Bishop Hying

Rooted in the love of the Lord, no suffering, setback, sadness can rob us of joy

      The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday; “Gaudete” means “Let us rejoice” in Latin. We light the rose candle this day to mark the fact that we are now closer to Christmas than the beginning of Advent.  Jesus is near and so we rejoice!  In our world that is often marked by fear, darkness and sadness, we Christians are called to be prophetically joyful. 

      What is joy and how do we get more of it in our lives?  Sometimes, life just feels too heavy and the burdens too great for us to be light in spirit and hopeful about the future of the world. But faith roots us in a destiny and purpose far greater than we can imagine. Understanding and embracing joy helps us through the dark nights of life. When I contrast joy with pleasure, satisfaction and happiness, it helps towards a greater understanding.

      Eating a favorite food, sleeping in on a Saturday morning, going on vacation or buying a new smart phone may give us pleasure. Our senses take in pleasure and we enjoy the sensation in the moment. Pleasure is fun but it does not last. My favorite dessert gives me pleasure while I am eating it, but the delight of the experience lasts no longer than the last bite. So, there has to be more to life than just pleasure.

      Working out at the gym is deeply satisfying, but not necessarily pleasurable.  Doing things that are healthy and life-giving, both for ourselves and others, can be fulfilling way beyond what pleasure offers.  Hours after I have worked out or accomplished some task, I still feel good about it and feel some positive effects, but satisfaction doesn’t necessarily lift the banners or blow the trumpets.  Satisfaction alone does not nourish the heart or the spirit, so maybe we are really looking for happiness.

      Marrying the right person, working a dream career, enjoying good health, being surrounded by family and friends can bring us great happiness, a deep sense of elation way beyond fleeting moments of pleasure or passing hours of satisfaction. We all want to be happy in our relationships and our work.  But, as we painfully know, loved ones pass away, health declines, jobs are sometimes lost; the people and situations that we pinned our happiness on disappear and we suddenly feel lost, disoriented and betrayed by life. So there has to be something even deeper than happiness that goes to the very core of who we are.    That mysterious reality is joy!

      Back in 1992, my brother Will was working in Jamaica, building houses for the homeless in Kingston. His organization ran out of money, so I did a fundraiser in the parish where I served to continue the good work.  Bearing a big check and a video camera, I went to visit my brother and film the fruit of our parishioner’s remarkable generosity. While in Jamaica, I visited and celebrated Mass at a home for lepers, served by a group of religious sisters.

       I had never met a leper before, so I was a little nervous going in, not knowing what to expect.  I encountered people who had lost fingers and toes, arms and legs; the disease had consumed the faces of some residents, leaving them terribly disfigured and scarred. What I remember most vividly 23 years later, however, is not the missing body parts of the residents, but rather their incredible, inexplicable joy!  I am not sure if I have ever encountered a group of people either before or since that were so absolutely, riotously joyful! Their smiles, laughter and lively conversation filled the residence with a radical, infectious joy. 

      When we know that we are loved by God, when we have encountered His tender mercy, when we realize our deepest identity as beloved children of the Father, we experience the joy of the kingdom of heaven.  No suffering, setback or sadness can rob us of joy if we stay rooted in the love of the Lord.  We may lose all pleasure, satisfaction and happiness, but no one and nothing can take away our joy without our permission. 

      This fundamental truth I learned from the beautiful folks with leprosy and so many others in similar situations of suffering and difficulty.  When we are tempted to let life rob us of peace and joy, we need to focus on the truth and meaning of Advent and Christmas - God coming to us in the poverty of our human condition; Jesus embracing everything within us that was lost, dark and dead; the Lord opening us to mercy, forgiveness and eternal life.

      We know how the story of our lives and the history of the world will end; we have the book of Revelation.  God, life, love and joy win out over the forces of sin and death.  When we know who we are and where we are going, life becomes joyful for us. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “For those on the way to heaven, the whole way there becomes heaven.” 

      I pray that you will know the joy of being loved by God in a deeper way in these precious days of Advent!  Pass the gift on to the people in your life.


+ Donald J. Hying



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