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SUNDAY HOMILY: The Happy Priest Reflects on Christian Joy

By Fr. James Farfaglia
December 16th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The lighting of the pink candle of the Advent Wreath reminds us that Christmas is almost here. 

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - A number of years ago, a young college student was working as an intern at his college's Museum of Natural History. One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop, he saw an elderly couple come in with a little girl in a wheelchair.

As he looked closer at this girl, he saw that she was kind of perched on her chair. The student realized that she had no arms or legs, just a head, neck and torso. She was wearing a little white dress with red polka dots.

As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and looked back at the girl, who was giving him the cutest, largest smile he had ever seen.

All of a sudden her handicap was gone and all that the college student saw was this beautiful girl, whose smile just melted him and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about. She took him from an unhappy college student and brought him into her world; a world of smiles, love and warmth.

The lighting of the pink candle of the Advent Wreath reminds us that Christmas is almost here. 

The theme of this Sunday's liturgy is joy and Saint Paul tells us to rejoice.  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!" (Philippians 4: 4)

What is joy?  The dictionary defines joy as an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.  It is also defined as a state of happiness or felicity.  In Catholicism, joy is a state of soul equated with happiness and it is also defined as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. 

Joy is not to be understood as something superficial or immature.  The person who is filled with Christian joy possesses an immense treasure because the true Christian can smile and laugh even in the middle of the most terrible adversities and sufferings.  Saint Lawrence, when he was being cooked alive by his torturers, joked and told them to turn him over. 

Sadness is certainly the epidemic of our times. A lot of people are walking around without a smile on their face.  Christianity is completely opposite to selfishness, self-absorption and narcissism.  Christianity demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives.  We must be empty of all self-seeking. 

There are many things in our modern society that are causing many to live very selfish lives.  On the top of the list are five things that need to be looked at very carefully.  These five things are: the lack of personal prayer, the infrequent use of the Sacrament of Confession, receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin, sexual sin and excessive television.  All five things have caused many people to become deeply self-absorbed and isolated. 

More and more people are appearing like zombies who are disconnected from their family and their friends.

Saint Thomas Aquinas listed eight Capital or Deadly Sins rather than our list of seven.  He maintained that sadness was the worse one of them all.  The famous Italian poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy, placed sadness at the lowest level of hell. 

We need to laugh and I agree that we should speak of five marks of the Church, rather than four:  One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Joyful. 

If you want to experience the true joy of Christianity, be like Jesus.  Live for others and not for yourself.  Be a gift for others.  Family life is essential.  Parish family life is essential.  No man is an island.  Community is essential in order to be human and Christian. 

Fr. George Rutler wrote: "A culture trapped in its own existence becomes no greater than itself. That old maxim perdures no matter how many times it is repeated: 'A man wrapped up in himself becomes a very small package.'  More important than wrapping gifts in Advent, is the obligation to unwrap the self: to confess to Christ the sins that belittle his image in man, and to live life as he wants it, so that we might rejoice with him forever and never be separated from him."

Life is difficult and it is not getting any easier.  Our secular world makes every attempt to eradicate every visible reminder of the transcendent.  Moreover, most of us live very busy lives, exercising multiple tasks throughout a very intense day. 

Formal moments of total silence and contemplative prayer are necessary for anyone who wants to be a true Christian in the modern world.  Fr. Karl Rahner once wrote, "The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing."

If we do not develop a serious life of contemplative prayer and Eucharistic life, the ever-increasing difficulties around us will crush us.  Rather than experiencing the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will be overwhelmed by profound anxiety and sadness.    

Life has different seasons.  Sometimes our existence moves forward like a sunny summer day.  We feel the closeness of God and our days unfold effortlessly.  But then the harshness of winter comes along.  We become overwhelmed by the apparent absence of God's presence.  Prayer becomes tedious.  People seem to bother us.  Perhaps the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, sickness, or the disloyalty of a friend brings us into the harshness and darkness of a winter day.  Nevertheless, even in these moments we can experience Christian joy. 

 Fr. Jean Vanier, the French founder of L'Arche, has had continual experience with suffering through his work with the mentally disabled.  In his writings, he maintains that darkness is important.  "We must learn to be strong and peaceful in darkness, not fighting it, but waiting.  We must learn to accept this winter as a gift from God, and we will discover that the snow will melt and the flowers come up."

Within all of the trials and tribulations that surround us, let us be patient and be filled with hope.  The dark night of purification will bring about something beautiful and pure.

"On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!  The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals" (Zephaniah 3: 14-18).

A few years ago, a young, attractive, successful woman noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair.  As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor.  Her worst fears were confirmed.  The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery.
 
When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like a mummy.  She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping.  Desiring to see what she looked like, she unwound the large bandage from her head and was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor.

Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had one choice to make: to laugh or to cry.  She decided to laugh.  Sadly, the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis. However, that decision made to laugh in the face of adversity has allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy.

My dear friends, let us make this Christmas the best Christmas ever by making a firm decision today to rid ourselves from every behavior that causes us to be consumed by sadness. "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!" (Philippians 4: 4) 

Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.  You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org and listen to the audio podcast of this Sunday homily.

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