Joy amid penance

HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - January 20, 2021 - 12:00am

That’s the main message of the readings and prayers of the third Sunday of Advent, otherwise called the “Gaudete” Sunday. The expression comes from the entrance antiphon of the Mass that cites some words of St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” (Phil 4,4)

It’s important that we don’t lose sight of our need for joy even as we go through the exercise of penance which is what is called for in this season of Advent. And that’s because, as St. Paul said, the Lord is near. This piece of news should gladden our heart even as we intensify our penitential acts to prepare ourselves properly to receive him.

This Good News, which with faith we can consider as already done, should remind us of the bigger picture about ourselves. We come from God and not just from our parents. We are meant to be with God in our definitive state of life in eternity. Our life here on earth is simply a training and testing ground to see if what God wants us to be is also what we want to be.

We should develop the appropriate sense of nostalgia and expectation that should bring us beyond the limits of time and space, and lead us to God in eternity. That’s where we came from and where we are meant to be. And for this, we have been given the adequate means, none other than Christ himself who told us that he is “the way, the truth and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14,6)

If we live by this conviction provided to us by our Christian faith, then we have every reason to be happy and to be at peace however our earthly life turns. We should try our best never to lose our joy and peace despite the difficulties, trials and other negative things we can encounter in our earthly life.

We have to remember that joy and peace are what are proper to us. As Sacred Scripture would have it, “A merry heart is the true life of man, is an unfailing store of holiness. Length of years is measured by rejoicing.” (Sir 30,23) And St. Thomas Aquinas has this to say also: “Happiness is a good proper to human beings. Animals can only be called happy by a misuse of language.”

There are many benefits of joy and peace. The Book of Proverbs says, “A cheerful heart makes a quick recovery. It is crushed spirits that waste a man’s frame.” (17,22) Joy facilitates thinking and reasoning. It helps us understand people and situations. It fosters simplicity, creates a good atmosphere around, builds up unity. Joy facilitates the exercise of penance.

We have to make sure that we are happy and peaceful. Obviously, we have to understand that to be in that state is first of all a result of grace which we should always ask for. But it is also a product of our own correspondence to God’s grace, and of our effort to closely follow Christ’s teaching and example.

The joy and peace rooted on Christ transcend the physical and earthly dimensions. They can be lived even in what may be considered humanly speaking as difficult moments of pain, suffering and privation.

For this joy and peace to be with us, we have to have a strong faith in Christ!

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