil Guillemette,S.J.; St Pauls Pub.; Makati City, Philippines; 2006; pp.303-305).
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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